The Duke of Edinburgh was carried to his tomb in a modified Land Rover, and this is apt. He walked away from a highspeed collision in Norfolk a few years ago because – and probably only because – he was driving a Land Rover Freelander.
The Land Rover, which was intially the off-road Rover, is the original British SUV. It is beloved by farmers, who need them, and dukes, who like them because they are both grand and useful, a metaphor in metal – at least from their perspective – for feudalism itself. Few cars are as evocative of an ancient chariot, or as versatile: motorways do not daunt them, and nor do potholes. Now everyone wants an SUV because individualism is bleakly fashionable, though they have no farm nor title, which explains the parking anguish in Kensington and Chelsea, where they bloom like daffodils, and also in Hampstead. To meet this hunger, almost every car company now makes an SUV, including Lamborghini, Bentley, Aston Martin, Porsche and Rolls Royce. The Ferrari SUV is coming, and I cannot count exactly how many distinct SUVs Volkswagen makes. The more roads we build, the more off-road vehicles we covet, and they are ever more sumptuous.
I suspect we all have our own novel, and our own adapted Land Rover within. Mine would have a bed, perhaps a library and a fridge: I like a campervan for its imaginative possibilities. Few would imagine a Land Rover a hearse – it’s a bitter joke, perhaps his best joke – but the fact that a Land Rover carried a British prince first to life and then death is a testament to the brand. Patriotism is a valuable emotion to invoke, particularly in these bunting-clad days of awe, though Land Rover Jaguar is now owned by Tata Motors.