July 2015 | Samod Sarngan

How Land Rover played Cupid

Land Rover New Zealand re-unites four university mates with their college love - a 1957 Series I Land Rover, on Valentines' Day - a story that has since gone viral with over seven million hits

This is a story that seems straight out of the movies, where lovers are separated by circumstances until destiny intervenes to reunite them. However, there is a big twist in this particular tale. This is not about two but four friends, and their cherished love Landy… a 1957 Series I Land Rover.

  • The Otago University mates and James McKee (R), marketing manager, Land Rover, with the restored Landy.
  • Will Radford, Jeremy Wells, Anthony Dawson and James Shatwell put their beloved Land Rover up for sale after having failed to restore the vehicle several times.
  • Purchased by pooling money during their college days, the vehicle held a lot of memories for the four Otago University mates.
  • When Land Rover purchased the old Landy, the engine and gearbox were missing while the rest of the parts were in various stages of disrepair; only the body was in good condition.
  • Once restored, the Landy was taken on a tour of some of the places the four had toured during their college days.
  • The restored Landy was unveiled to the four friends through a TV commercial.

It was James McKee, a marketing manager with Land Rover, New Zealand, who played cupid to reunite the friends with their beloved Landy on Valentine's Day 2015. The campaign, which was aired on national television and print, has since gone viral with over seven million hits and has been hugely popular with the local people.

The story began when four Otago University mates — Will Radford, Jeremy Wells, Anthony Dawson and James Shatwell — put the ancient Land Rover up for sale online after having failed to restore the vehicle several times. The friends had pooled money to buy the Landy during their college days and it held a treasure trove of memories. "It took a long time to come to terms with parting with what felt like one of the family. In the end we had to make the call for the good of the Landy and give her to someone else who could give her the attention we couldn't provide and she deserved," Will recalls.

Every love story needs a cupid and in this story, Cupid was Land Rover. The online ad was noticed by Land Rover officials who decided to secretly purchase the Landy, restore it and hand it over to its owners as a Valentine's gift. "The online ad gushed with memories of youthful times spent travelling and bonding, and clearly showed how much this vehicle meant to the lads," says McKee.

The Land Rover team mounted a covert operation, complete with undercover transactions and clandestine meetings to get possession of the Landy. "It wasn't a question of money for them but a question of time. What with their work and family commitments, they truly wanted to see the vehicle go to someone that could have as much fun in it as they did. If we could remove the time they needed and give them back that sense of adventure and mateship in one swoop – that is truly going above and beyond," explains McKee.

Though the friends had been upfront about it, the Land Rover team was unprepared for the pitiable condition of the vehicle. "It was a pile of rusty parts with the engine and gearbox missing. Only the body was in good condition," says McKee.

Being Land Rover, the restored vehicle needed to be all genuine and of the highest quality, so the services of Tony Katterns of Custom Metal Shapers were hired. The restoration was a huge challenge that called for a complete chassis and engine rebuild. "The restoration team did an amazing job from start to finish. To be able to start with what they did, and end up with the quality of finished product in just three months, was truly a great effort," says McKee.

During the loving restoration, the team went to great lengths to retain or reproduce the original bumper stickers, and even some of the 'bumps and bruises' in the body to maintain the outward semblance of the Landy. "They had proudly displayed bumper stickers from their favourite ski fields, their rowing club and of course the Land Rover Owners club — these were all replicated and placed in exactly their original positions. We refurbished and reinstalled their custom bike racks, leaving of course, the scratches on the side window where the pedals had rubbed," says McKee.

Once the Landy was restored to its former glory, it was taken on a road test, a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand's South Island to relive some of the original adventures showcased in the online ad.

Will's wife Claire, who collaborated with the Land Rover team throughout the campaign, even helped in hiding the restored vehicle in the garage, till it was unveiled to the four unsuspecting friends. Claire also lured the four friends to sit before the television just in time to watch the TVC announcing the return of the Landy. "Once I realised from the TV ad that we hadn't lost her forever, we were completely surprised! We were blown away! Anthony couldn't string a sentence together and I had a touch of moisture in my eyes," Will recalls his reaction on being reunited with his college love.

For Land Rover, the story has generated an overwhelmingly positive response. "We have reached more than a quarter of the entire country with it. The best part for me however is anecdotal. The number of people that have regaled me with stories about their first Land Rover experience, the car they learned to drive in, or the first time they drove down the beach – all told with a beaming smile on their faces. That is really what this story is about, it's about reminding everyone that we all have a link to Land Rover, it's a part of New Zealand's DNA, and importantly it is something that makes us all dream of our next adventure," adds McKee.