Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, November 2010]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
It’s a touch pretentious for an event to label itself with a roman numeral (remember Super Bowl I ?) but The British Invasion in Stowe, VT, this September deserved its XX rating. For this 20th year a thousand British auto enthusiasts gathered to fib about the reliability, durability and leakiness of their cars. As befits the export pattern of the British auto industry, the vast majority of the cars present were sports cars – MG’s, Triumphs, Austin Healys, Lotus, Jaguar – but nearly 50 Land Rovers came from around New England, New York and Canada.
For my chosen Land Rover, the QE I, my ’66 II-A 88” SW, the event presented the excuse for required maintenance, a badly needed wash and wax, a sweep out of the floors, and a general cleanup of work tools and equipment from the rear tub. First came the call to Rovers North for an oil filter, followed by an oil change, a grease job and the emptying out of my 10 gallon hypoid oil bucket. It was also a great time to tighten up all the bolts I could find underneath the car.
As usual, my work schedule and a crowded ferry meant that I had to arrive on the mainland first before I could wash and wax the car. This required a stop at the bank to get enough funds to purchase cleaners and waxes at a nearby auto parts store. I also discovered that Rustoleum makes a pastel almond spray paint that matched up beautifully with the painted wheels on my Rover.
Of course it rained most of the next day during my 6 hour back road drive from Maine to Vermont, negating much of my cleaning effort. The drive reminded me of the joy of touring in your Land Rover; only a few long, steep hills slowed the car very much. With nearly 400,000 miles on this engine, I could only marvel that it ran as well as it did. The weather improved as the weekend progressed and the stunning cars and boundless enthusiasm of their owners made up for the early rainstorms.
Happily I quickly connected with enthusiast Kevin Murphy, Ridgefield, CT, and his Range Rover Classic. We decided to jump into my Land Rover, grab some dinner and head to Stowe village to watch the Beatles tribute band performing on Main St. By dint of pure luck I found a parking spot along the street, right behind a neat Lotus Super Seven. After the band concert we found the owner of the Lotus peering over the hood, wondering why turning the ignition key produced only a “click.” I dug my flashlight and a multimeter out of the Rover and determined he had barely 12 volts at the battery. Since a Lotus Super Seven weighs about 5 pounds, it was a cinch to push it, pop the clutch, and listen to it roar back to life. The multimeter now confirmed that the alternator output was zero. As he took off back to his hotel to charge up the battery, a cop watching us could only shake his head in amazement.
On Saturday morning I found about 50 Land Rovers, again pushed to the rear of the field, amongst the 600 British cars in attendance. Mike and Sally Coleman, Topsfield, ME, had driven 10 hours in their RHD Land Rover 110 with its “go faster” color scheme. Mike Capozza, Portland, ME, had taken his considerable restoration talents to a spectacular II-A 109” Station Wagon. Peter Iovanella, Stowe, VT, entered both his restored ’95 Range Rover Classic and his NAS Defender 90 in the “People’s Choice” competitions. Paul and Maura Memont, Georgetown, MA, had driven their Series Rover V-8 hybrid. John Vallerand, Greene, ME, had barely finished reassembling his II-A before driving several hours to the event; the multiple paint schemes indicated where the work had stopped prior to the drive. Dan Foley, Milton, VT, drove his stunning Series I. Rovers North did a brisk business with their Waxoyl line of products, answering a lot of technical questions for customers and enthusiasts, and enticing a lot of British car buffs by displaying their Defender 110 fleet export model.
Sunday featured a “Tailgate Competition” during which RN’s Les Parker (and his wife Annie) decided to recreate the splendor and excitement of foggy cold water beaches in Blackpool or Whitby. With his rolled up pant legs, rugby shirt and English do-rag, he looked every bit the proper soccer hooligan. He offered to sing the music hall lyrics on the poster behind his Lightweight, but I (wisely) declined his offer.
I found I was not alone in delaying my departure later that day; hundreds of enthusiasts hung around at the end of the event, either enjoying another day in the Green Mountains, or slowly making their way home. Once again, the moment I departed from Stowe I did not see another Land Rover – or any British car – on the road for the entire drive.
