Behind the Steering Wheel[Courtesy Rovers Magazine, January 2011]
By Jeffrey Aronson
When you have a 45 year old Land Rover every trip has the potential for adventure. In December I took a 600 mile round trip from Maine to Connecticut to visit friends for Christmas. Naturally I waited until the last minute before realizing that I had not completed an ignition tune-up since last spring. I threw the box of parts from Rovers North into the Rover and just hoped for the best.
An interstate drive in a Series II-A involves much time spent in the far right traffic lane, living life to its slowest. Oh, yes, you also pay inordinate sums of money at toll booths in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Far too many Land Rover LR3’s and LR4’s drove by without a wave or smile of admiration and appreciation; it appears that Land Rover’s tepid efforts at heritage paid off – the new owners did not recognize that my II-A is their car’s ancestor. However, to a driver of an Audi A5 coupe near Hartford, CT, my Land Rover warranted a visible and positive thumbs-up as he passed on my left.
When my drive took me onto the Merritt Parkway through Connecticut’s “gold coast,” Land Rovers appeared as often as Toyotas in other parts of New England. One Range Rover after LR4 after another flew by in the opposite direction. I felt as though I was driving past a Land Rover sales meeting. Imagine, then, my disappointment when a Defender 90 SW appeared in my rear view mirror, with a lovely woman at the wheel. She gunned the V-8 in order to pass me up a hill and I prepared my wave; I elevated my hand into the royal wave position and received not even a nod or glance in return. Needless, to say, I was as equally appalled by this breech of etiquette as I was that a beautiful woman would – again – refuse to give me the time of day.
I remembered an enthusiast in the early 1990’s who used to commute from New Jersey into New York City daily in his Series III Lightweight; I shuddered and then decided to use public transportation when visiting New York this trip. My walks around Manhattan simply confirmed what Land Rover’s sales offices know already – Range Rovers, Range Rover Sports, LR4’s and Discovery II’s sell in great numbers around Manhattan. They appeared routinely at intersections throughout the city from Wall St. to Times Square, east side, west side, all around the town. When you see one in rural New England, you stop and gawk; in New York City I found them as routine as celebrities around Broadway theaters.
Lately I’d found myself communing with a Higher Power more often, particularly if I wished to stop the QE I. That’s because the brake shoes had been adjusted out as far as possible but the Rover required the dreaded multiple pump - a dance step familiar to all Series Rover owners. This English two-step, which requires the right foot to do double duty in order to stop the car, signaled the need for new brake shoes.
Land Rover enthusiasts with new Range Rovers, Discoverys or the LR range of Rovers enjoy disc brakes. Replacing disc brake pads is the automotive equivalent of boiling water whereas drum brake replacement is right up there with making a soufflé. On a Sunday morning, I decided to stop praying every time I need to stop and instead invoke His/Her help in repairing the brakes.
The 88” Land Rovers use 10” drums, a set of brake shoes, a mobius band of springs and one hydraulic wheel cylinder; 109” Rovers require 11” drums, another set of sores and two cylinders, or one additional chance for a leak. In either case, step 1 is to remove the wheel. All shade tree mechanics must thus confront the effects of the dreaded pneumatic air gun which attaches the lug nuts at about 1 million pounds PSI. Generally speaking, only MMA fighters or weightlifters can actually free the lug nuts with the wrench provided by the automobile manufacturer. For my Series Rover, I used a can of PB Blaster, a breaker bar with my H-Lift jack as an extension to start the lug nuts (You might prefer my alternate technique of jumping on the breaker bar while steadying myself by holding onto the wing mirror.).
With the wheels off the car you can now attempt to remove the brake drums. Mine had not been touched in years, assuring that corrosion, old mud, and brake crud had cemented them in place. The short screws that tighten the drum onto the hub required much pounding with an impact screwdriver before removal. The drum presents you with a compound problem; you need to pound it with a hammer hard enough to remove it, but delicately enough not to shatter it – particularly when you live on an island and perform this task on a Sunday when the car must absolutely, positively be ready for Monday.
Land Rover (and Rolls Royce, I’m told) provides you with a threaded hole in the drum to aid in removal, provided that you have the right sized bolt. I dove into my bolt collection several times before I gave up (I know I have one somewhere), took a piece of wood as a drift, and started tapping along the arc of the drum. Many promises to a Supreme Being were made in my hopes of getting divine intervention to slide the drum off the shoes, and a mere 30 minutes later, I found my prayers answered as the drum slipped off the worn-out shoes. Happily, I found the wheel cylinder rubber in great shape, cleaned off the accumulated gunk inside with brake cleaner [about one can per brake], and prepared to install the new shoes.
Each time I remove brake shoes and springs, I vow to remember where each spring attaches to pins or holes, and each time I find I must turn again to my manuals. The Haynes Manual photos help but the best drawings I ever found reside on the pages of my reprinted Series I factory manual. Looking carefully at the superb line drawing of the front brakes confirmed that once again, my short term memory had failed me, and that the top spring [the red one] connects the peg on the leading shoe to the peg on the backing plate behind the trailing shoe.
You can preassemble the spring [the shorter black one] and ring tab on the bottom of the shoes and muscle it into place, but for that troublesome top spring behind the shoes, you should really have a pair of brake spring pliers that look like the device Steve Martin used as the maniacal dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Since no contemporary cars use drum brakes, you can often find these in the bargain bins at auto parts stores; mine cost me $2.99. These pliers do make the miserable job of stretching the spring a long distance much, much easier; using needle nose pliers will only drive you crazier.
Dick O’Kane, in his splendid book “How To Repair Your Foreign Car,” described working on your British car as a sort of “sporting proposition.” So when you replace worn out, leaking or broken brake parts on your Land Rover, you’re really engaged in “a game to see who is more clever – you trying to figure it out or the designer who figured how to get it on in the first place. When the thing finally comes off and lands on your foot, polite applause, you’ve won.” I bow to the silent crowd of birds and squirrels watching me and move onto the passenger’s side wheel.
Recent cultural trends indicate a frightening tolerance of fashions and style from the ’80’s, particularly the return of certain colors to the public palette. Dupont produces paint for auto manufacturers and reported in Autoweek that silver, black and white/pearl are the most popular colors for today’s cars. Distressingly the classic British greens barely make the current list of favorite colors.
Worse yet Dupont acknowledged “a trend towards brown and beige gaining preference.” This should cause shudders through every Land Rover enthusiast.In the dark days of the late 1970’s – 1980’s, Land Rover, anxious to sell as many cars as possible, bowed to the popular will and produced Rovers in truly hideous colors: brown, or “windswept dung” and beige, or “dirt,” painfully come to mind.Let us pray that Land Rover holds firm during this decade and refuses to reintroduce those appalling shades.
[Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North, 2011]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."