Life of Brian
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Welcome to the Life of Brian.

Let me say right now, the more flak I get for this wonderful example (see left) of the virtues of virtual reality over real reality (if you see what I mean) the more steely becomes the resolve to keep it right here!



On various meanings of 4x4 life.

The older stuff just keeps slipping further down the page. Which is a lot like life if you think about it. The jokes are at the bottom of the page but keep in mind that much of this stuff is old enough to have whiskers now, though that doesn't necessarily make it any less pertinent.

December 2004. The year is all but over and I have finally come out from under the sand filled sock long enough to type a few words. The Bulldog has been and gone, the biggest ever which made me feel really humble. Indeed parked on top of the highest hill on day two watching the ant like progress of nigh on 60 4x4's on the slopes and valleys below brought a tear to my eye, it could of course have been the razor sharp wind whistling across the hills too but I like to show my softer side. The report will be in here sooner rather than later but let me say there was the usual hugely competitive nature of the event yet coupled with such equanimity that it seems almost too good to be true, but true it is and long may it continue. The site was a stunner for looks and huge off roading and hopefully a lot more people will have the opportunity to join us there in 2005 on a much gentler event designed for road going 4x4's. Watch for details in future events.

If you look below you will see my mention of the latest media 'story' for knocking 4x4's, about 6 months ago. It's usually the same media that only 18 months ago were lauding all the new excesses of that same genre. The media does seem to love building things up in order to knock them down or am I being paranoid? However! Do not ignore these whispering campaigns, they too often get legs and run, especially with our current touchy feely masters at the helm. Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson seemed to stir the hornets nest nicely with his Discovery 3 run from sand to summit on the Sutherland coast. Whatever else you may think of him and the programme (addictive viewing in our house, though that's partly due to the females attraction to Richard Hammond. Let's see him on an Enduro, then we'll see who's made of the sterner stuff, that's what I say!") no one can contest his willingness to stand up for motorists, something far too many of us (myself included) seem reluctant to do at times. You shouldn't believe all you see on TV though I can vouch for the fact that the Discovery did drive (or winch) the whole route as shown. The little bit of Directors poetic license was used to good effect so the whole thing was an excellent display of the Discovery prowess (and perhaps the benefit of diff locks rather than relying entirely on traction control). What it didn't show you was the subsequent confusion when said Mr Clarkson was lifted off the mountain in his helicopter at the end of the filming. That would have been fine and dandy had he not still had the Discovery keys in his pocket. Why did he feel the need to remove the keys on an isolated mountain top? Back to the anti 4x4 hysteria being generated by lots of people of indeterminate motives. I would point you towards a couple of websites noted to me by an old 4x4 journalist friend, Mike Hallett. I shall not attempt to justify either. One is the website of those who believe that 4x4's should be taxed out of existence at the very least, preferably banned, and one that puts a reasoned case against their arguments. I, like most of my ilk, tell you of both so you can see and decide for yourself knowing full well that the hordes anti's are unlikely to be quite so even handed, being British can be a pain at times.. (Speaking of a pain sorry they aren't links just addresses!) or try

One thing I have noticed is that Land Rovers, sorry Defenders to you youngsters, seems to escape the the wilder excesses of the media flak so after 36 years of driving a Land Rover I have seen them go from barely noticeable GT tractors through to cool automotive icon to stealth 4x4. I hope to live long enough to see the next phase.

Keith Bettis, long time Redcoat and 2 i/c (though those in the know reckon, with more justification than is comfortable for me at times, that he is often i/c) on our events has been busy this last year. His familiar (to COR regulars at any rate) battleship grey V8 Ninety has been usurped by a metallic green TD5 hardtop currently having the off road bits added to it prior to its maiden event on the Enduro. Baptism of fire anyone? Oh he got married to Christine Fairey too and on that off road event we were BOTH definitely 2 i/c!

May 2004. It does seem an awful long time since I put my head in here, but that medieval picture above still elicits a smile of recognition. Quite who is recognisable is another matter altogether. Life goes on though the 4x4 side of the Hartley household activities is still but a pale shadow of its former self. Happily Donald Sutherland hasn't been as sanguine as myself and has beavered away to ensure that this years Highland Safari will probably be the biggest one ever. The Highland Enduro hasn't died either. Discussions have been taking place regarding a completely new site, still near the Kyle of Lochalsh but even higher than the previous epic terrain. It's far from finalised but it sounds encouraging.

The recent recce for the upcoming Bulldog Trophy wasn't without incident. The landowner kindly took us round in his well abused 90 truck cab. Well until we slithered off a greasy banking into a stream bed at any rate. The 90 was nose down into the far banking of the stream in that unenviable position known as 'well stuck'. Given the lack of grip available it seemed a little foolhardy to whistle up the farms 4x4 John Deere. It arrived in its yellow and green magnificence, all air conditioned cab, a zillion gears with diff locks and treads you could disappear in. However impressive, my logic told me it wasn't going to pull a dead 90 out of the stream whilst on a steep, uphill, sodden slope itself. OK so humble pie is a staple diet for me these days but it still didn't seem logical. The treads never even dug up any mud. The turbo intercooled engine took the strain, the chain (this was a farmer remember!) clanked tight and everything set off up the hill with about as much drama as can be experienced on Channel 5, yes really that easy. That was part one of the the recce.

