Born in Lode Lane
Born in Lode Lane is two biographies in one; on the one hand, it provides a brief snippet into the life of one Mr Roger Crathorne, and on the other, it is full of insights and anecdotes about Land Rover.
Born a year apart, within a mile of one another, the life and times of Roger Crathorne and Land Rover have been linked.
I met him at an event at Packington Park, to commemorate 65 Years of Land Rover. Roger Crathorne, known reverentially as ‘Mr Land Rover’, was at hand to educate the ignorant among us and to field all our questions. A development engineer who’s worked with Land Rover for nearly 50 years, Crathorne has had a hand in almost every Land Rover developed since, including the first Range Rover, the first Discovery, the Freelander and the Range Rover Sport. Now of course, his work involves more of PR and less of plugging around in a field (though he still does for fun), and he says this will very well be his last job with the company.
He dealt with all my questions with great patience, a quality someone habituated to manufacturing and testing actual components in pre-computer analysis days would be! Apart from Land Rover product engineering, he spoke of international law, customs operations, adventure tourism, the nationalisation of the British car industry, his experience in India (he travelled here, once to shoot a commercial for Land Rover), and the British Royal family.
He shared many anecdotes with me, about how the ashtray in the original Range Rover Classic was an after-thought (since none of the development engineers smoked, they didn’t think of it), about how sales in Australia dropped when they replaced the aluminium front grilles with plastic grilles (in the outback, these were used to barbeque meat), and how once he had to change an engine mount in the middle of a boggy field, after it failed. Some of these I found in his book, which I read at leisure later.
At the end of the day, over cocktails and dinner, he presented me with this book. Now, I’m not particularly sentimental, and I suspect Mr Crathorne isn’t either, but this will be something which I will truly treasure for the rest of my life. To dedicate one’s life to one brand, one company, would seem an alien concept to any of us today. Yet, Mr Crathorne did just that, which is what makes him almost as much of an institution as the company he works for.