Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine April ,2014]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I don’t need to remind you that we experienced a harsh winter virtually everywhere in the USA. New England’s temperatures rivaled those of Alaska for much of the winter and early spring. The east coast found itself buried in successive snowstorms. Floridians could make snowballs this year while Texans learned to live with icy roads.
The question confronting Land Rover owners in the snow-bound regions mirrored that of Hamlet; as the Bard wrote, “To plow or not to plow, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the minds of men to show off your Land Rover’s capabilities by blasting through snowdrifts, leaving your tire tracks as evidence of your Land Rover’s superiority, or show humility by shoveling out its parking area. “If you have a regular car, then you know already know you will have to grab the snow shovel. Neither my Triumph TR-7 nor my Corvair have the ground clearance to push through deep snow, so they sat buried in the snow anytime an EMS emergency call came over my pager. It became very reassuring to know that I did not have to concern myself as to whether the island road crews had cleared any roads. Slip into low range and the QE I would bull through the inevitable drifting. Return to high range, push down the yellow-handled lever and I could get anywhere.
No Land Rover can overturn the laws of physics, however. I understood this better after our snow-packed roads turned icy underneath and particularly bumpy during one weather cycle. While taking a corner a little rapidly I found the QE I performing like an ice skater at the Winter Olympics. The 180 degree spin earned high scores from observers; when the II-A bumped into a snowbank, it stayed upright and I turned back around towards the ambulance bay. It would be the only misstep this winter.
With a semblance of spring underway our roads have become festooned with potholes, bumps, frost heaves and cambers that limit speed quite effectively. Many roads can only be driven in a leaf-spring vehicle at the slowest of speeds; when you follow pickup trucks driven by teenage boys at speeds they would otherwise decry as “Christmas, Slow As,” you know the roads are in rough shape. There’s no question that my current parabolic springs and one-year old shocks provide an improvement over the original heavy-duty springs and standard shocks.
Elsewhere in this issue we cover this year’s fun at the Maine Winter Romp. Annually I vow to prepare my Land Rover well in advance of its February date, and annually I treat those vows as shabbily as any New Year’s Resolutions. “Prepping” the QE I this year meant removing the chain saws and sweeping out the sawdust and bark from the back of the Rover, and cleaning up the litter in the front. I made certain I had extra engine oil and gear oil [in case I drowned the car and had to replace fluids in the field]. I also brought a gallon of coolant and spray cans of PB Blaster, brake cleaner and carburetor cleaner. I checked that I had my recovery strap, kinetic rope and D-shackles – not that I would ever get stuck, of course, but to assist friend who might require a recovery. This turned out to be nothing compared to the enthusiasts of Buxton, ME, who managed to refurbish a Series Rover just in time for the event!
Naturally it snowed the day I headed off the island to the event – it’s called the “Winter” Romp for a reason – as it would do even more vigorously on the way back home. By Winter Romp standards the temperatures remained comfortable, below freezing but above 0 F. Land Rover Scarborough, Maine’s only Land Rover dealer, came through in spirit, bringing an old Defender door that they urged everyone to sign (for display at the dealership). They also arranged for the Sebago Brewery in Portland to donate a case of their latest “Black Bump” beer, which features a Series Land Rover on its label.
This year I made it out of host Bruce Fowler’s field without getting stuck (unlike last year) and found myself on challenging trails in the woods. The forest trails and path are quite narrow, littered with rocks and stumps, steep in ascent and descent, with very little room for error. The dry snow compounded the challenge this year, providing very little traction for churning tires. I required a yank when a rear wheel fell into a snow covered hole and the fronts could not get enough traction up the hillock in front of them. Often a gentle lurch with a recovery strap provided enough force to move heavier vehicles forward. The steeper ascents at frozen river crossings usually required winching.
Sunday saw participants who had driven vast distances prepare for their long drives home. Organizer Bruce Fowler has a small shop attached to his house. I popped in to warm up and found Dave Bobeck, Washington, DC, crawling underneath his diesel Land Rover 90. He had heard a disconcerting noise and vibration while on the trails and sought to discover its source before the 630 mile trip home. Using a trolley jack he elevated the left wheel and shook things underneath. As he did I watched the wheel wobble inside the lug nuts. Tightening them proved to be one of the simplest repairs ever at a Winter Romp.
As if to remind you of your location it snowed every night during the Romp, thus assuring a fresh cover of light snow on the trails every morning. By the time I started home snow covered the every inch of the two lane, winding roads to the coast.
I’ve remained quite the loyalist to original systems in my II-A, which is why, despite many protestations from other enthusiasts, I still retain a points-based ignition. I know all the arguments for electronic ignitions; they require no maintenance, improve starting, idling and fuel mileage. Their one downside is when they fail, you stop and your Land Rover will not go until you’ve replaced the unit. Unless you’ve worn your points down to the nubbins, you can clean and reset them with an emery board, a flathead screwdriver and a matchbook to serve as a feeler gauge. Don’t ask me how I know all this.
I check the points-gap with a feeler gauge at least once every season and generally look to swap them out twice annually. This task requires me to contort myself over the fender of the vehicle, unclipping the distributor cap and lifting off the rotor. I maneuvered a flathead screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver and a feeler gauge while holding a near-balletic position over the fender. As an added complication I had must remove two screws, both too small and too remote to pick up by hand, from the distributor. I’ve tried grease, gasket sealer and magnetized screwdrivers as methods of removing the screws without dropping them; every method has failed at one time or another. The removal of the two screws, a flathead one holding the points plate and a Phillips head one holding the condenser, requires the precision moves of a neurosurgeon. Once loosened, neither screw can be picked up with your fingers because of obstructions inside the distributor; both need to be lifted out with a magnet or removed with the associated part. With trepidation I removed the points plate and its screw successfully. However, I sighed in despair as the even-smaller condenser screw fell from its magnetic screwdriver into the bowels of distributor body. I stuck a thin magnet into the available space but could not fish it out.
Now I had to think. I knew that if I moved the distributor clockwise or counterclockwise, I would change the timing; without a timing light present, I did not want to turn the distributor. I took a white paint magic marker and scribed a line from the distributor body to the clamp – and made certain I could see it. I loosened the distributor body clamp and lifted the distributor out, also being careful not to turn the distributor shaft. I tipped it upside down over a workbench and prayed; blissfully, the tiny screw fell out onto the bench and remained there. Clamping the distributor into a vise I screwed in the new condenser and sliding points but left the gapping until later. I matched the painted line on the body to the remainder on the clamp and tightened it up. Then I turned the hand crank to move the cam lobe on the center shaft so it opened the points. I checked the gap with the feeler gauge a few times, tightened everything up, replaced the rotor and clipped on the new cap. After a short prayer it started right up.
This circumstance would usually endanger a rant against Joseph Lucas and “The Prince of Darkness” but in actuality, all distributors used similar tiny screws to hold together vital components. The global question is, why? There’s plenty of room in the distributor for larger-sized, more easily handled screws. Did children assemble distributors; did their smaller, more nimble fingers enable them to easily manipulate those midget screws? Maybe I should get a jeweler’s loupe and set of watchmaker’s tools for future ignition work. If you have successful solutions, please don’t hesitate the share them.
[Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers Magazine, 2014]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."