By on January 20, 2007

landrover6222.jpgOver the years, my father’s garage has become an elephant’s graveyard of corroded metal, faded wiring diagrams, desiccated gaskets and other relics of a lifetime of Land Rover ownership. Buried deep somewhere in that automotive salmagundi: an old Punch magazine. Within its yellowed pages, a cartoon shows three British Leyland workers clustered around the company magazine, contemplating a picture of an Austin Mini with its speedometer mounted on the hubcap. The caption reads: “Cock-up of The Month.” Amen. The Land Rover was the far best four by four by far ever built by lazy English Communists.

Not many vehicles are as immediately and inescapably iconic as the Land Rover. Its cheerful boxy shape provokes a strong desire to don knee socks and a pith helmet (or wellies and a Trilby) and go bouncing around the landscape, interfering with the simple quests of Kalihari Bushmen. Alan Quatermain would have driven one. David Attenborough did. It’s British pluck personified, like an all-terrain steak-and-kidney pie.

Perhaps that’s what made Dad buy one: Familiarity. My parents emigrated from Northern Ireland to the Wild West coast of Canada in the late ‘60’s. After a brief dalliance with uncouth colonial pickup trucks, they plumped for the Jeep with a plummy accent.

The Land Rover’s aerodynamics-are-a-bloody-Jerry-plot design gave it the drag-coefficient of a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood. However, its simplicity meant that it could be taken apart like a huge Meccano set. No need for doors? Off they come! Mind you, just try and get the confounded things lined up again when you want to put them back on.

Bolting a tire to the bonnet made (frequent) underhood excursions an exercise in avoiding ending up with Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ fingers, or Charles the First’s haircut. Still, it gave me and my brother, perched on the front fenders, something to hang on to as we hurtled down a potholed logging road.

It’s true: for some reason, the Land Rover brought out the inner eejit in all of its drivers. My mother’s only speeding ticket came at the helm of the 'Rover, which, considering its chelonian turn of speed, was roundly applauded by the rest of the family. My father managed to get it stuck attempting to ford a stream, within twenty feet of a perfectly serviceable bridge.

Performance? Imagine Winston Churchill in a sprint. Cornering? The QEII on wheels. Interior noise? Like being topside in the Blitz. Kit? All your essential mod cons: windows that open and close, black vinyl seats like the surface of the sun in summer, a dashboard that’d literally dash your brains out, and a steering wheel of a diameter not out of place on the deck of a man-o’-war at Trafalgar.

Childhood memories of the Land Rover run the gamut from sheer terror to slight nausea. Whether it was teetering on the edge of a narrow mountain path or nearly bisecting me with the lap belt in the rear-facing back seat, the 'Rover was death on wheels. Countless hours were spent holding the trouble light and passing wrenches to my cursing father. (Dad once asked a teenager wearing a Rage Against The Machine t-shirt whether he too owned a Land Rover.)

After one particularly involved overhaul, we put everything back together– only to be left with a margarine container filled with an assortment of important-looking nuts and bolts. In a fit of genius, my father affixed a masking tape label marked “Spares.” Problem solved.

By the time I got my grubby little paws on it, we were on our second ‘Rover (the first still sits on the driveway, eviscerated to keep the second one mobile). For a developing pistonhead, this was a monumental disappointment. Having been taught to drive in my Dad’s mid-eighties 535i (at the time one of the best-handling sedans you could buy), I was informed that all future solo flights would be at the helm of Rosie the Riveted.

I was to discover that the Land Rover had more Achilles’ Heels than a Greek centipede. For instance, there was the day (late for work), I leaped into my chariot and put the transmission into reverse. Ba-kunk! Off broke a two-foot section of gear lever. Two years later, we were still driving around with a set of vice-grip pliers attached to the stump.

Then, having fixed the throttle linkage’s tendency to fall apart at stoplights with baling wire ('Rover Aspirin), I experienced the joy of having both half-shafts (their ends crystallized to protect the differential) snap and leave me stranded on a rail-crossing.