The problem now was that I had taken 'the' Discovery to travel up to Roxburghshire in style and at a miserly fuel consumption. This enormous favour from my dear wife was allowed only because we were being chauffeured in the farmers 4x4 so that no ruffty off roading would be required of the electronic marvel. (It is an awfully long story but my record of 'recces' with the family Discoverys over the years has been dismal. Our best 300 Discovery was submerged not once, which could have been put down to misfortune, but twice which sadly has to be put down to stupidity). I digress. The demise of the 90 left us with the Discovery or no recce. My sidekick Harry spelled out clearly the likely retribution should anything untoward befall, (not I might add as any helpful show of friendly solidarity, merely making sure he was in the clear once the inevitable happened). Despite the appalling conditions with rain squalls like a heavenly jet wash at hourly intervals and the all too recent reminder of what happens when gravity and traction get out of balance, we set off in the Discovery.

This was to be its baptism of fire, the time when perhaps, just perhaps, I might get to see the electronic trickery in a brave new light of technology and modern thinking. Those thoughts were very far from my mind as we gracefully spun round in 360 degree circles gaining momentum back down the same grassy hillside the 90 had so recently taken a dive on. Luckily we had got much higher before 'losing it' and therefore had time to accelerate out of trouble and on to a level portion. Several more attempts ended in roughly the same scenario. This tale tells you two things. Those intent on entering this years Bulldog know what to expect in wet weather and I really must stop trying master electronic 4wd systems. With judicious use of local knowledge, rather than 4x4 technique and traction, we managed to get to all the places we needed to see without any more drama. Enough to confirm the site for this years Bulldog at any rate. It took eight hours to clean the Discovery the following day BUT it was unblemished, undamaged and unsunk!

Though I still cannot get to love the beast it's no longer because of the TD5's woeful lack of power. A magic chip from twisted logic (fitted post the recce) has created a fiend of a 4x4 where performance is concerned, it's wonderful. 600 miles in and the mpg is averaged at 25.7. The last time the MPG was checked was 26.5 prior to its chip dinner so there seems no loss there. It comes highly recommended for putting a smile on the face of TD5 owners, particularly those that like me expect their engines to pull their weight in every way.

The Motor Show 4x4 route over mainly natural terrain is a brave move and promises to introduce yet more people to the joys of 4x4. I long since stopped trying to work out where it is all going to lead where 4x4 is concerned though it is fascinating to see how a large selection of the media have taken against 4x4's in a generic way. It is more than possible that the media sniping has, directly or indirectly, lead to the Early Day Motion regarding green lanes. As is often said, never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, so I won't.

2003 Ambling down the A9 from the Highland Safari on a baking hot July day with caravan on tow and V8 burbling nicely through its drainpipe exhaust. Two hours into a six hour sojourn to our next port of call, Windermere. The Hartley family of four. One in rear surrounded by gear, three in the front which, as those who have done it know, is an exercise in cosy co-operation. My youngest daughter in the centre seat has soon learned that ignoring racing changes into second or fourth can be painful to her limbs so she now moves her leg in a Pavlovian response when the clutch foot starts to descend. Discussions of future holidays were being held about 8 decibels above the usual internal racket increased on this occasion by use of the air conditioning. I mean of course both front vents were open admitting copious amounts of hot air and winged insects. Eldest daughter thought a week in Florida sounded cool, a statement greeted with tacit agreement except from myself. My argument stemmed mainly from the thoughts of spending eight hours cooped up in an aeroplane for just a week in Florida. There was a slight pause before the withering, almost orchestrated response, 'so eight hours in a 4x4 oven for a 3 day trip to the Highlands is better in what way exactly?????' I tend to keep my thoughts to myself more these days! (For the sake of clarity I should point out that there was no contest in the Highlands destination being better, it was the suggestion that eight hours in a Boeing 757 was somehow less comfortable.)

2003 Apropos of nothing in particular we were on holiday in the Lake District at Spring Bank holiday. Bumbling about in our inflatable on Lake Windermere Captain Hartley espied a low shape in the water. A high speed dash to investigate revealed not one, not two, but three Alvis Stalwarts swimming up the lake, flags flying, Rolls Royce engines beating out a rorty rhythm and crews of indeterminate origin manning these wonderful amphibians. A distinctly piratical figure in the rearmost of the convoy looked surprisingly familiar, or at least the cut of his well framed jib did. One Mario Aliperti, well off his natural manor of the London area, was, as usual, up to kindly mischief. An old and respected figure from 4x4 racing and military activities of nought dot years ago it was the longest of long chances. We rode escort with them for the 4 mile journey to the public slipway where the Alvis trio heaved their 7 ton bulk from the waves and drove off into the sunset splashing Windermere water along the local roads to cool them off. Epic stuff!

