The new DC100 . . . I mean Defender . . . is here.

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In 2011 Land Rover unveiled a concept for a new Defender called the DC100. The looks of the prototype were so universally panned that it vanished within weeks and was never seen again.

Until now.

Eight years later Land Rover has unveiled the actual new Defender. And, pardon me if I’m being myopic, but—at least in photos—I’m having a devil of a time distinguishing a revolutionary change in styling from that short-lived concept.

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More soon about the advertised capabilities—which are impressive—and the option packs, some of which border on eye-rolling in their pandering to millennials seeking to appear more rugged than they really are. I don’t think I could stand to tick an option box called the “Adventure Pack.”

Armoured Bentley Bentayga . . . or a 1997 Land Rover Discovery?

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Recently I was reading about the stunning armoured (to use the British spelling) Bentley Bentayga offered by the high-end Canadian security company Inkas. For the nicely rounded sum of $500,000 the company will sell you a formerly-oh-so-ordinary Bentayga fitted with blast- and bullet-resistant armouring, plus a host of other Bond-esque tricks, resulting in possibly the planet’s most opulent terrorist-foiling four-wheel-drive machine.

But as I started reading about some of the options, it hit me: We had already owned a vehicle with a significant portion of those tricks—our 1997 Land Rover Discovery.

One featured option on the Inkas Bentayga is “shocking electric door handles,” which will give a nasty jolt to any would be carjacker as soon as he tries to gain access.

Big deal.

A few months into our ownership of the Disco, a friend who was getting in the passenger side when Roseann was driving leaped back as soon as she touched the door. “It shocked me!” she cried. Roseann got out and tried it, with the same result. Thereafter, at random moments, whomever was trying to get in any door on the vehicle would be nailed with an impressively high-amperage dose of DC current. We never did figure it out—but then we also were never successfully carjacked throughout our ownership period of the Discovery. Coincidence?

The Inkas Bentayga can also be equipped with a genuine smoke screen function to blind tailgating bad guys.

Pause while I roll my eyes. Anyone with a 120,000-mile Land Rover has a built-in smoke screen function. And nowhere on the Inkas option list did I see the classic Aston Martin DB5 oil slick defense, which—need I point this out?—is also standard equipment on any Land Rover.

How about the “fire suppression system for the engine bay?” That’s easy if you simply employ your 50/50 antifreeze mix for double duty, as we frequently did with leaky hoses and gaskets. (Not to mention the fact that, on the regular days when the engine would simply not start, there was very little likelihood of it catching on fire.)

How about “signal jamming?” Given the reception we got on the Disco’s AM/FM, I’m strongly tempted to think there was one of those hooked up somewhere too.

So, yeah, our Disco might not have had the level of interior craftsmanship enjoyed by the buyer of an Inkas Bentayga.

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But then, we saved $498,000 on our four-wheel-drive British-made anti-terrorist machine.

Simply brilliant: Rennstands

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If you have ever done repair or maintenance work under a vehicle, you’ve run into this problem: You need to jack up the vehicle at the appropriate spot on its chassis or axles—but, quite frequently, that same spot is the best or even the only place to subsequently support the vehicle safely on jack stands. 

On a vehicle with solid axles, such as my FJ40, this isn’t much of an issue as there is generally enough leeway to jack in one spot under the axle tube and place a jack stand adjacent to it. But on trucks with independent suspension it’s different, and if working on a unibody sedan there are often very specific spots under the pinch weld that are the only recommended spots to put either a jack or a jack stand.

Problem solved, thanks to Richard Bogert of Bogert Engineering, the same people who make the excellent Safe Jack systems. The Rennstand allows you to jack up your vehicle at the correct point and then secure it in the same spot on a three-ton stand, all in one operation.

Operation is simple. Position the Rennstand’s crossbeam on your floor jack’s pad (it will also work with a bottle jack with an adapter) and insert the appropriate cradle for your vehicle, whether a model-specific pinch-weld bracket, a flat plate, or a dished cradle. Jack up the vehicle at the appropriate spot.

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Insert the Rennstand’s adjustable legs into the crossbeam’s sockets and insert the locking pins, then pull the locking pins on the lower section ot the legs, adjust them to length, and re-insert the pins. Lower the jack and you’re finished.

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The crossbeam adds just under two inches to the lowest height of your floor jack, which could present issues with some sedans or sports cars if you don’t have a low-profile jack. The Rennstand is also wider than many “normal” jack stands, which I suppose might be an issue in certain situations, but not one I’ve run into. The upside of that width is that it is reassuringly stable. The three-ton working load limit (WLL) means that a pair of Rennstands will easily support the front end of a very heavy vehicle indeed (They’ve been tested to 150 percent of that according to ASME standards). The lowest setting on its legs is 11.5 inches, the tallest is 16.5. Bogert plans to introduce taller models for lifted vehicles.