The big green monster currently resides on gravel at the ancestral manse, where wintertime duties compel it to sally forth and plow the drive. Unfortunately a recent frame-off restoration has resulted in a driver’s-side door that can’t be closed. Chariot of the Gods? The Gods Must Have Been Crazy.

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36 Comments on “Land Rover, Land Rover, Send Brendan Right Over!...”


  • avatar
    aakash

    Chariot of the Gods? The Gods Must Have Been Crazy.

    Pun at its best!

    Few of the ‘car’ scenes in that movie were +vely hilarious.

    Classic car, classic movie!

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Now all through the ex colonies of the jolly old empire – a toyota hilux ( a smaller Tundra) is your best bet, especially if you want to weld a heavy machine gun to the tray

  • avatar
    Glenn

    Great writing! Yes, having lived in East Anglia, I’m quite familiar with all the foibles of these **()^$&$#@&*(()*%%^*(&$$@@^****(*$$#@@&()&$@!@!!! things and I’ve never even had the huge misfortune of owning one myself!

    British Engineering At It’s Best. (Wink, wink, say no more).

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    “(Dad once asked a teenager wearing a Rage Against The Machine t-shirt whether he too owned a Land Rover).”

    Superb nostagalic humor. Kudos Mr. McAleer. Send more if you have them.

  • avatar
    JimP

    Fantastic piece. Thank you for its joy and style. Nice vocabulary too! I picked up a couple that I’ll need to add into my daily use.

  • avatar
    Dream 50

    Ahh, yes, British vehicles. The first car I bought with my very own money was a 1980 TR-7. Great fun in the summer with the bonnet down, but it also gave me great appreciation for the succession of Hondas I was forced to buy for British Columbia’s rainy winters.

    I was pulled over one autumn evening and as I was fishing for my license the cop informed me that one rear parking light was unlit. Ever the smartass kid, I replied, “Geez, officer, for a British car, I don’t think that is so bad.”

    He grinned, cited me for speeding, but made no further mention of the light.

    On another early evening, I had the lights on, and the diver’s side retractable headlamp starting retracting and unretracting. I turned the lights off, and the passenger’s unit went to sleep as it was supposed to, but the driver’s was still perfoming its regular peek-a-boo. I pulled over, turned the engine off and the driver’s light went to sleep, too. I started the car back up, turned the lights on and never had the problem again.

    Eventually had a 4A engine and tranny from an 81 Corolla stuffed in it and sold it for what I bought it for. The original 2.0 Triumph mill was more powerful, but the 1.6 Toy transplant weighed a hell of a lot less and actually made power above 3500 rpm. Handling improved dramatically, thought the car looked a little silly with the fenders sitting half an inch higher over the front tyres than they should have been.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    I hope the affection I had for this machine is not overshadowed by all the things that I have to complain about it. It’s like an old family dog: some big drooly thing with hip dysplasia that spends all day in front of the fire farting squeakily and smelling up the place.
    But you still love it.

    By the way, we also owned an MGB, so I’ll do another article on it, if and when I get through counselling…

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Why do Englishmen drink warm beer?
    Because their refrigerators are made by Lucas.

    Lucas, the prince of darkness.

    And so on, but thank God for SOME British engineering or Formula One wouldn’t exist.

    It’s not so much in the design, it’s mostly in the execution.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    For a guide to British vehicle ownership/maintenance, check out these two websites:

    http://www.mez.co.uk/haynes.html

    and

    http://www.mez.co.uk/lucas.html

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    Brilliant!

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Nice work Brendan!
    Being a product of British engineering myself, your story struck the right chord (we came over in the sixties too, perhaps our ships passed!).
    I’ve only driven new Land Rovers, but my best friend owns a Midget, which spent a year in my backyard. Funky little bugger to drive, no synchros, gearbox like a coffee grinder and a nasty tendancy to go to sleep at the least opportune times, leaving you stranded. Nevertheless, like the fond but flatulent pet, it grew on you.

  • avatar
    mrdweeb

    Lazy communist workers? Not true. Consider the Trabant and Yugo.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    buzzliteyear,
    Holy shite that was funny. I can still hardly breathe. Wow. Hilarious. And I only read the first link!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Brendan: thanks for brightening up a gray morning; loved it. Always wanted a LR, and now I’m even more glad I didn’t act on that desire. I would hazard to guess that the LR and VW bug are the two most universally and readily recognized vehicles in the world.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    I love a good love story. Well done!

