Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, March/April, 2012]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I enter my Land Rover every morning and forget that it’s 46 years old. Daily use of my Series Rover doesn’t faze me a bit but it certainly baffles my island neighbors. I fully expect it to start and run without incident; they’re surprised when it does and reassured when it experiences hiccups.
Each year, when night temperatures descend near freezing, my Weber carb will ice up when you first start the car. That means it starts briskly and will travel about 500 feet before it will refuse any throttle; it will just sputter down the road until the under hood temperatures rise enough to vaporize the moisture in carb throat. I should just sit and let the engine warm up before taking off but gas reached $4.55 per gallon this month. Puttering down one of this island’s roads at 15 mph for a while, amusing my neighbors, seems worth the cost of the gasoline.
One woman claimed she could hear the Rover coughing down the road in front of her house. Barely concealing her mirth she suggested that if this occurs while I’m on an EMT call out, I should stop at her house and she would drive me to the ambulance bay. Over a decade ago this same person, upon hearing that my Land Rover hit a horse on the mainland, stuck her son’s rocking horse in their driveway with a sign, “No Land Rover s Allowed.” Ha, ha, ha.
The island mechanic has a love-hate relationship with the Rover. In his 40’s he’s old enough to know about points-based ignitions and drum brakes, but since he knows I only bring him the Rover when I’m stumped, in need of welding or the mandatory state inspection, he doesn’t get much practice with Land Rovers.
Inspection loomed late this winter so I booked an appointment and brought it to him with the usual trepidation. Everything electrical worked prior to the inspection – although I had to buy and install a replacement left front directional from Rovers North. This year issues resided underneath the car. First he found a loose U-bolt and locating pin on one side of the front springs. I had replaced one myself this year but never realized the other side had loosened, also. Once those bolt threads stretch, you really can’t tighten them effectively, so I made a trip to the parts bin and found another Rover North replacement.
Then he discovered the exhaust system would likely corrode away in short order and that a rear hub seal leaked gear oil out the back of the wheel; if it leaks in the back, it’s likely leaking inside the brake drum, too. Oh, and the locating pin on that same side brake backing plate had come loose, so it would need replacement. Of course I had not noticed any of this when replacing the rear brake shoes this past summer. The phone order went out to Rovers North and the parts arrived the next day.
On a Saturday afternoon I found myself at his shop, the new exhaust pipes, brake backing plate, and hub seal kit in hand. The job went smoothly enough and we took the opportunity to grease the rear wheel bearing, too. The rear brake assembly, which I had repaired last fall, came apart easily. Sure enough, I had gear oil saturating the rear shoes so I replaced them with a new set. Unfortunately, we also found a broken spring, for which I had no spare, but his old parts bin had one that would fit.
Running any classic Land Rover as a daily vehicle demands that the owner/enthusiast care about the Rover and bend to its needs with aplomb. It does not require significant technical knowledge, as I’ve demonstrated amply over the years. Rovers North’s techs have a saying, “there are no dumb questions, just things Jeff hasn’t asked yet.” Nearly 20 years ago a brake job on this very Rover started out as new shoes. New to Rovers at the time, I called Rovers North to ask about the “what kind of grease I should use on the brakes?” After all I just wanted to replace the grease present in the brake drum. Stifling laughter and horror, Art Limacher said “there’s not supposed to be any grease on the brakes.” “Oh,” I replied, “so what’s this stuff?” Yep, that’s how I learned about hub seals. When I couldn’t bleed the brakes effectively, the endless pumping caused the master cylinder to cry “Enough!” and I learned about replacing the master. The one hour job turned into a three-day intensive course with regular telephone coaching from Rovers North. You can imagine my thrill when that plan came together; I really did light up a cigar in celebration!
Automotive technology once stood apart from other technologies, but that’s not the case any longer. Consumers expect that the latest “disruptive technology,” such as internet connectivity and cellular communication, appear in their automobiles, too. Dieter Zetsche of Mercedes Benz noted, “A 20-year-old car might be a classic that you love to drive, but do you know anybody who is still using a 20-year-old mobile phone?”
My Series Rover has two fuses; modern Rovers have dozens. Whereas a wiring harness once carried only electricity it’s now a network inside the car, one capable of communicating with networks outside the vehicle. Your Rover can communicate through your its own phone, your cellphone or other Bluetooth device. It can probably schedule its next service for you. In the US market NHSTA will soon require all cars to have backup cameras and dashboard displays; black boxes that track our driving patterns and/or excesses can’t be far behind (“Dad, I swear I didn’t take it off road!”).
All of this costs money, thus raising all auto and truck prices annually. The good news is that some of these costs go towards better metallurgy and better manufacturing. My Series Rover has an odometer that turns over at 99,999 miles, and it’s done so five times now. I’m rather chuffed at the mileage but it’s required quite a commitment on my part. Modern cars come with 100,000 mile warranties, and used cars routinely fetch good prices even with 200,000 miles on them. That used to be the domain of Series 2.25 engines or Rover V-8’s, not budget-friendly sedans.
For Land Rover enthusiasts this means that today’s Rovers will likely last longer than our beloved heritage vehicles, provided we maintain them properly. Whether you entered the Land Rover world thorough the Series, Range Rover Classic/P 38-A, Discovery, or newer Range Rover or LR 2 – 4 vehicles, you’ll find yourself with a long-lived, fully capable 4-wheel drive Rover to take you anywhere.
The Rover and I have our first new island home in 20 years. This rental allows the QE I, and me, to have “To the Manor Born” experiences. The small, simple, wood heated house sits on the island’s east shore in the middle of a tiny farm, complete with 38 free range chickens.
As part of my rental duties I’m asked to release the chickens from their coop every morning and secure them every night. I’m to take roll call, too, to assure the farmer she hasn’t fed a raccoon, mink or fox a chicken dinner instead. This also means that I must pay attention to the fowl that hunt and peck around and underneath the Land Rover all the time. I’d like to believe that “chicks dig me” but I’m fully aware they crowd around me in case food crumbs fall out of the Rover when I open the door.
When I’m not herding chickens I rely on the Rover to accomplish a full range of tree clearing, firewood hauling, long distance travel on the mainland and trundling me about the island. With only an 88” wheelbase it doesn’t carry as much firewood as I’d like but with a rental house heated only by a wood stove, it gets stuffed every trip and filling a trailer does increase the carrying capacity. Mud season should end soon and the Rover’s landscaping duties will start anew.
Speaking of mud, I must wipe some off my face after confusing Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion from TV’s “Daktari” with Elsa from the movie Born Free. Now that Land Rover’s new LR4 advertising features the movie’s theme, I’d better wise up. Thanks to the readers who pointed out my errors!
Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North, 2012
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."