Land Rover trinkets from the 20th century and the present
A 20th century repair
Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, June/July 2012]
By Jeffrey Aronson
I stepped out of church on Easter morning and found an envelope on the seat of my Series II-A. This is not that surprising; on this island, you leave your keys in the ignition and only summer visitors actually remove their keys and lock their cars. Inside the envelope I found a Series II-A owner’s, minus only its cover, a dealer invoice from 1975, and a pen.
The owner’s manual proclaimed “this book has been prepared to present as clearly as possible to you, all the information necessary for the efficient care and maintenance of your Land Rover.” Should you have any additional questions you were directed to write directly to our “Service Department” in Solihull or London. Telephone (SHEldon 4242), telegram (roverrepair, Solihull, England) and Telex (33-156) information concluded the introduction. The manual stretched to 120 pages without any mention of navigation systems, entertainment centers or climate control.
I had no idea who left it in my car so I started asking around; eventually a fisherman remembered a Land Rover from his childhood (“I always thought it was a Jeep”) and steered me to a caretaker who works at our dump. “Oh, yeah, I remember that Land Rover. “ He confirmed the information and helped me track down the family members who still maintain that summer house. One in New York City said she didn’t remember it at all, and her brother, who lives in Maine, admitted he had “no fond memories of that car. My mother found it and bought it. I guess she fancied she needed a four-wheel drive for the island.”
The Land Rover, a Series II-A hardtop with the rare lift gate-tail gate combination, was familiar to me, as it was still on the island when I moved here 21 years ago. The invoice intrigued me. Dated June 8, 1975, the invoice for $385.79 came from Miller’s Garage, your friendly Chrysler-Plymouth-Valiant-Land Rover dealer in Rockland, Maine. The Land Rover model was not identified, but the mileage of 92,942 and the owner’s manual would indicate a Series II-A. The invoice’s “instructions” asked the dealer to investigate “noise in the engine, broken axle, check over and state inspection, noisy rear end, front and rear bumpers, and the rear crossmember.” Clearly the matriarch of this summer family had purchased it used.
The engine noise turned out to be the water pump; new bearings took care of the rear end noise. The parts subtotaled $142, dealer labor totaled $94, and a trip to a welding shop for a rear crossmember brought the grand total to $385.79. At today’s dealer service rates, that might get you a few hours of a mechanic’s time.
The lettering on the pen informed me that Miller’s Garage had opened in 1920 and that the dealership also sold Imperial, Desoto and Hillman cars, in addition to Land Rovers. In the mid-20th century no English manufacturer had the clout or financial capacity to establish a unique dealer network. Rover had a sales subsidiary in the US but distributed its vehicles through private companies who lined up their own dealers. There were no “Land Rover Centres,” just dealers willing to take on a “foreign car.” The idea that customers eager for the rococo Imperial might also want to look at a Hillman Minx or a Land Rover seems absurd today; worse yet, the salesman in the polyester suit and white shoes would probably not want to chat about off roading with a potential Land Rover customer.
The pen came with a clear plastic letter opener at one end, the sort of accessory that a character from Mad Men would appreciate on his desk. It reminded me that letters in envelopes once formed the basis of most print communication. It stood in sharp contrast to the thumb drive I received at the end of the Land Rover press conference at the New York Auto Show. Instead of a bulky packet of printed matter and photographs Land Rover’s thumb drive came with 500 MB of videos, photographs and documents, full of information about Land Rover North America and its model lineup for the US. With a pen all I could do was write a letter asking for more information.
My coverage of Land Rover’s events around the New York Auto Show came about during a telephone interview with Land Rover’s Kim McCullough [see Spring 2012 issue –ed]. Unaware of my deserved reputation as a moocher she carelessly tossed out the invitation. PR staffer Stefanie Schiavello promised whatever help I needed obtaining credentials. Armed only with a rudimentary understanding of what a business trip to New York City required, I consulted with Mark and Calef Letorney. They determined that my proposed expenditures would barely cover a cardboard box outside of Grand Central Station and upped the budget.