2003 I'm still trying to get to grips with a Series II Discovery and its electronic character. So far it is a love/hate relationship... I love to hate it. Perseverance is required as the 'other' driver likes it... a lot, therefore my irrational outbursts as to its wilful ways (the Discovery) are having no effect other than to upset the other driver, which in turn upsets me. Forget the anti green road lobby for a moment, a far bigger threat comes with this governments decision to try and get rid of the 14 day rule. In essence this is what 95% of landowners rely on to be able to hold events of many different sorts on their land for 14 days each year. Its removal would mean planning consent having to be gained for every individual event or for the site as a whole. Only someone who is so innocent as to be as yet unborn could honestly believe that this was anything other than yet another nail in the coffin of ANY activity that doesn't get a big green label from 'them' whoever 'they' may be. The same 'they' have got their way to ban power boats from Lake Windermere, just wait to see what's next!

2003 Whilst running a 4x4 course at the Millbrook proving grounds in Bedfordshire earlier this year we had chance to inspect some new earthworks being carried ourt for the then upcoming Army vehicle demonstration. The main point of interest was the 45° demonstration slope under construction. Many of us think that we have been up massively steep slopes often beyond 45°. Trust me when I tell you that very few have ever climbed beyond that magic figure and those that have will have only been steeper than that for a very short length. Stood looking down that slope brought words like 'hecky thump' 'ruddy heck'

Timeless Timely reminder about ice. Never under estimate the destructive power of iced over water when you're off roading. Plunging into ice covered water can easily cost major body damage. We once saw a 90 get all 4 tyre valves neatly amputated whilst ice breaking on a January Irish event... and I've taken both headlights out in the same fashion. It's cheaper learning at someone elses expense. Also in road terms never forget that 4x4 can find grip when all around are losing it..... BUT once in motion bringing a bulky 4x4 back to heel can be fraught with difficulty so bear in mind that stopping is often a damn sight harder than getting going and no amount of electronic black magic can alter the laws of physics!

2001 The Club Off Road Optima Power Challenge event November 2001 was filmed for Discovery Channel. The event will be part of a 5 programme series on off roading along with, I believe, a military off road event, driver training with Land Rover, a 4x4 trial and a Hillrally. As an infrequent TV watcher I shall be making a special effort to watch those five programmes, as much as anything to see how the different strands of this now extremely wide ranging hobby 'come over' to the muggles. (Muggles; A term lifted straight from Harry Potter. There used to describe non magical folk, here used to denote those who don't understand off roading. I can see the similarity, can you?) I shall also watch it to cringe on the couch as it is a fair bet that there will be several howlers among it. My favourite was telling Tony Mason, the front man for the programmes, on camera that there were no long wheelbase 4x4's entered in the event hence this particular 'tight' section's suitability. That would have been fine & dandy had I not seen out of the corner of my what looked remarkably like a 110 slithering between the trees into a gully. (It looked remarkably like a One Ten because of course it was. Write out 100 times I must check my facts first!) Optima Batteries will certainly be pleased as it will spread the word about their particularly powerful batteries even further and that's what sponsorship is all about.

2001 TV also entered into Club Off Road's sphere of operation just after the Optima. Working for Mitsubishi as a 4x4 driver and course maker, on a product launch we had the irrepressible Vicki Butler-Henderson of Top Gear testing Mitsubishi products. Strangely enough what you see on TV is what you get. She isn't just larger than life she's actually outgrown it. Not only has she got immense 'joie de vivre' (look it up, it's French) she can drive like a demon and was brutally honest enough to confess that she wasn't too happy with the off roading part, didn't like the steep hills. Riding with her, by the tenth take I wasn't too keen on the hills either. If you ever see that particular clip on Top Gear the somewhat restrained guy in the passenger seat of a particularly persecuted Pinin is me, the good looking one laughing uproariously is V B-H! The whole Mitsubishi range was available on these launches, from the improved Pinins through the L200 pickups, which just have to be one of the biggest 4x4 success stories around, via the Shogun Sport (a highly under rated 4x4) to Shogun proper. Now I could tell you a wonderful story about the various names Shogun has around the world and why it is different in some countries because of an unfortunate translation effect but sadly it's not really in keeping with the family nature of this organisation! However what I was getting around to say was that it also embraced the Mitsubishi Evolution 7. This 4x4 saloon based on the Lancer has to be the fastest way to bring a grin to a world weary face without using illegal substances. Nought to sixty in just a whisker over 4 seconds is eyeball numbing performance but that's not the real party trick. What makes it so clever is that it handles, grips and brakes with the same sort of phenomenal panache but is also as docile and easy to drive as its standard counterpoint should you wish to do so. It's not exactly my ideal 4x4 but I sure has hell volunteered to do the 'fill up' run to the garage every night to ensure I got an adrenalin fix. We used sites in Scotland, Gloucestershire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Yorkshire. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

To see pictures of Mitsubishis in action press the CoR button.

And now for something completely different. These are from fellow off roaders;

There are times when you think it's only you that makes that cockup, faux pas or just plain dumb move. So this should make you feel much better when you realise that the rich and powerful also make cock ups just like you and me. In case you were wondering this Airbus actually is longer, larger, and goes farther....... but then it would with a following wind!


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