I’ve driven racecars at over 230 mph countless times. I’ve also crashed at those insane speeds, once or twice. I’m certainly not afraid of danger, and, frankly, it takes a lot to rattle my nerves. The stunt that Land Rover pulled while testing the 2014 Range Rover Sport, however, certainly got my heart racing. Not because of speed. Nor because of danger. It was primarily because I was driving up a 45-degree slope into a Boeing 747, with no idea what mayhem lay ahead.
I was the first to arrive at a small airport deep in the British countryside. The drive down to the Cotswolds featured wonderful thatched-roof cottages, corner shops offering freshly baked bread and creamy milk, situated next to quaint English pubs serving salty fish n’ chips. Endless rolling fields filled the backdrop, littered with around three million grazing sheep. Presumably every resident went by the name of Duchess, or Duke, or Sir. Or perhaps even Kate.
I’d heard there was a “special treat” in store once we arrived at the airport, courtesy of Land Rover. I had no idea what that meant. I thought maybe we’d get to drive a mock-racetrack, enabling us to test the Sport’s nifty handling. Even better, perhaps there’d be more of those delicious Welsh Cakes I’d demolished for lunch the previous day?
What I actually saw was a massive Boeing 747 with Land Rover decals and steep metal ramps appearing out of its various parts. A short British lady in a Land Rover shirt ushered me towards a distant set of flags.
“That way, Sir,” she said. “Another one of me will direct you from there.”
Another one of her appeared. Although this time it was a male version.
“Up that ramp, follow that chap in the black shirt,” he said.
“Follow him where? What are we doing?” I said.
“Okey dokey, keep on going. You got it,” he reassuringly answered.
So up the 45-degree slope I went, clueless as to what lay ahead. As the ramp steepened, I could barely see the strange man I was blindly following, taking cues from his fingertips only fractionally exposed above the hood, informing me as to whether I was about to plummet off the side of the ramp.
As daylight turned to black, it took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness within the plane. What appeared was a maze of obstacles deep in the belly of a Boeing 747.
Turning sharp right, I was immediately faced with a steep side slope, causing me to traverse around an old parked Land Rover while feeling like I was about to tip over. Again, I followed the man’s fingertips as he subtly gestured, indicating which direction I needed to align my wheels.
Next up was a ramp for the right wheels, followed by one for the left. It was like being on a kid’s seesaw, gently mounting the right, before the front wheel flew down to the ground with neck-breaking force, jacking the left rear wheel three feet into the air.
All this while being inside a jumbo jet: “This is madness,” I thought.
Next I ventured up a short, steep climb into what would have been the First Class cabin. A photographer was there to greet me: “Can I get you anything, Sir?” he said. “Champagne, perhaps? Or how about a copy of today’s Daily Mirror?”
I laughed, nervously.
What made this whole episode particularly uncomfortable was that I had no idea what came next. I had no idea how to tackle these obstacles, and no idea whether what I was doing was correct. I was now DRIVING through the First Class cabin. The seats had the obligatory TVs mounted in the headrest. I was aboard a Range Rover Sport. It was like a weird dream, usually only occurring after one-too-many pints of Guinness.
Just before I reached the pilot’s cabin, the ramp took a sharp drop forward. I could see it was an abrupt slope down to the ground. I gently pulled forward, tiptoed over the edge, and let the hill-descent take control, bringing me safely to the ground.
“Phew,” I said, mopping the beads of sweat from my forehead.
As fun as that was, I kind of wanted to be done. At this point, I hadn’t broken anything—bones or car. I also hadn’t soiled myself, which was a definite plus. But back up a side ramp into the plane I went. Entering the plane’s body, I expected to turn right.
“Straight ahead,” said my spotter.
I presumed there was a ramp down the other side, but honestly, I couldn’t see a thing. All I could see was a runway, fields, and more sheep. The man asked me to creep towards the edge, then just as the front started to nosedive, hit the brakes hard. This felt like being on Sheikra at Busch Gardens, where the ride stops perilously over the most treacherous and terrifying part. The only difference; there, you can see the tracks ahead. Because of the protruding hood, I just saw a 50-foot sheer drop.
“OK, release the brake and have fun,” my spotter said.
“Sure,” I replied foolishly.
Of course, there was a ramp for me to scale down, albeit an insanely steep one. So steep, in fact, for a spilt second, I thought the car was going to topple end over end.
At the bottom, I let out a nervous giggle. Quite frankly, it was the most intense things I’d done in a long while. Not because of the tasks, as barmy as they were, but because of the mystery. Not knowing what was round the bend, or over the crest; following a man’s fingertips over death-defying edges, trusting him entirely. If I wasn't the first car to enter the maze, and managed to get my bearings by observing others navigate it prior to me, I'm sure it'd have felt less sketchy. But amazingly, it got the blood pumping faster than any 1,000 hp hypercar ever has. The element of surprise, I guess, remains a powerful attribute.
In the end, Land Rover proved the 2014 Range Rover Sport's capability in the most extreme way possible--also, perhaps, the most memorable. But once I’d disembarked, I noticed another 747 awaited. Only his time, I went in by foot. Inside, I was served the finest British tea. And yes, mounds of delightfully scrumptious Welsh Cakes.