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Austin Sprite and Range Rover Vogue: Driving fun in the snow

Hardy Mutschler
Austin Sprite and Range Rover Vogue
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D he route leads steeply uphill through the forest, deeper and deeper into winter, until it can only be guessed under the blanket of snow. The white land to the right and left of the narrow swath could be called Alaska or Siberia - all that's missing now is a caribou, which is chased across the path by a pack of hungry wolves in order to perfect this illusion. But that shouldn't be expected on the Swabian Alb.

Bonsai Roadster and massive off-road vehicle

Because tons of fresh snow fell yesterday, the curvy, 888-meter-high Lochenpass, halfway between Balingen and Tieringen, marks the fun highlight of a trip in two cars, whose only common denominator is their British ancestry. You could call this company a kind of test. To find out, for example, which concept is least impressed by snow and ice.

But that would only be half the story (and the result would be quickly determined anyway). Perhaps such a great winter day can also just be used to have a good helping of fun. Like all those whose greatest pleasure is winter rallies. Or who only use one seasonal license plate on principle - for the period from November to April.

Rare Austin and over-range

Vehicle number one is a rare Austin Sprite Mk V from its last year of construction 1971, which is actually an Austin-Healey Sprite. But the year before that, the BLMC (British Leyland Motor Corporation) had terminated the contract on the use of the Healey name. And in July 1971 the production of the only 3.5 meter long bonsai roadster finally stopped completely.

The Range Rover, our number two car for today's tour, was only a year old. As the culmination of 22 years of facelift and spurred on by increasing sales figures, Land Rover finally put something like an over-range on the wheels with the Vogue LSEi 4.2 in 1992: more luxury (air suspension), more length (plus 20 centimeters) and more displacement for the almost 30-year-old V8 (4.2 instead of 3.9 liters). The photo model is such a specimen from 1994, thelast year of construction of the first Range Rover series.

It comes from the Austin Sprite from the fleet of Land Rover specialist Urs Stiegler from Beuron-Neidingen ( www.landy-point.de ), a man who only enjoys driving when there is no more asphalt in sight. You understand Stiegler as soon as you, the driver, have taken a seat in the range and closed the safe-like door behind you. In this lounge, lined with wood and leather, the adversities of the world suddenly no longer play a role.

The range pampers the passengers

The enormous seat height and the quiet rumble of the 202 hp powerful V8 engines convey the feeling of absolute superiority even when stationary. The combination of all-wheel drive, a lot of ground clearance and two rigid axles that are easy to twist, make you long for a landslide that blocks the road on the way to daily shopping. But such an obstacle would probably go unnoticed in this car. Snow on the road is then, as expected, punished by the Range with the greatest possible contempt.

The luxury off-roader, which once cost 107,500 marks, starts moving effortlessly on the white powder, and it does not matter whether it is steep goes uphill or whether the handlebars turn into a forest parking lot that has not been cleared for days. There the two-tonne car does its laps unstoppably with the sovereignty of a cogwheel train, while air conditioning and heated seats keep the crew happy. She also enjoys the feeling of gliding over a motorway, because the air suspension robs even the most devious transverse channels of any raison d'être. In the absence of serious hurdles, neither the two-stage reduction gear nor the level control have to be tried today. It looks like winter hasn't even started for the Range. Roadster pilots should also be tough. A sports car like a Sprite is, of course, always driven open everywhere.

Lighter Austin whirls through the snow

Appropriate clothing is required, ideally that of a polar explorer, because the heater doesn't even pass as a bad joke. Even slim people then look like sumo wrestlers and take a long time to come to terms with the tight cockpit. The small 1,300 unit has been rattling aggressively for a few minutes at idle and sounds like more than the official 66 hp. Urs Stiegler suspects a sharp camshaft in the car that was partially restored ten years ago. At that time, the original rear fenders with the low and almost angular wheel cutouts were obviously exchanged for those with round ones, which only started in 1972 whenidentical MG Midget were introduced. But this makes the patinated car, which the previous owner amputated the front bumper for whatever reason, look a bit more serious.

In the snow, we don't trust this right-hand drive Sprite to do any great things despite brand new winter tires. As a precaution, a rope is on board. But already the first few meters show that an Austin Sprite is a survivor and at the same time a true British roadster with great entertainment value. Roaring loudly, it plunges into winter, the engine revving up greedily in every gear. And because the pilot is almost sitting on the road (and could pass under the range by feeling), every bump penetrates to him unfiltered. You will look for luxury in vain. And of course the windshield wipers have long since surrendered to their task of keeping the windscreen free of snow and ice.

But it doesn't matter with a car whose limit range is so small that you have to counter-steer when you see a curve. In the snow it doesn't go a meter straight ahead - if you want to know where you're going, you better look out of the side windows. Because in spite of everything, the roadster is marching on inexorably. With the courage of desperation, he digs his way through the snow with his little wheels like a berserker - after a few laps you don't even shoot far meters past the target. The Sprite offers its pilot the complete range of enjoyment. Maybe you should really take it to Alaska or Siberia.


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