Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, June/July 2011]
By Jeffrey Aronson
According to tourism bureaus everywhere Memorial Day weekend harkens the beginning of summer. Nonsense! Summer begins when I swap out the safari top for the canvas top.
This absurd ritual has been underway for about 15 years when I first succumbed to lure of a “Land Rover Convertible,” to quote the blandishments of Series III era advertisements. I found a used Land Rover canvas top at a Land Rover rally, a used tailgate from a VA enthusiast and purchased the hoop set and related parts from Rovers North. It took a day to drill and pop rivet door seals, U-clips for tie downs and tailgate latches. After that one-time challenge the ritual can now be accomplished in a couple of hours.
Conning three people into helping lift off the safari top in situ makes the job a lot easier, but it can be undertaken by two. Step one involves a lot of unbolting around the windshield header, behind the front seats, between the two jump seats and around the rear door. Step two is to remove the rear door and hinges carefully, particularly if you purchased your new door from Rovers North last year, had it painted professionally and have become anal about how good it looks to you.
Step three is for one person – me – to assume the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” position, one foot on the center seat box cover, the other just over the seat back bulkhead. Person #2 - preferably a young, hefty, strong member of the town road crew – stands at the rear opening, hands above his head, lifting the top in the air. Person #1 lifts the front of the top on his shoulders, nimbly steps over the seat back bulkhead and walks the top sternward on his now-aching shoulders until it can be lifted over the rear and carried to its summer storage location.
Step four is to moan loudly and wonder why go through this misery every year.
Step five involves lifting the hoop set into its factory-installed holes and bolting everything back up together. You also get to spend time rummaging through a parts bag wondering why you ever kept all these rusty pieces but have managed to lose the bolts, nuts, washers and cotter pins you really need right now to properly install the tailgate.
Step six requires that you clamber up on the car’s side rails to throw the 800-lb Exmoor canvas top over the hoops, tie everything down, and sigh with relief when you discover that it did not shrink after your careless inattentiveness of last summer.
Now I can admire my transformed “Land Rover Convertible.” Of course it rained immediately after I installed the top and will continue to do so for the next three days. At least the Rover becomes easier to use towing a trailer for caretaking and landscaping jobs this summer.
The UK, or at least, England, gave the world a royal wedding in April. Prince William and Kate Middleton provided the kind of ceremony the Brits do so well, enticing millions of viewers on television, reams of print publications and terabytes of digital imagery. Land Rovers transported toffs, aristocrats, diplomats and posh celebrities to and from the event. The newly-married royal couple even returned to William’s work place, the Isle of Anglesey, which has a storied place in Land Rover history.
It’s only 130 miles from Solihull to Anglesey, the large island extension of north Wales, but an old farm there offered a respite for Maurice Wilks, who with his brother Spencer, led the management of the Rover Car Company during World War II. The legend goes that in 1947, as their war surplus Jeep began to fail on their rural retreat, Spencer asked Maurice what vehicle would replace the Jeep when it wore out. The answer became the Land Rover.
The US has its own Land Rover-themed royal wedding this past spring, appropriately in the former Republic of Texas. Tami Sutherland, an occasional correspondent for Rovers Magazine, and Dan Chapman drove from their Virginia home to Marble Falls, TX, so they could be wed at this year’s SCARR [see Jim Edson’s coverage in this issue –ed.]. A few years ago, Tami had driven from her home in Florida to attend SCARR; Dan had done the same from Virginia. Romance ensued and the rest is history.
Whereas the UK’s royal wedding focused on the theme of a prince marrying a commoner, this Texas-sized ceremony featured Tami, with her regal LR3, marrying Dan, with his more common Discovery II. Two years ago I had the pleasure of hosting a royal visit from them during their vacation trip through New England. While Dan went scuba diving with my former skipper, Tami accompanied me in the QE I for a tootle around the island. In that private moment Tami confessed that the long drive in Dan’s kitted out Discovery II made her long for the advanced engineering of her LR3. Fairy tales can come true, and yes, an LR can marry a Land Rover and be very, very happy.
Way back in the early days of personal computers IT types warmed that viruses could only infect a computer if you inserted a diskette from an unknown source in your floppy drive. Then came the internet and millions of opportunities for hackers to infect your hard drive with viruses, worms and trojans, or just steal vast amounts of personal data.
We’re reliving this possibility as automobiles become connected to cyberspace. If your GM Onstar or Ford Sync system can detect an airbag alert and report an accident automatically, then maybe a hacker could find out the code for your car’s keyless entry, manipulate your automated braking/suspension operations, or listen in on interior cabin conversations?
Computer scientists from the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Washington purchased a new car for the sole purpose of demonstrating whether they could hack into its computer systems through the Bluetooth connections in the car. Their report revealed that they could and that automotive manufacturers were already taking this potential threat seriously.
The chances of hackers doing something similar with my Series II-A are more remote. As an EMT I carry around a portable radio; whenever I’ve tried to respond to a call while the engine is running, static from the ignition system drowns out all radio communications. The only computer in the car is the laptop in my computer bag. Listening in on cabin conversations is out of the question – you can’t even hear the person sitting next to you. Stick with your pre-telecommunicating Land Rovers and you’re safe.
Saturday morning in Maine often includes listening to “Car Talk” on Maine Public Radio. Who else would tackle the question as to whether soaking gummed up spark plugs in vodka would render them useful again [“yes, vodka is a good solvent”]?
Today’s episode featured a call from a wife frustrated by her husband’s insistence that she share his enthusiasm for car club events they attend in their Mazda Miata. As she said during the broadcast, “we drive a few hours in one direction, have a dinner with other sports car geeks, and then drive home.” Instead of focusing on the obvious problem – a boring faux sports car – the Magliozzi brothers suggested she could by now, after two years of marriage, forgo attendance at future events.
Whether married or otherwise this issue raises its head in Land Rover circles, too.Vermont’s British Invasion, Connecticut’s British By The Sea, Oregon’s British Car Day are static, show-your-shiny-car-to-the-adoring-public events. The challenge is, of course, to make your car mean something to the significant other in your life. After putting a great deal of sweat equity and/or cash into your Land Rover you might become quite paranoid about sharing the driving of your beauty with another person – despite that fact that he/she might legally share ownership in your joint property or have supported your enthusiasm in some significant manner.
At least in Land Rover circles this dynamic is shifting as more couples attend and participate in Land Rover events together. Once the first Range Rover Classic demonstrated that you did not need to possess the strength of Thor or Xena Warrior Princess to operate the steering wheel, there’s no reason why your wife or girlfriend cannot take a long turn at the wheel. Indeed, if you’re lucky, she’ll let you drive her Land Rover, too.
Copyright 2011, Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers Magazine
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."