A New York City state of mind does not come easily to an inhabitant of a Maine island. First came a search for hotel rooms somewhat in the vicinity of Manhattan’s west side. Room charges per night equaled my month’s rent; lower priced venues required either sharing bathrooms or making long, expensive public transit rides from neighboring boroughs. Using various internet search tools took hours but I finally found a place in a quaint neighborhood aptly named “Hell’s Kitchen.” With the absence of an elevator the hotel promised me a healthy workout every day just getting to the room. Additional benefits came from the taxi cab charges; you can rent a car in Maine for the day for less than cab rides in Manhattan. The hotel lay within a mere 30 blocks from Land Rover’s event site and the Javits Center so I hoofed it each day.
The night of Land Rover’s corporate party I did question the wisdom of walking 30 blocks late at night, but I fell into good luck by meeting Perry Stern, MSN Auto’s editor. Coincidentally we departed the event around the same time and he mentioned that he was quartered at the “W” [the briefer the name of the hotel, the higher its rates], just a few blocks from my abode. Did I wish to share a ride with him? Most assuredly! As we left the event site he showed his experience by turning to a lovely hostess and asking her to get him a “shuttle.” I envisioned an ugly airport minibus but within moments one of the many black Range Rovers lined up in front of the restaurant moved forward and a driver opened a door for me. Generally when a Range Rover pulls up in front of me someone expects me to “fill it up” or “be careful when you wash it,” but no – this time I would become a passenger. Ensconced in the leather seat, surrounded by rich wood trims, comforted by zephyrs wafting through the car, I wallowed in the luxury of a new Range Rover. It was quite a step up from my Series II-A.
A few days before the show’s opening I decided to peer inside the Javits Center to watch the Land Rover exhibit go up. Hundreds of workers labored to erect the displays as I sauntered past them. I took some photos and videos that I posted on the Rovers North Blog each day. At some point I anticipated having to explain my presence to one of the many security guards but they all seemed so absorbed by their text messages that they just waived me along.
]In fact the largest gathering of law enforcement that I saw was at Land Rover’s off road course. That’s where I met Joe Kauper, a Port Authority policeman and his friends, all policemen on break and all loving the Land Rovers. Joe in particular hesitated about asking for a ride, fearing that “I’ll like it so much that I’ll want one.” Sure enough, after his drive he started making plans to sell his current SUV. ]
I genuinely enjoyed the brief spell of the high life provided by Land Rover, but real joy came from the Land Rover enthusiasts in the New York area. When I mentioned that I would be in New York, Carlos Melo, the genial owner of British Auto Works in the Bronx, and his charming office assistant, Leni Soberanis, rearranged their busy schedules so we could have breakfast one morning. They drove Carlos’ stunning LR4 into Manhattan, picked me up in front of my hotel and then transported me to the Crosstown Diner in the Bronx where they assured me of a fantastic meal. They undersold the genuine stainless steel clad diner; I loved it. Then they took me to the shop, which encompasses a few low rise buildings in an industrial area. It looked just like the ones in Europe – jumbled building crowded with cars, mechanics working quickly but carefully because every car was, by definition, in the way of another car. Out in front sat the day’s work – Range Rovers, Discoverys, a Defender, a Series Land Rover and a Ferrari. Walking around the corner I saw the paint shop and behind a chain link fence, Range Rover Classics, P-38’s and Discoverys being prepared for sale.
A couple of days later I enjoyed the same hospitality, this time courtesy of Kevin Murphy and Tim Smith, both working with the Classic Car Gallery in Southport, CT. Kevin has worked as a restorer [a stunning Series III, a Morgan and a Triumph Stag] and broker; he knows his Land Rovers and still owns a Range Rover Classic. Tim has an endearing Military Lightweight and serves as a mechanic for the company. The gallery, right on a main street, featured a raft of really interesting cars, but out front, they placed a Defender 90 Station Wagon with a custom raised roof. Kevin and Tim knew just where to go for lunch and we enjoyed the food in another local diner.
Meeting Land Rover’s leadership from the UK and in the US demonstrated that the marque attracts really engaging, intriguing people – something confirmed every time I meet yet another Land Rover enthusiast. The range of professions, experiences and backgrounds proved anew that the Land Rover enthusiast community makes ownership of any Land Rover a transformative experience in your life.
[Copyright 2012 by Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers Magazine]
Visting British Auto Works, Bronx, MY
Kevin Murphy [L] and Tim Smith [R], Classic Car Gallery, Southport, CT
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."