Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine Jan/Feb 2012] By Jeffrey Aronson 2011 went out like a lion, but more like Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion from “Born Free” than the MGM lion. This island enjoyed a white Christmas; New Year’s Eve brought plunging temperatures, ice floes in the harbor and bitter winds. What a perfect time to replace a starter! I’d had approximately 6 months of advance warning, through the whirring of the starter drive, that the starter motor – a 2003 Mean Green unit – would likely cease operation. Naturally, I ignored the hard starting until December, always an ideal month in New England to effect repairs outdoors. Rovers North contributed to the fun by having no starters in stock during our December thaw; they arrived just in time for the colder weather late in the month.
What did arrive at my house was a thing of machined beauty, a ProLine high-torque motor from the UK. The original and now rebuilt Lucas starters, still available at times, weigh about 200 pounds and can either just barely squeeze past the exhaust header pipe [Series III type] or require removal of said pipe [Series II and II-A]. In contrast this ProLine starter looked smaller dimensionally, weighed as much as a distributor cap and would crank at a far higher rate than my old Lucas devices. Any Land Rover starter should install quite simply. Remove the cable at the battery, and then from underneath, the cable end that bolts onto the starter. Then unbolt the two or three nuts [or socket-head screws in the case of the newer Range Rover] and slide the old starter off the studs. Installation of the new starter is the reverse of the above procedure. Hah! Judging from the location of the starter – under the intake/exhaust manifolds and adjacent to the flywheel – Solihull workers in 1966, the birth year of my II-A, must have stood 4 feet tall with possessed pipe stem arms. No one larger could possibly have installed starters once the engine/transmission had been hoisted into the car.You can barely even see the starter from underneath the car.There’s no room to swing a ratchet so you have to use a 9/16” wrench – and turn it many, many times to loosen the bottom nut that holds the starter in place. Now you need to find the top nut which sits cleverly hidden from view by the back edge of the raised bonnet. If you have good peripheral vision and peer really hard, your head wedged against the side of the raised bonnet (yes, I know I could have removed the bonnet altogether but that would require me unbolting and lifting the spare tire, too. Get real!), you can just about see the top of the starter. Slither your hand through the tight opening and you can barely feel the nut. That lets you slide a long socket over the nut (it needs to be a long one because of the length of the stud). Now you need to find every socket extension you own, preferably some combination that gives you a two foot length. You will then have to slide and assemble them underneath the intake manifold, behind the exhaust manifold and the header, and hope to find the socket. Once attached you then begin to loosen the nut, hoping not to remove the stud, too, as I did. You will then feel the starter rock against the bottom stud, at which point you must crawl under the car and maneuver the starter vertically to move it around the header pipe. The ProLine high torque starter weighs about as much as a jelly doughnut and has such tiny dimensions that it slides easily onto the studs. Now I must start a nut on a stud with my left arm crooked sideways between the bonnet and the fender; good thing I wasn’t chewing gum at the same time or I’d still be there, mangling the threads. Once I get one turn on the threads, I placed the socket gently over the nut and then assembled the extensions, Lego-like, under the manifold to tighten the nut onto the top stud. Sliding under the car with a wrench, I then spent 5 minutes or so swinging the wrench 15 degrees at a time until tight. Then I ran a wire from the starter to the solenoid, and bolted on the battery cable at the starter and then the battery end. As a test I press the starter button. High torque starters chirp like an Angry Birds app compared to the slow, basso profundo growl of a Lucas starter. In cold weather they spin the flywheel rapidly to start the car. Happily I shouldn’t have to revisit that netherworld under the hood for many years.
