The Evolution of Land Rover Design
How Modernism Shaped the Range Rover
At first glance, there was no obvious connection between the legendary Twin Palms Frank Sinatra estate in Palm Springs, California, and the technology-laden Land Rover Range Rovers that were parked out front.
The house is famous for being the desert getaway of the iconic singer in the late '40s and early '50s, while at the same time the Rover Company in the U.K. had just started making a crude utility vehicle called the Land Rover.
More than six decades later, the house is now famous for its classic midcentury architecture, while Land Rover has become its own brand of utility vehicles that are as technologically advanced as they are capable.
Explaining the intersection of the two was left to Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's design director. His poolside talk, dubbed "Modernism and Me," detailed how Modernist architecture like the Twin Palms estate had heavily influenced his design philosophy and ultimately led to the clean lines of Land Rover's latest vehicles.
Growing Up With Modernism
Raised in Coventry in the British Midlands, McGovern got an early taste of Modernism as the city around him rose from the ashes of WWII. Many civic buildings adopted the sleek lines of international Modernism, which made them stand out against the traditionally styled brick buildings around them.
One such building was the Coventry Cathedral, which was built alongside the ruins of the original St. Michael's church. "It was one of my favorite buildings. Everything about it was impressive," McGovern said.
His first move out of Coventry was to the Royal College of Art in London, which gave McGovern an even broader taste of modern design. A curriculum based on automotive design may have narrowed his focus, but Modernism would never stray too far from his mind. "I loved the elegance of Modernist architecture and I knew it would translate well to automotive design," McGovern said.
Modern Design Through His Eyes
Although his current job entails overseeing every element of Land Rover design, a previous position at Ford had McGovern overseeing the look of Lincoln vehicles. It was an especially intriguing position, as McGovern sees the fourth-generation Lincoln Continental (1961-'69) as a great example of modernist car design with its long, clean lines and lack of ornamentation.
Hard to believe these days, but McGovern also noted how some Lincoln dealerships mimicked the car's modern design with plenty of sleek lines of their own. It's something he would like to see again in modern Land Rover dealerships, but he admits that ultimately, "The car should be the star, not the building."
That said, McGovern has already come up with a new look for dealerships that are interested in adopting his design aesthetic. It's more about the details than constructing a new building, however, as McGovern knows that a remodel is far more likely to happen than a rebuild.
Living the Modern Life
At home, McGovern is fully immersed in Modernist architecture. From the design of the house itself to the furniture and the artwork inside, every piece has a story to go with its modern look. And although some might think it all looks very cold, McGovern insists that it's all very comfortable. "Everything has to be comfortable and usable or it doesn't make sense for a home," he said.
That same idea comes through in his latest designs for Land Rover. Even though the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport have some of the most finely tailored interiors available on the market today, they're also incredibly comfortable. It's an element that McGovern plans to continue as he revamps the entire Land Rover lineup with new interiors that are unique to each vehicle's personality.
"We'll offer customers a wider range of choice when it comes to colors and materials, but the overall look will be consistent throughout the brand," McGovern said. Needless to say, that look will have a style and it will be anything but traditional.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.