  • avatar
    ghillie

    Brendan: I too have an occasionally surfacing desire to possess an old Land Rover (or for it to possess me?). I shall keep your editorial as a topical treatment for when the need arises (asking for an antidote is probably too much).

    I’m sure that the Land Rover in your driveway is as loved as an old dog that pees on your carpet, but only a masochist would go out an buy one. And this is what really worries me. Maybe that’s what I am – after all I used to own a succession of P6 Rovers, a Range Rover and a targa topped 911. I am currently in remission.

  • avatar
    ghughes

    having had a 2000 4.0 rrover from 50,000 to 70,000 miles and $15,000 in expenses for breakdowns of the most outlandish things, I say that Ford killed itself when they bought this horrid company.

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    Huh, ghughes, I have a ’98 with 115K on it that’s never needed a thing. Hit a deer once and replaced a bit of sheet metal.

    I take that back, it needed a power lock actuator on the passenger side.

    I’ve never figured out the hate for British cars most people who have never owned one have. Oh, well, not that big a deal, I find BMWs soul-less and cheap inside (how do they make leather that costs as much as it does that’s as nasty feeling as it is?), but there are plenty of people who enjoy them.

    The machine pictured above looks like a series 3, maybe. That makes it circa 1970…how many Land Cruisers of that period are still around? I haven’t seen one in years, but in the summer months I still see all sorts of old Landies around.

    Funny article all the same (kudos!). Give me a car with some personality any day of the week over something efficient but without a soul.

  • avatar
    CasterOil

    Ahhh! Fond memories of growing up with British cars, but the ones assembled in the Antipodes by communists without the slightest clue of how they actually should go together.

    Morris Major, Austin Lancer, Austin 1800 (dash-mounted automatic lever, with bucket seats that would fold down to make a perfect Queen-sized double bed – I shit you not!).

    I think it was the Austin Lancer where I discovered the principles of anti-anti-lock brakes. A shoe return spring broke in the passenger rear drum, and any application of the brakes caused a “pumping” action which eventually hopelessly and critically locked up all brake drums…..

    Motoring is just so boring these days.

  • avatar

    Great article. Just what the Dr. ordered. I almost bought an LR3. At the last possible minute, the Mrs. convinced me to buy a, gulp, minivan. Since then, whenever I come across an LR3 owner, I ask them about their ownership experience. It's ALWAYS the same: I love it but it's either been replaced as a lemon (four different owners' testimony I swear) or spent weeks in the shop. As a former TVR Chimaera owner, I understand the masochism involved in possessing (being possessed by?) British cars, both ancient and, despite what Ford says, modern.

  • avatar
    Petra

    Bravo, Mr. McAleer. I, too, have found that it is often the most insipid vehicles that inspire the fondest memories.

  • avatar
    webebob

    i first worshiped brit cars, lovingly assembled by all the kindly male characters in Charles Dickens novels, (like Joe), in ivy-covered brit castles converted to automobile assembly plants, and whereelse the meccah of machinery? nowhere else but coventry. i had but one weekend stopover in london, took a train out to coventry, asked the cabbie to take me to the Brit leyland plant where they assembled my last brit car, a TR8. Imagining that ivy-covered spanse with wooden trolleys carrying around the cars they assembled I trembled with anticipation.

    No wonder the cabbie was amused at my interest in a big, long, steel-skinned 70′s era warehouse-type building where (the cabby said) the last triumph assembly line was.

    i didn’t sell my triumph straight away. But the patina of cottage craftsman-heritage that gave the car such a rosy glow was forever stripped away after my visit to Brit-leylands factory works at Coventry.

    ps, the buzz of an inboard-outboard that the land rover sounds like while ferrying tourists on game drives in the Mara was so mesmerizing that I went out and bought one. No, not the LR, but a Toyota FJ Cruiser with trd exhaust, which mimicks that pleasing putt putt of a LR most perfectly, (and yet the fart comes out of a machine that will probably run 200K with no problems.)

    a romantic for olde english metal I am no longer.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Countless hours were spent holding the trouble light and passing wrenches to my cursing father. (Dad once asked a teenager wearing a Rage Against The Machine t-shirt whether he too owned a Land Rover.)

