Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, January, 2014]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I bought my Series II-A 23 years ago and immediately dubbed it the QE I, in honor of the ocean line, the Queen and the Windsor family. These past several months it’s chosen to emulate Prince Harry of Wales, rather than Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. The latter, of course, married the lovely Kate Middleton and has settled in with dignity to the task of raising a son and whatever else the Royals are called upon to do these days. The former has exasperated the staffers at Clarence House and Balmoral while delighting the internet with photos of escapades in Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands.
While pleased that it chose to misbehave during the warmer summer and fall months, those very same months comprise my busiest work times – a Land Rover must be ready for daily work during those months! Instead I suffered the same embarrassment as the courtiers called upon to explain Prince Harry’s indiscretions. For example, when it broke an axle shaft backing a work trailer into my drive, I pointed out to all naysayers that the axle had broken at the wheel end, thus ensuring a quick repair. A light tap with a hammer and the remnant popped out of the wheel flange. In went a spare axle and the Rovers North-supplied gasket and felt washer - and Bob’s your uncle, job well done.
Apparently this indiscretion titillated the QE I for it later decided that none of the electrics [all two fused circuits of them] should work one day: no directional, brake lights, parking lights, wipers or fuel gauge. I replaced one fuse, then the other, and still, nothing. A test light and a jump wire demonstrated that the problem lay with the fuse box itself. I cleaned the prongs and the connection strips visible from the firewall – nothing changed. Since I needed the Land Rover for work I ordered a new fuse box from Rovers North, which arrived the next day. Before installing the new one [which required only one screw] I compared the two; the new one was copper-colored and black plastic, the old one was green and black plastic. In a Prince Harry moment, the fuse box had soiled itself; like the Prince himself, once cleaned up it was good as new and ready to serve as a spare.
So far those quick repairs had been effective in covering up the QE I’s shortcomings to inquisitive islanders but then came its Las Vegas moment. Driving down a dirt lane to an estate for a landscaping job, towing a trailer filled with heavy gear, the QE I decided to no longer shift between gears. Since it would shift with the engine off, the problem lay with the clutch system itself. I completed the job and left my gear at the work site, promising to remove it the following day.
Swallowing my pride I called a summer family about the use of their Toyota truck, stored at their empty residence. That very same truck appeared in my Holiday issue column as the object of scorn, towed to safety by my very prideful QE I. Not surprisingly, the family had not forgotten their humiliation in print, and like a member of Republic.org [which seeks to abolish the British royalty -ed], they agreed that I could use their truck provided I groveled in print. No one can fool children, so to assist with an assessment of the merits of the Toyota [Prince William] and the Land Rover [Prince Harry]. I brought in the Baird-Forner family of Emily and twins Owen and William, Margaret and Eleanor, In this instance, the photo is worth a thousand words, they fell for the Prince William of vehicles.
Then I drove the Rover for 12 miles in second gear, taking the slow road home. I checked the hydraulic fluid and crawled underneath. When I spotted a minor leak around the clutch slave cylinder, I ordered a replacement unit and hose and installed them. With the help of a co-worker we bled the clutch and had a nice firm pedal, but no clutch release. I would have to dig deeper. Fortunately, Todd Brown, the local mechanic, agreed I could work outside his shop to remove the necessary panels, and the move it indoors for the swap out.
My replacement galvanized chassis has, in theory, a removable center crossmember. However, the galvanizing included the nuts and bolts that held it in place; like paparazzi who won’t leave, they weren’t going anywhere. That meant getting to the transmission through the floorboards, metal tunnel and seatbox. These are held in place by over 50 nuts, bolts and screws, any one of which – if rusted in place- will delay removal. Four of them connect the seatbox to the sides of the rear tub; they were as recalcitrant to release their grip as staffers at Buckingham Palace were to admit to a mistake. Vast quantities of PB Blaster filled the air in the Herculean effort to free the seatbox, last removed 10 years earlier. The handbrake assembly on Series Rovers further blocked access to the transmission from above. Exactly how to remove the linkage, with its attachment bolts hidden from easy access and unmovable, defied my best efforts. Enthusiast and restorer Kevin Murphy, visiting the island from Ridgefield, CT, stopped by to witness the surgery and even lent a hand. Finally it succumbed to gallons of penetrant, decibels of cursing and a wide variety to tools.
Once exposed the clutch plate revealed a lot of life left but the pressure plate demonstrated it had little spring action remaining (Mark Letorney would later confirm that “it’s rare for a Series Land Rover clutch to wear out since you don’t have to slip them very much.) I prayed that the problem did not lay deeper in the clutch linkage, reassembled the new disk and pressure plate, sat the seatbox loose on the frame and started it up. The clutch worked perfectly – job well done!
One glance at the jar of oxidized and/or snapped nuts, bolts and screws and I knew fresh ones would speed up the job. Fortunately Rovers North has a seatbox/floorboard kit of the correct number and sizes. Some proved as difficult to insert into hidden-from-view holes as they were to remove, but within a day the QE I was ready for its next duty – or was it?
Prince Harry probably laughed when I enjoyed nearly one-tenth of a mile of carefree driving before the Rover stumbled and nearly stalled while returning to the shop. The fuel gauge read half-full, which made sense considering the time spent on the clutch job. The fuel pump seemed to work but Todd, the mechanic, insisted that I run the car from a gas can to double check. Of course, he was correct – the Rover ran perfectly. So off came the right side seat cover to expose the tank. I removed the fuel sending unit to discover no gas in the tank. Oops! Once filled with gas the QE I ran as if it were on Royal Parade Duty.
During the fall the fuel gauge continued to behave like Prince Harry – either full up or empty - instead of steady-as-she-goes Prince William. With a long winter trip looming ahead accurate fuel readings would be essential. So off with the right seat cover and the ring that holds the sending unit in place. The sending unit did not appear knackered; it sent a signal of some sort to the rheostat that connects to the fuel gauge. I opened up the rheostat, sprayed it with cleaner and reassembled it but the reading did not correlate with the fuel level. Then I remembered a bit about Land Rover electrics [“always check the grounds”] and added another ground wire at the sending unit. Job well done!
With this early winter of snow and cold the QE I continued its Prince Harry moments. Like much of the northeast we enjoyed a spell of “polar vortex” (meteorological lingo for “freakin’ cold”). One morning I yanked hard on the door handle to open the frozen driver’s door and jumped onto the seat squab. I gazed at a sheet of ice covering the inside of the windscreen and the entire fascia panel. I tried to turn the key to start the car but it sat frozen in place. Nor could I remove the key from the ignition. Absent a hair dryer I had to move an electric heater into the Rover and plug into an outlet from the house. After a while I could actually remove the key and spray some lubricant into the ignition. I left the heater on for a while until all the ice melted and the moisture evaporated; then I started the Rover, set the hand throttle, and when warm, turned on the heater motor so the Mount Mansfield heater could tackle the ice floe covering the windshield.
In December, with a snowstorm looming, the QE I undertook a 715 mile voyage to visit friends in Connecticut. The snow began to pile up on I-84 when entering the state and not long afterwards traffic slowed to a 20 mph crawl. A normal 4 hour ride became a 6 hour trek in four wheel drive. The noise level inside the Rover rose as the exhaust header nuts loosened over the long drive. By the time I reached my destination it sounded like I had installed Glasspaks; it was a noisy drive home at the end of that week. Prince Harry would have been proud.
Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers Magazine 2014
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."