Welcome to 'Profiles in "Courage,”' a new feature here on the Roverlog. In this series of articles, we seek to recognize individuals who have aimed for the stars in pursuit of their Land Rover ownership experience. Regardless of whether a project is still just a twinkle in one's wallet, a fully realized going (and stopping) concern, or an utter failure to be kept secret from your mates, those stories need to be told.
I use the word "courage," because while your friends and family members may (don't worry, they do) think you are a wrench-wielding, environment-destroying, garage-locked Neanderthal, in your Land Rover's eyes, you are a Hero. Maybe even a Superhero. The day you handed over a cashier's check or stack of Benjamins for that algae-covered, flat-tired hulking pile of aluminum with a chassis and firewall doing their best Swiss Cheese impersonation, you revealed your true nature. You were either brave or stupid. Nobody wants to be stupid, so let's go with brave.
I'll start with my own story, and some thoughts about why Land Rovers captivate the imaginations of so many, and to such extent. And, why I'm so stupid. I mean, brave. Right then.
Land Rover enthusiasts, perhaps more than those of other marques, have the courage (translation, no common sense) to walk out onto that narrow precipice, overlooking the twin chasms of financial ruin and never-ending, miserable, all-consuming projects that ensure we never get to go on holiday, and always show up to the office Monday morning with black fingernails and not enough sleep.
The first question any sane person would ask, after that type of introduction, is, of course, the most simple one. It's also the one with the most complicated answer.
For me, it started with a desire to spend more time enjoying the "great outdoors" and “getting away from it all.” A 4x4 would be just the thing to make that happen, and as a young 20-something with no trust fund and nary a winning lottery ticket in sight, it would have to be an old one for me. Back then, the internet was just a mere speck on the horizon of Al Gore’s career trajectory, so the only sources for information and vehicles for sale were local classified ads, national 4x4 mags, Auto Trader, Hemmings, and the occasional chance encounter while “out and about.”
I looked at lots of different vehicles, including old Toyotas, International Scouts, and a few Land Rovers that popped up here and there. I got to know some of the local Land Rover guys, and then around the middle of 1994 or so I found the RoverWeb, hosted by Ray Harder out in the Midwest US somewhere, and the email-based LRO-mailing list started by Bill Caloccia, that probably had some 500 members worldwide at the time.
There was something about the Land Rovers that was different. It wasn’t the vehicle. It was the people. To this day I don’t know what it is about Land Rover ownership that is such a unifying experience. It inspires people to put aside all demographic, social, political, linguistic, and other barriers just to have a chat and talk about their trucks. It's probably something to do with shared adversity, but I know there’s more to it. When people see the cars, the piles of parts, and the amount of time and money we spend, they aren't seeing the whole picture. The friends I've made doing this really are a notch above. Sorry, other friends. The help and advice I've received from them, as well as the camaraderie of the Land Rover community at large, has been second to none. These are friends for life.
In the summer of 1995, I bought my first Land Rover, a 1972 Series III 88”, from Guy Arnold in upstate New York. He advertised the truck on the LRO email list, and I responded. Guy took some pictures, had them developed, and sent me an envelope with the pictures in it. True story. A friend and I drove the 500 miles to Guy’s place, made a deal, and began the drive home the following day. It took less than 100 miles for the buyer’s remorse to set in.* The truck was slow and loud, and it was unbearably hot inside. I couldn’t even open the rear windows, so the airflow was pretty minimal. We stopped next to a lake, went for a short, illegal swim, and then, refreshed, took some time to fill the window tracks with WD-40. Then, using an open-end wrench and flat blade screwdriver, we worked the sliding windows free from their crusty prison of iron oxide flakes lush green moss. Airflow was accomplished, a problem was solved, and we were back on the road.
That little respite was short lived - it was July, and this poor vehicle that lived all its life tooling around Maine and New England doing “work” in the sugar bush and doing the school runs for the children of a university professor, was now being asked to run the gauntlet of I-81 through the Endless Mountains of New York and Pennsylvania. It was popping out of gear, and running quite warm.
We made it home after two overnight stops to break up the trip and temporarily restore our sanity. Months later, after sorting out some of the more pressing issues with the truck, I would discover a rather large hole in the top of the chassis. That precipitated a costly rebuild on a secondhand chassis, all financed by the discerning investors of Citibank Credit Card Services Division.
Some years later, after finally paying off MasterCard, I was able to sell the vehicle at a significant loss to a young man who, like me, saw it as a gateway to a lifestyle- a door to some mystical state that is unattainable to those who have never experienced the unique sensations of driving a Series Land Rover. Like, the smell of rotting upholstery baking in the sun, combined with the equally eye-watering olfactory experience of the cab filling up with petrol engine blowby gasses> Add to that, little bits of julienned flying insects coming through the cheese-grater dash vents, the cacophonic orchestra of rattling gear levers and window glass, vibrating aluminum panels, and loose trim clips and fasteners, all complimented by the deafening siren song of Ex-Ministry of Defense Goodyear Extra Grip mud tires howling on the pavement. Oh, and then there is the wind noise. Don’t forget the incessant wind noise.
Meanwhile, I had amassed a veritable flotilla of new friends, ones who came from different backgrounds and lived all over the world, one or two of whom I still have yet to meet in person. If I wanted to, I could couch surf my way from Ottawa to the UK, to Johannesburg, to Sydney, Australia, and come back, across the US, stopping in Utah and Colorado. That would just be skimming the surface.
Moving on, the new owner got along well with the 88, with a few issues over the years. I haven’t checked back with him to see how the whole lifestyle thing worked out. I think for most of us, these vehicles are a diversion. They give us an excuse to try on a little Walter Mitty, and maybe actually have a few real adventures too. Few other inanimate objects hold so much promise of leading us to another path in life. Land Rovers just aren’t like other vehicles. People name them. People move heaven and earth to fix them as if they were beloved pets or family members. In some cases, they are kept long past the end of their usefulness. Because, well, just…because.
This series, then, is dedicated to all of those who approach Land Rover ownership without the tiniest sliver of practicality or pragmatism- those of us who should be barred for life from jury duty, because we have a totally different definition of the word “reasonable.” The enthusiasts who take on these projects, that defy all rational thinking, should be an inspiration to all of us. Stay tuned for our next segment as we dig in and get to know some of those owners and look more in-depth at their accomplishments. I sincerely hope that by seeing what others have done, new or less mechanically-inclined owners may be challenged and inspired to tackle more complex and varied projects of their own, and in so doing, keep more of our beloved old Landies on the road.
*By the way, I’ve since beaten the 100-mile buyer's remorse record. A few years ago I bought a Range Rover Classic that revealed a major engine malady on the way home from my purchase, about a half of a block from where I collected it and probably 10 minutes after writing the check. That's another story for another time.
See you next month!
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