    Epic writing…

  • avatar
    philbailey

    I can’t figure out how to link this, but here’s a very appropriate article on the same subject from the worlds most acerbic journalist and a Brit, too:

    Jeremy Clarkson

    They’re fighting the last war – in slow motion

    A couple of years ago my wife decided that although she had some horses, the other twin peak of country living was missing. So, she declared, we must rush out immediately and buy what everyone calls “a proper old Land Rover”.

    I do not understand the appeal. It offers what’s best described as Sealed Knot motoring, giving its devotees an idea of what life might be like if they had to go about their daily business wearing a full suit of armour. It’s like an automotive gas oven: big, heavy, cumbersome and completely ill at ease with itself in the modern age.

    The car that my wife bought was much better than that. It had silent air screamers on the front fenders, which, as air passes through them, emit a shriek that’s apparently audible only to any deer or bears that might be in the road up ahead.
    It also had tyres on it that were wider than anything found on a Lambo, and even more knobbly than the ones on a tar sands super truck.

    Apparently it had once belonged to the Swiss army, which was also tremendous. It meant it couldn’t have seen much action.

    And because of its military pedigree it had full camouflage paintwork, super black tinted windows, an SA80 clipped to the dash and a 20ft antenna at each corner. It also had a metal roof that could be removed in as little as two days, providing you had six friends to help you, and a small crane.

    Mind you, this was not the biggest drawback. No, the biggest drawback was the fact that, under the hood, it had a kerosene stove, although someone told me that it was actually a diesel engine. It was — and I’m not exaggerating here — the slowest car ever made.
    And so, when it was charged with the task of towing a horsebox laden with Evo-Stick and Araldite — or whatever it is my wifes’ horses are called — it would barely move at all.

    Once, on a not-too challenging hill it just stopped. Honestly, there was more horsepower in the trailer.

    This caused many rows. Last year, for instance, I set off in it on December 10 to buy a Christmas tree and I didn’t get back ’til April.

    I hated that car. I hated the heavy steering, and the fact that every time you closed the door it smashed your shoulder into several small pieces. I hated the lack of legroom, and the way the 1.5 horsepower kerosene stove managed to make more noise than the Hoover dam.

    Passengers, too, were worried about the sharp edges in the cabin, which they reckoned would be a serious issue in a crash.
    Chance would be a fine thing; you need to have some speed to have an accident, and our Land Rover wouldn’t even go fast enough to get the air screamers working. Not that this was a problem, because even if you came round a corner at full speed, a tortoise would have time to amble out of your way.

    Eventually I won the day and my wife agreed to swap this stupid car for one with an engine. A big one.

    So, because there are plenty of Land Rovers lying around, and plenty of old V8 engines. We simply bought the two entities — for next to nothing — and asked a man we knew to join them together.

    I should explain that the V8 we found was not a 3.5 litre. We got ourselves a 3.9, which is much better. It’s also fitted with carburettors so, if it goes wrong — and it will because it was made by communist trade union members
    — it can be fixed with the only item in my toolkit. A hammer.

    Apparently it’s very easy to fit a V8 into a Land Rover and even easier to fit a lever on the dash that directs the exhaust gasses either down past the catalytic converters and the muffler, or if you pull it, along a length of ventilation tubing.

    No muffler. No cats. Just 5mpg and without doubt the best noise in the world.

    And because we’ve fitted all the cool military stuff from the previous model, it looks pretty snazzy as well.

    However, despite all the noise and the brouhaha and the “don’t mess with me” combat exterior, it still accelerates with the verve and pizzazz of a coral reef.

    Maybe this is an unavoidable problem. Maybe the Land Rover is like a heavy and unwieldy deep-sea diving suit; you can fill it with the world’s fittest and strongest man but he’s still not going to win any running races.