The 20 years and 400,000 miles of my stewardship of the QE I have certainly demanded a healthy flow of parts from Rovers North, gear oil packaged in 10 gallon buckets and engine oil purchased in 5 gallon jugs. On the island I’m mocked often by friends wondering why I haven’t joined them in serial purchases of new or nearly-new trucks. Long-term ownership of the same vehicle does not appeal to everyone, but if you so choose Land Rover makes the perfect vehicle – mostly – for the task. Restorer Lanny Clark once told me “the only Land Rovers that can’t be rebuilt are those that are burned up or stolen.” Quite true. The efforts of Rovers North have helped create a healthy parts network, which combined with the rugged engineering and basic mechanical nature of the vehicle, means you can accomplish much of the maintenance work, and a good part of the repair work, as an owner/enthusiast. At the other end of the spectrum lies the disposable car, which I define as a vehicle with a fixed life span. Mandated by emissions laws, safety regulations, consumer expectations and finances, these cars have a reasonably long life (the average age of US vehicles in 2010 was 10.2 years), but only one life as a vehicle. However these days many of those very cars seem to have nine lives as “Buy Here, Pay Here” loan books. Ken Bensinger of the Los Angeles Times (Nov. 2011) wrote a revealing series of articles highlighting the usurious practices of the nation’s 33,000 “Buy Here, Pay Here” dealerships and the 2.4 million cars, many of them clunkers, they sold in 2010. Find someone in desperate need of car [i.e. no public transportation to a job], in desperate financial straits [poor credit rating, low paying job] and strapped for time [parent raising kids]. Then offer them a 3 – 9 year old car at low payments that hide interest rates ranging from 20 – 30%. If and when they miss a payment, you repossess the car and prepare it for the next customer. As Benzinger wrote “in a kind of financial alchemy, [these dealers] have found a way to turn clunkers into cash cows and make money off the least creditworthy customers: the millions of Americans who are stuck in low-paying jobs, saddled with debt and unable to qualify for conventional auto loans.” The profit margin of these dealerships, according to their national trade association, is 40%. Benzinger noted that “About 1 in 4 buyers default. In the real estate and credit card industries, that would be bad news. In the world of Buy Here Pay Here, it's just another avenue for profit: The car can be repossessed and put back on the lot for sale in short order. Provided they don't get wrecked, these recycled vehicles just keep paying dividends.” One 2003 “Golden Kia” was bought and sold 8 times in 3 years by a Missouri dealership, the last time for $8,995 for a 149,000 mile car. Imagine if, instead, someone designed and manufactured a vehicle with vital components engineered for durability, longevity and expectation of maintenance. Instead of enhancing the lives of automotive loan sharks, those same funds would go towards parts and labor that extend the lives of these versatile, functional vehicles? These cars can travel anywhere in any weather, have good carrying capacities and seat anywhere from 1 – 7 people – big enough for most any family.When necessary, repairs could be made at local garages which charge reasonable rates. You could own these vehicles for decades. Surprise! The cars could be Land Rovers and you would put most of the 33,267 “Buy Here Pay Here” dealerships out of business. _____________________________________________________________________________ My offer to Land Rover to tool around with Posh Spice while she served as an “advisor” on the Range Rover Evoque went nowhere but I’m not holding a grudge. Like the handful of other Series Rover daily drivers still sentient I grudging admit that it’s ok – maybe - for Land Rover to create and manufacture the Defender, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, LR2 and LR 4. Land Rover, after all, manufactures automobiles from which it hopes to make a profit. I’ve owned and run my 46 year old II-A for 20 years now; I don’t represent a “profit center” for Land Rover – whom I desperately pray will not follow Saab into automotive oblivion. I must admit the accolades for contemporary Land Rovers tumble one upon another. Autoweek just voted the Evoque its Best of the Best/Truck 2012. Beating out the Mercedes ML and the BMW X3, Autoweek wrote “with the Evoque, we feel that Land Rover has finally achieved its long-stated goal of building a Range Rover for the 21st century. The Evoque makes good on the promise to build a lighter-weight, more fuel-efficient utility vehicle that maintains the Range Rover tradition of top-shelf refinement and sterling off-road capability.” “With only a four-cylinder engine under the hood, the Evoque still manages to impress with its turbocharged acceleration while also posting huge gains in fuel economy. We love Range Rovers for their on-road manners as much as for their off-road prowess, and the Evoque carries on that tradition. Despite its diminutive size and four-cylinder powerplant, the Evoque is as much a Range Rover as any of its bigger brothers." The New York Times’ auto writers just picked the Evoque as one of the 10 Best Cars of 2011. Lawrence Ulrich wrote “Way to go, Lincoln. A decade ago, you lured Gerry McGovern from Land Rover to revamp your feckless lineup. Then you stuck him on the bench, never producing any of his ambitious designs. Now Mr. McGovern, who returned to Land Rover as design director, has created the crossover smash of the year, a distinctively daring urban machine that seems perfect for carrying supermodels around London. One look at its nighttime puddle lamps — they project an image of the Evoque at your feet, like Batman’s searchlight — suggests that the Evoque is playing in a different league than the typical bland crossover.” James Cobb observed that “the small 4-cylinder Range Rover crossover (starting at $41,995) may seem contrived, but its handsome design, agreeable disposition and clubby appointments — not to mention its safari-proven corporate heritage — set it apart from the crowd of urban pretenders.” Road & Travel Magazine just awarded the Evoque its 2012 Truck of the Year.The magazine’s Courtney Caldwell wrote “the Evoque is one of the most emotionally charged vehicles we’ve seen pass through this category in many years. The vast majority of the jury agreed that this exciting and stunning new vehicle will bond effortlessly with consumer lifestyles in both mind and spirit.” Rumor has it that there’s an Evoque under evaluation in Westford, VT [when you’re done with it, please send it over to the Editor]. I still marvel at how Land Rover continues to churn out brilliantly engineered vehicles. By global standards it’s a tiny company.Land Rover sold over 33,000 vehicles in the US in 2011 (a healthy increase over 2010) out of about 195,000 vehicles sold in their other 168 export markets. In 2011 the US market absorbed 12 million cars and trucks; if you own a Land Rover consider yourself part of the .002%. [For more information on “Buy Here Pay Here” dealerships see http://www.latimes.com/business/buy-here-pay-here/la-fi-buy-here-pay-here-part1-storyb,0,5689256.story]
[Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."