Using the Rennstands on our Tacoma was eye-opening, as I’d always struggled to fit both a floor jack and standard jack stands under suitable sections of the front chassis. Not any more. In fact it made the job easier even on the FJ40. In the past I had to place the jack fairly far inboard on the axle in order to leave room for the stand. This made jacking more difficult since I was lifting more of the vehicle, and undoubtedly put more stress on the axle (not that Land Cruiser axle tubes are exactly weak). 

Of course, it should be obvious that the Rennstands can be employed as standard jack stands as well.

I remember testing Richard’s early products, especially the original Safe Jack for Hi-Lift jacks, and being impressed with his imagination and ability to engineer seemingly simple solutions to problems no one seemed to be able to solve before. The Rennstand (which is patented), is yet another great idea. 

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You can find Rennstands here. Note that production is currently running about two weeks behind demand. If you order you’ll be placed in the queue and the stands will be shipped as soon as they’re made.

Slogans: good, bad, and otherwise.

A good one . . .

A good one . . .

Henry Ford once said, “If you have a really good thing, it will advertise itself.”

Lest you think this is mere hyperbole, note that between 1917 and 1923, when demand for the company’s seminal Model T was at its height, Ford ran no ads. Zero. Not as much competition back then, you might still argue? Actually a U.S. car buyer in 1920 could choose from over 120 brands.

It’s been a while since a manufacturer could dominate a market without any advertising, although sometimes I think Rolex could save a whole bunch of money. But in today’s fast-paced and overwhelmingly input-heavy world, I suppose product makers need to keep frantically stroking toward the surface of an ocean of products to make sure they’re noticed.

The easiest, grabbiest way to do so is with a really good slogan—a line of no more than a few words that encapsulates to maker’s philosophy or passion in a way that excites the consumer’s passion as well. You’d think this would be an easy thing to come up with, and there have been many legendary slogans that have become embedded in our collective consciousness: “Just do it” from Nike, certainly (even though it’s really a rather banal phrase). But it’s astonishing how many duds there are.

I got to thinking about the slogans of various brands with which I’m familiar, or have actually purchased, when I passed a Land Rover LR4 with a conspicuous “One Life, Live It” banner across the back window. I have to admit this slogan has always given me a vague icky feeling. It’s just way too precious, like the people who would be susceptible to it would be into indoor rock climbing and Soulcycle and Bikram yoga but never actually do anything out of doors. I’m positive that’s grossly unfair, but it’s just my gut reaction. And it got me to thinking of other slogans I like, and yet others that make me wonder that someone actually got paid to come up with them.

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Compare Porsche’s incomparable and oh-so-Germanic “There is no substitute” with Snap-on’s lame “There is a difference.” The former sneeringly dismisses the competition; the latter is defensive and whiny about that competition. Porsche is telling you, “You can buy a Corvette for half the money. It might even be faster around a race course. But it’s still just a Chevrolet.” Snap-on is saying, “You can buy Craftsman tools for a fifth the price, but ours are better. Really. We promise.” Lame.

(Honorable close second to Porsche goes to Ferrari and its “We are the competition.” I wonder if they hired a German PR agent for that one?)

The automotive world has seen its share of winner and loser slogans. Perhaps the most bold was Volkswagen’s simple “Think small” campaign, launched in the teeth of America’s craze for ever-larger land yachts in the late 1950s. But it worked, attracting hundreds of thousands of owners who either were unimpressed by or simply couldn’t afford the tail-finned barges of the era. (And of course there was National Lampoon’s own later Volkswagen “ad,” showing a Beetle floating in water—an actual Volkswagen boast at the time—with the line, “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be president now.” Ouch.)

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Chevrolet, perhaps surprisingly, has had several slogans perfectly tuned to its market. “See the USA in a Chevrolet” and “The heartbeat of America” conjured both road-trip adventure and patriotism. Contrast with Toyota’s bland “Oh what a feeling!” “Get the feeling,” the inexplicably inexplicable “Moving forward,” or the just plain stupid “Everyday.” Really, Toyota? Mercury’s “Live life in your own lane” sounds like the kind of admonishment so many lane hogs could use these days, whereas Mitsubishi’s “Wake up and drive” seems to be aimed at Tesla owners who play video games on the freeway.