    To find out, I borrowed a new Land Rover. It came with electric windows and heated seats and lots of other creature comforts, and it was finished in a natty silver paint job that made it look very Yorkville.

    It also had a relatively modern five-cylinder turbodiesel engine that produces lots and lots of torque. You can feel it when the turbo blows, like a herculean inner strength, an invisible trebuchet that would be capable of freeing you and your suit of armour from the pit of any bog, from the jaws of nature’s iciest grip.

    But power? No. It still hasn’t got any. You have to drive everywhere with your rear-view mirror full of headlights dancing hither and thither as people behind look desperately for a way past.

    It also has a set of gear ratios that may be fine in Kenora in February but are no good anywhere else. Often fourth isn’t enough to get you up a hill, so you drop down to third and it feels as though you’ve been hit in the back with a wrecking ball. All of a sudden you’re doing 35mph but your eight-ton suit of armour, making a noise that sounds like the birth of the universe, has come to an almost dead stop.

    What’s more, there still isn’t enough room behind the wheel for anyone with shoulders or legs, there are still sharp edges, it’s as bouncy as a small dog at suppertime, and as a result it’s about as much fun to drive as a punctured wheelbarrow.
    And it’s not like the misery is short-lived, because each trip to the shops can, and does, take two or three weeks.

    So why, in the name of all that’s holy, doesn’t Land Rover simply stop making the Defender and replace it with something that actually works? Something that’s still designed for Banff but has space for your shoulders.

    I’ll tell you why. It’s because they’re suffering from a British disease called Mini Syndrome.

    All of us are terrified of change.

    It’s why we have a royal family. Of course it’s nonsense to hand over the reins of the nation to someone just because they were born in a castle.

    Then you have the Mini. For years the original version soldiered on because to change it would mean ditching 40 years of tradition.

    And that wouldn’t have been on.

    As a result the company went bust and along came the Germans, who demonstrated with the new Mini that tradition doesn’t necessarily mean driving to work in the automotive equivalent of rickets.

    We see exactly the same with the “proper old Land Rover”. It’s rubbish: uncomfortable, slow, impractical and not that cheap.

    But nobody has the courage to pull the plug on a 60-year tradition, and start again. But somebody should.

  • avatar
    Bob Elton

    I think most of the horror stories come from people who have had intimate experience with British cars. I used to run a car repair shop, back in the 70s, and we used to make a small fortune fixing British cars. Every year, at bonus tume, the guys would sing a small paen of praise to Joseph Lucas.

    Know the Lucas factory schedule? “Open at dawn, close at dusk”.

    If you ever get to England, be sure to visit the Lucas Museum. It’s kind of dark in there, so bring a flashlight. I am not kidding: I have pictures to prove it.

    I am a member of BCA (Britich Cars Anonymous). I have a sponsor I call every time the urge to buy an Aston Martin starts to grow, and he talks me down. Did you know that the Queen withdrew the Royal Warrant from the cheap Aston Martin? That little piece of information saved me over $100,000 last month. Thats why we have sponsors.

    Every Britich car owner should heed the words of Sir Joseph Lucas.

    “Gentlemen do not drive about after dark”

    Bob

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    LOL. I’ve NEVER had any trouble with Lucas gear. Two alternators in 30 years of dozens of British cars. Clearly I’m in the minority.

    Bosch, on the other hand, makes Lucas stuff look like genius.

    A couple things to keep in mind: One, the new mini was designed and built in England, by Englishmen–all BMW did was buy the company at the right moment. Two, the English hate everything English, or so it seems. “If it ain’t continental, it’s crap.” (A lot like some Americans only buy Japanese because everything American is “crap.”)

    So reading an article by an Englishman about how much he hates something English is hardly news.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Loved the article… I can kinda relate, it reminds me of the time my dad traded in his ’85 Volvo 244 DL for a ’82 244 GLT (the car was 18 years old at the time).

    I learned to drive stick on the ’85 brick, so I was really disappointed with the 3-speed slushbox equipped on the GLT. I quickly developed a technique to control the cogs and motivate the damn thing: floor it until it runs out of breath, twitch your foot into 2nd, then ease up once the desired speed was (eventually) reached. After a few months of flogging at the hands of a teenager, the GLT earned my respect.

