The big tyres mercilessly mash the soil, filling with mud and forest floor residue, as the thundering diesel engine propels the vehicle through the terrain. This off-road vehicle is undeterred by rocks, deep holes or felled trees, but moves graciously and powerfully at the same time through the rocky Bornholm countryside. The Land Rover is in its element.
The iconic British ATV is not just for show on Sunday drives along the highway. On Bornholm, Land Rovers are driven through the terrain in all types of weather and all year round. They’re driven for the sheer sport of it, in competitions and on social outings but also daily in places where rough and bumpy forest roads and country lanes are impassable by virtually every other type of vehicle. No matter if it has to drive through metre-high snowdrifts or roads flooded by torrential rain, the Land Rover undauntingly engages with the unpredictable challenges of nature.
This is also how it all started for Simon Novrman, the 31-year-old chairman of Denmark’s Land Rover Club (DLRK) on Bornholm. “I grew up on a farm outside Klemensker, where in the winter we couldn’t get out because of the snow. So my dad bought an old Land Rover.” It didn’t take long before Simon’s dad joined the Danish Land Rover Club. He’d been smitten by the ‘British Disease’ as Land Rover enthusiasts call it. It’s a passion that makes adults zoom around through the hills in a tractor-like vehicle with a powerful diesel engine, pulling each other out of streams and ditches. Simon Novrman gladly admits: “It’s the same boyish enthusiasm over a monster truck, it’s every boy’s dream. The vehicle is much more than horsepower and charm.”
The first Land Rover rolled off the production line in 1948, designed by the British motor-vehicle manufacturer Rover. These compact vehicles were manufactured with a view to sales to British farmers and not least for export due to the British recession in the wake of World War II. The Land Rover’s elegant, low-key British format was originally inspired by the Jeep made famous during the war, and it is equipped with a PTO shaft for operating farm equipment and trailers. The chassis is made of aluminium, out of necessity in the post-war rationing of steel. The simple design of Series I enabled it to be maintained without having to be sent to a repair shop. The production of Series I continued into the 1960s when Series II and IIA were launched. Series II and IIA had newer, more powerful engines which led to many of them being rebuilt for various purposes – from fire trucks to mobile welding devices. Series III arrived in 1971, and like its predecessors, it had a frugal interior, a simple construction with four-wheel drive, stiff axles with leaf-spring suspension, a steel frame and aluminium chassis. Since then, even more models have appeared, such as the renowned Range Rover, Land Rover Defender, Discovery, Freelander and Range Rover Sport.
The Land Rover was used by the British Armed Forces in many parts of the world, often as an all-terrain vehicle with the military’s own modifications. But a number of outright military models were also manufactured, possibly explaining why Land Rover evokes associations with Britain’s khaki-coloured military universe of the 1950s. The vehicle has become iconic, perhaps even symbolising a bygone era. Most of the old models qualify as ‘antique’ cars today. Land Rover enthusiasts will most likely differentiate between an antique Land Rover (Series I, II or III) and a Range Rover, but Bornholm’s members show up with many different off-road vehicles to drive around together. They always drive on private property or according to an agreement with property owners. Politeness and helpfulness are part of the Land Rover culture, which after all derives from British gentlemanship.
The first Land Rovers arrived on Bornholm as commercial vehicles in the early 1960s. Bornholm’s terrain is unique. Simon Novrman explains: “When guests from other parts of Denmark visit us, they’re astounded. We live on a rocky island with a rolling, sometimes hilly, landscape, brimming with exciting challenges and difficult climbs. They’re green with envy!” Simon and the other Land Rover enthusiasts meet locally once a month all year round, but they also take part in nationwide events and get-togethers. Simon Novrman
explains that it is largely the social togetherness aspect that is attractive: “Many of the members who take part in our events are families. It’s a pleasant way to spend time together. We can take part in internal competitions and communal dining events with outdoor barbecues with a weft of nerdiness, but we also just relax and enjoy one another’s company.” According to Simon Novrman, driving a Land Rover is almost a way of life, and there are many ways to become interested in driving this iconic vehicle. “There are those who use it for long trips and have retrofitted their Land Rover for spending the night and family outings, and then there are those who are more interested in the technical aspects or the adrenalin rush.” He explains that it is precisely the simple construction of the oldest models that enables Land Rovers to be retrofitted in all sorts of ways by ordinary people. “It’s liberating: doing what you like without being restricted by reaching the end of the road.”
There’s a big difference between driving on highways, off-road or night-time orienteering, which is also one of the club’s disciplines. Highway driving is called ‘green laning’ and off-road driving is called Trial or Trophy. Trial can be driven using a standard off-road vehicle or a Land Rover, and according to Simon, it requires a high degree of precision and being thoroughly familiar with your vehicle. “Trophy is a significantly tougher form of off-road driving. It’s physically and technically demanding – both on driver and vehicle – to drive some of the tracks we make. We prefer tracks that are a bit wild and unpredictable, and the driver has to know both his vehicle and its limitations.” It’s not unusual for someone to get stuck somewhere along the way, but part of the sport is pulling them out again. Several drivers have mounted heavy-duty winches with steel cables on the front, because the primary feature of a Land Rover is its adaptability to almost any purpose. Whereas the early models had modest engines and were low-geared to maximise horsepower and manoeuvring in difficult terrain in the countryside, it is not unusual today to see a luxury model with a roaring V8 engine driving through a posh urban area of Denmark. Some people might think that such horsepower is overkill for a residential street in a suburban neighbourhood, but child-like enthusiasm and the feeling of off-roader freedom is probably the same in the city as it is in a muddy field in the Bornholm countryside.
If you feel the urge to test your strength with driving a Land Rover off-road on Bornholm, take a look at DLRK Bornholm’s calendar posted on their Facebook page and contact the club by phone or e-mail. DLRK Bornholm has about 30 members, but not all of them own a Land Rover. Nor is it a membership requirement – all you need is the interest. Off-road driving in the DRLK requires all new members to take part in a one-day mandatory safety course, however. The course involves both theory and practice. And you have to accept the fact that comfort isn’t always a top priority. The early models require more manual labour as they don’t have power steering. Manoeuvring them is a brutal struggle involving machine, muscles and mud. The newer models are equipped with power steering and are more comfortable, of course, but according to Simon Novrman, the driving experience is no less exciting. “The first time you try driving a Land Rover you’ll probably discover that you either hate it or love it. There’s not much in between. But most of us feel that ‘where the road ends, the fun begins’.”