WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? THE LAND ROVER FREELANDER MK I

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It’s common to find that the Freelander 1’s reputation for reliability takes a bashing in car circles, however we reckon it’s a serious Modern Classic in the making, and is already laughing at the original sceptics.

Land Rover's 'baby' vehicle has an impressive following, and classic status is well on its way.

Land Rover's 'baby' vehicle has an impressive following, and classic status is well on its way.

It’s a testament to the humble Freelander 1 that such a vast number have survived so much harsh usage and still remained intact – but it makes finding a good one tricky. The petrol engines are a no-no purely for your sanity’s sake and the diesels are often abused to within an inch of their life. Prices start from as little as £800 with excellent examples selling for nearly £6k. 

And what do you get for this amount of money? Well, besides on-road mannerisms kicking it with cars twice as expensive when new, off-road performance is sublime. It can keep up with the big boys and yet only costs a quarter of the price, often shaming much more cosseted American and Japanese rivals when it boils down to battles in the mud. 

Yet, the compromises allowed by Land Rover to make the Freelander more car and less Land Rover-like led to a noticeable lack of ground clearance and the exclusion of a low range gear box, resulting in many Land Rover aficionados shunning the little Freelander  - but don’t let these little foibles deflate you. The Freelander is the only soft roader to survive the Camel Trophy and G4 Challenge alongside the rigorous testing grounds in America. In the snow, nothing in its class comes anywhere close and wading depth is impressive for a 4x4 of this size. Not to mention that it was the first Land Rover vehicle to be fitted with the now commonplace Hill Decent Control (HDC).

No off-roader had managed to mix driver comforts with serious off-road performance at such a knock-down price before, but this sadly led to poor maintenance from garages and owners alike. Drivers flogged the living hell out them on long motorway sprints and then battered the handling around tight country roads, before the next owners took the vehicle rock crawling or traversing mud baths. No car can survive this for long before things start to wear away, yet very owners few paid the cost for full repair. Despite its almost car like driving quality, the Freelander was still a 4x4 and required the relevant care - sadly very few received the attention required, most run on a shoestring budget against the handbook upon entering the second-hand market. 

However, find a good one and not only will the majority of the Land Rover brotherhood accept you, but you’ll have a Modern Classic to enjoy. The evidence for this prediction? All other Land Rovers have rapidly entered the classics status chamber and the Freelander conducts a huge following, with owners of all ages indulging themselves in the baby Land Rover - now starting a preservation process to keep early examples as original as possible.

Like any Land Rover, fan clubs for the Freelander exist all over the world, not to mention all over social media, with parts and advice easy and cheap to find. Freelanders aren’t too difficult to work on either, with voluminous numbers of enthusiasts stripping, modifying, racing and rebuilding theirs, with prices for decent specimens escalating as time kills off the poorer examples currently clinging to life.

The Freelander is quickly becoming a future classic; it’s filled with character, and even though it has its issues, you’ll grow so attached that you will find it impossible not to fall for it’s charm and practicality. Not many cars can provide you with a brotherhood, but the Freelander is one of the rare ones that does – Freelander owners have a kindred spirit, which is almost as valuable as the car itself.

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