    One snowy winter while I was away in college, my father was rear-ended at a stop sign. Dad was fine, but the Volvo was a write-off. Too bad, it was our last 240.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Reportedly, the Land Rover (in its original Fifties incarnation) was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite vehicle. No wonder, since as anyone who has seen a National Geographic (or other) special can attest, rhinos also like them; and yet, the darn things don’t tip over or come apart, as the big beasts nudge them with their horns. The Land Rover is a real sport utility, meant to be taken off road. Check it out in “The Queen” with Helen Mirren; where somehow, one does get stuck and require winching out of a river.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    ^

    She breaks the prop shaft.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    I’ll admit that I literally (only) watched “The Queen” – too short on cash coming home on a cross-country flight to pay the five bucks for headphones. Thanks for letting me know what happened, Brendan. I’d wondered how anyone could break one of these venerable machines, perhaps the British equivalent of a Swiss watch.

  • avatar
    ash78

    And Americans are lining up to pay $40k+ to import decade-old Defenders to the States so they can putter around the suburbs and draw attention.

    In the US, Land Rover embodies all that is wrong with the SUV craze–it’s the absolute pinnacle of status combined with the absolute dearth of functional use (by most owners). When I sold used cars for a short while, there were no shortage of people lining up for 2 and 3-year-old Discoveries…but I could not morally sell them without an extended warranty, which turned out to be THE most expensive one in the entire book ($3k+ for a couple extra years of coverage). When they scoffed, I just took them down to the service to department to have a chat with the technicians.

    (In the defense of a small minority of American LR drivers, there are some that truly flog them off-road. A very small minority.)

    Terrific column, Brendan!

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    first car i ever bought was a 66 4.2 litre e-type jaguar coupe. at the time, i knew next to nothing about automobiles, but i knew this one was beautiful. and after my first ride in it, i quickly realized it had nothing in common with the puny six-cylinder chevy ll that gramma used to drive.

    the car was four years old at the time. i spent $3000 for it and went broke spending another $3000 over the next four years – while only operating it on summer weekends.

    the day after i purchased that jag, the clutch went out – and the day i finally sold it, the clutch was going bad again. and i still remember the time i thought i would save some money by changing the brakepads with the help of a friend, only to be be informed that the rear discs were inboard, which meant that the rear axel had to be dropped, and the only way to do that was to remove some elements of the interior.

    but god, it was the most beautiful automobile.

  • avatar

    Great article.

    Land Rovers were the vehicle of choice for New Zealand farmers during my childhood.

    A school or sports club working-bee (to build a new playground, paint buildings, chop firewood etc) in the 80s would see dozens of assembled Land Rovers. When the beer arrived, one of the older models (Series I or II?) would be pressed into service to open the bottles; the lip at the bottom of the steel dash making a perfect bottle opener.

    A common replacement for an old or blown engine was to re-powered with the ubiquitous and agricultural Holden (Australian GM) 186 or 202 cu-inch straight six.

    You rarely see Land Rovers used as farm vehicles now in NZ. Long since superseded by the Toyota Hilux and other Japanese utes.

    Cheers

    Malcolm

  • avatar
    chronoguy

    I must be the odd-man out. I love Land Rover products.
    I currently own a 2007 range rover sport.

    My family has owned rovers and never had a problem (knock on wood). My mom drives a Disco I wtih 160K miles.
    I had a Freelander that never gave me problems.

    I’ve heard the horror stories yet haven’t experienced any of them. Then again, I take care of my vehicles and do the proper maintenance. I’ve never had an extended outage. The worst problem I had was a dead battery from a truck that sat too long on the lot.

    Rovers are good deals on the second hand market. Sometimes, fast depreciation goes in your favor.

    Then again, I have two cousins with transmission problems on their Honda Oddysseys.

  • avatar

    ha ha ha…

    great piece… thank you.
    an old boss used to have a defender 90 and that thing was in the shop more often than it was on the road, yet we all loved it and it always got a lot of attention when it was on the road AND running…

    -e

  • avatar

    Bad news 0


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