“My view was that if you wanted compelling, emotional, modern designs to last in production, design had to be an equal partner with engineering. So we changed it. Now we’re equal partners.”
McGovern says he’s nowadays “joined at the hip” with Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) chief engineer, “even though we sometimes make life hard for him.” Modern engineers, he says with conviction, understand as well as anyone in the company the beneficial effect that appealing design has on sales.
We’re at Gaydon, overlooked by a gigantic jumble of cranes and scaffolding as the adjacent engineering centre is rapidly reconfigured as a happy home for 12,000 inmates. As well as spending time with McGovern, my mission is to meet Land Rover’s chief designer, colour and materials, Amy Frascella, because Land Rover has rapidly become an influential leader in this vital area and American-born Fraschella is recognised as one of its foremost experts.
Parked around us are four Land Rovers: a superb Series One from JLR’s Reborn operation; the actual LRX concept that wowed the world at Detroit in 2008 and rapidly turned into the rule-changing Evoque three years later; a mid-1970s two-door Range Rover (in the mustard colour that only ever looked good in this solitary application); and McGovern’s own motor of the moment, a matt-finish Range Rover in Byron Blue. A more disparate quartet would be hard to find.
The two design chiefs are thus looking wary because they know our story’s remit is to gather their thoughts on why Land Rovers look the way they do, a gigantic question. It’s clear they’re not keen to grope for links between the machines they create today and cars from 1948, or even 1970.
Yet it has to be asked: what do these Land Rover and Range Rover originals mean to my companions? McGovern, famous for having his head in the future, smiles a little wearily as he acknowledges a fondness for the classics and their contribution to Landie DNA, “though the world’s changed massively since then”. Frascella acknowledges the honesty and durability of materials in early cars and reckons their intended longevity still influences today’s materials choices. Neither designer puts it this way, but it’s pretty clear that as long as new Land Rover models acknowledge original marque values, and do them no actual harm, the job’s done.