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At the other end of the spectrum are such brilliant slogans as Jaguar’s original “Grace . . Space . . Pace,” Bentley’s “The silent sports car,” and, much later, from Lexus, “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” BMW’s excellent “The ultimate driving machine” was followed by the so-so “Sheer driving pleasure.” Audi’s “Vorsprung durch technik” sounded awesomely über-something-or-other in German, even though its literal translation is simply “Advancement through technology.” Meh.

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Perhaps my favorite automotive slogans of all time were completely fictional. A few years back some clever soul imagined the reintroduction of the infamous Trabant 601, and came up with a campaign of fanciful yet oh-so-perceptive slogans, such as “Just like stainless steel. But made from plastic,” or “Just like a gym. But with a steering wheel.” Truth in advertising, even if it was fake. 

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The latest Defender teaser video . . .

While it’s tempting to try to infer more technical or performance details than we already know for certain, I’m not going to. Why? Because this is a teaser—a promotional video produced by Land Rover. It should be obvious that it’s not going to show us the vehicle in anything but the very best light. So of course the performance in this carefully edited sequence is going to look excellent.

Sure, there are certain things anyone who’s paying attention can see. The new Defender—particularly the two-door 90 version—appears to have class-leading approach and departure angles. Suspension compliance looks to be excellent, as we would expect. The wheel diameter seems to be larger than I would have preferred—certainly larger than the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon’s 17-inch versions—but the glimpses of brake discs indicate there might be room for smaller-diameter wheels to allow more tire sidewall. Impossible to say.

The point that struck me most forcefully was the marketing approach taken by Land Rover. Ads for the original Series vehicles stressed their utility, their strength, their versatility. Not any more. This time it’s all about a pseudo-Paris-Dakar, high-performance, high-environmental-impact attitude. More than half the tracking shots of the vehicle show it at various degrees of side slip, and there’s a whole lot of sand being spewed and snow being flung. That indicates clearly where the company believes its sales lie, even if it actually tells us very little about the vehicle’s everyday utility, strength, or versatility.

The new Defender will be a unibody vehicle with all-independent suspension and a high degree of reliance on electronic traction aids to gain what the company promises will be a new high in all-terrain capability for a Land Rover.

It will be an entirely different vehicle than its predecessors.

I suspect most of its customers will also be entirely different.

Tom Sheppard's Four-by-Four Driving, 5th Edition

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Can you learn to be a better 4x4 driver from a book?

The answer is yes. And no.

Don’t stop reading, because that’s not an evasion. 

The “no” part of the answer is easy to explain. Simply put, nothing can substitute for having an experienced human instructor in the seat next to you, or outside your open window, to give you second-by-second advice on your control inputs and choice of lines. Not long ago I watched Tim Hüber stand next the the driver’s window of a Range Rover while he had the owner repeatedly back up and slowly inch over a soccer-ball-sized boulder. Back and forth, back and forth. The aim was to hone the driver’s ability to gently ease over an obstacle or down a ledge, rather than bouncing and compressing the suspension, which reduces ground clearance and increases the chances of contacting bodywork. The fellow finally nailed it, and negotiated the following driving course with consummate grace. I can think of dozens of other instances I’ve watched (or, indeed, have experienced as a student), with such skilled and patient instructors as Sarah Batten, Graham Jackson, or any of the ex-Camel Trophy team members who’ve taught at the Overland Expo for a decade now. 

Having a live instructor is especially vital when learning to drive in conditions new to you, or more extreme than you’ve experienced before. This applies to such procedures as driving on side slopes, negotiating steep hill descents or difficult climbs, and similar situations where inexperience might either make you overconfident (unlikely), or too timid to fully exploit the capabilities of your vehicle.

However. You can significantly enhance your level of preparedness for that personal instruction by reading the right book. And I know of none better than Tom Sheppard’s Four-by-Four Driving. I’ll offer full disclosure right now: I wrote the chapter on winches and winching, and the section on the Hi-Lift jack, for this and the previous edition. But that’s a fraction of what this book is about.

(And in case you think you’re beyond such a primer, note that Four-by-Four Driving is the mandatory textbook for several trainers I know who contract with two governments to teach Special Forces operators advanced driving and recovery techniques.) 

Why is it so good? I think the answer lies largely in the fact that Sheppard was a test pilot in the RAF before he took to solo exploration of the Sahara. And when you’re flying an experimental jet aircraft, poor preparation and bad driving won’t just get you stuck—it will get you killed. Thus Tom insists that a thorough knowledge of the vehicle itself, and especially its driveline and four-wheel-drive system, is the key to being an effective driver. Think of it in terms of a maxim:

If you don’t know how the vehicle operates, you won’t be able to operate the vehicle. The more you know about how it operates, the more effective an operator you will be.

For this reason, a full 20 percent of Four-by-Four Driving is devoted to an exhaustive look into the drivetrains and systems of vehicles from the Suzuki Jimny up to and including the Bentley Bentayga. While you might be tempted to find your own model in here and only read about that, don’t. Learning about other approaches will help you understand both the strengths and weaknesses of your own ride. Besides, if you ever have the opportunity—or need—to drive something foreign to you, you’ll look like a hero if you hop in and immediately turn that LR4’s Terrain Response dial to the proper setting—or, for that matter, are aware that you’ll need to get out and lock the hubs on that Troopy before pulling back on the transfer-case lever.

Just a partial table of contents

Just a partial table of contents

The driving section then begins with another vital subject: mechanical sympathy; that is, how to drive with awareness of the vehicle and the right touch to avoid stressing or breaking it. Further discussions cover suspension articulation, low range and when to use or not use it, throttle and brake control, followed by extensive sections on types of terrain and the techniques used in each: sand, mud, tracks, deep ruts, rocks, water. What is the correct way to ascend or descend or traverse a steep slope? To cross a deep ditch or sharp ridge? Negotiate snow or ice? It’s all in here.

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The following extensive section is all about recovery, both assisted and solo, and includes an utterly brilliant chapter on winching. :-) A short but fascinating chapter on advanced driving covers such arcane skills as changing from low to high range on the move, or driving a non-synchro transmission—just in case you ever get the chance to take a Bedford RL on safari. There are also useful sections on trailer towing for those of you with adventure-type trailers.

That would be a complete book, but Tom continues with a section on expedition basics—sort of a flash introduction to the last word on the subject, his Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide—as well as sections on loading and lashing, equipment, fuels, oils, tyre repair, and vehicle selection for expeditions.

That front section, however, is why you should buy this book. For the fifth edition Tom immersed himself in the latest models and technology and updated anything that remotely hinted at being past its sell-by date. There’s even a brief flash of a disguised Rolls-Royce Cullinan careening along the face of a sand dune, with a typical Sheppard wise-cracking caption: “No, your Ladyship, the brake is on the LEFT! And Rolls is the marque, not the aim.”

Read this book. Then go get some professional instruction. I’ll bet you at some point your instructor will look over at you and say, “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

Nitecore charger

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One of the few downsides of modern digital cameras is the need for frequent battery charging. My first pro-level camera, a (film, of course) Canon F1 built with the ruggedness of a 747’s Black Box, had a battery to operate the light meter, but would function quite happily without it; you just had to remember the classic “Sunny 16” rule for exposure. 

Not so these days: No battery, no camera. Even the ascetic’s choice, manual-focus rangefinder Leica M10 is digitized and thus dead without power. 

One upside is, modern lithium/ion batteries boast tremendous charge density for their weight. Another—important for travelers—is that virtually all chargers for those batteries are muti-voltage and will operate happily on either 120 or 240 VAC current. Unfortunately, while the countries of the world managed to confine their mains single-phase voltage supply to those two choices, the variety of plugs necessary to access that voltage is bewildering. And if, like me, you are absent-minded enough to leave not one, but two adapters firmly inserted in sockets on a single trip across Africa, you could find yourself critically short on charging capabilities. Trust me that finding a U.S. to Botswana or Namibia adapter in Botswana or Namibia is a near-futile quest.

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Fortunately there is a backup power source right there in the notebook computer you take to download and store those photos: the USB port. Which brings me to the Nitecore charger.

The Nitecore, which is available in numerous configurations to accept most camera batteries, plugs into the USB port of your notebook computer, which means it is way less likely to be left behind. That would be enough for me to click “buy now” right there, but the Nitecore also incorporates a digital readout that tells you the overall health of the battery, its current state of charge, rate of charge, and voltage. Brilliant. 

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I used the Nitecore on a recent trip to Mexico in our Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper, which highlighted another advantage: Since we currently have only a single-outlet 12VDC to 120VAC inverter in the truck, I was able to charge both computer and camera batteries at once. And I found the state-of-charge feature useful: At one point I was unsure of the capacity left in one of my BP-DC12 1200mAh batteries before a long hike. So I plugged it into the Nitecore, which informed me it was at 980 mAh—plenty to go on with just a single spare.

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The Nitecore has a very short cord, which enables it to fold away in the back of the unit. And as you can see from the lead photo, the unit itself is significantly smaller than either my factory Lumix or Leica chargers. Given the extra functions included, that’s remarkable. Bravo Nitecore. 

Highly recommended, even if you’re not absent-minded.