Lately I’d found myself communing with a Higher Power more often, particularly if I wished to stop the QE I. That’s because the brake shoes had been adjusted out as far as possible but the Rover required the dreaded multiple pump - a dance step familiar to all Series Rover owners. This English two-step, which requires the right foot to do double duty in order to stop the car, signaled the need for new brake shoes.
Land Rover enthusiasts with new Range Rovers, Discoverys or the LR range of Rovers enjoy disc brakes. Replacing disc brake pads is the automotive equivalent of boiling water whereas drum brake replacement is right up there with making a soufflé. On a Sunday morning, I decided to stop praying every time I need to stop and instead invoke His/Her help in repairing the brakes.
The 88” Land Rovers use 10” drums, a set of brake shoes, a mobius band of springs and one hydraulic wheel cylinder; 109” Rovers require 11” drums, another set of sores and two cylinders, or one additional chance for a leak. In either case, step 1 is to remove the wheel. All shade tree mechanics must thus confront the effects of the dreaded pneumatic air gun which attaches the lug nuts at about 1 million pounds PSI. Generally speaking, only MMA fighters or weightlifters can actually free the lug nuts with the wrench provided by the automobile manufacturer. For my Series Rover, I used a can of PB Blaster, a breaker bar with my H-Lift jack as an extension to start the lug nuts (You might prefer my alternate technique of jumping on the breaker bar while steadying myself by holding onto the wing mirror.).
With the wheels off the car you can now attempt to remove the brake drums. Mine had not been touched in years, assuring that corrosion, old mud, and brake crud had cemented them in place. The short screws that tighten the drum onto the hub required much pounding with an impact screwdriver before removal. The drum presents you with a compound problem; you need to pound it with a hammer hard enough to remove it, but delicately enough not to shatter it – particularly when you live on an island and perform this task on a Sunday when the car must absolutely, positively be ready for Monday.
Land Rover (and Rolls Royce, I’m told) provides you with a threaded hole in the drum to aid in removal, provided that you have the right sized bolt. I dove into my bolt collection several times before I gave up (I know I have one somewhere), took a piece of wood as a drift, and started tapping along the arc of the drum. Many promises to a Supreme Being were made in my hopes of getting divine intervention to slide the drum off the shoes, and a mere 30 minutes later, I found my prayers answered as the drum slipped off the worn-out shoes. Happily, I found the wheel cylinder rubber in great shape, cleaned off the accumulated gunk inside with brake cleaner [about one can per brake], and prepared to install the new shoes.
Each time I remove brake shoes and springs, I vow to remember where each spring attaches to pins or holes, and each time I find I must turn again to my manuals. The Haynes Manual photos help but the best drawings I ever found reside on the pages of my reprinted Series I factory manual. Looking carefully at the superb line drawing of the front brakes confirmed that once again, my short term memory had failed me, and that the top spring [the red one] connects the peg on the leading shoe to the peg on the backing plate behind the trailing shoe.
You can preassemble the spring [the shorter black one] and ring tab on the bottom of the shoes and muscle it into place, but for that troublesome top spring behind the shoes, you should really have a pair of brake spring pliers that look like the device Steve Martin used as the maniacal dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Since no contemporary cars use drum brakes, you can often find these in the bargain bins at auto parts stores; mine cost me $2.99. These pliers do make the miserable job of stretching the spring a long distance much, much easier; using needle nose pliers will only drive you crazier.
Dick O’Kane, in his splendid book “How To Repair Your Foreign Car,” described working on your British car as a sort of “sporting proposition.” So when you replace worn out, leaking or broken brake parts on your Land Rover, you’re really engaged in “a game to see who is more clever – you trying to figure it out or the designer who figured how to get it on in the first place. When the thing finally comes off and lands on your foot, polite applause, you’ve won.” I bow to the silent crowd of birds and squirrels watching me and move onto the passenger’s side wheel.
The good news for enthusiasts is that Series Land Rovers, Range Rover Classics, Discovery I/II, and even Range Rover P-38A’s were engineered for repairs in remote locations. Still, repairs and maintenance remain daunting or impractical for some enthusiasts who prefer or require skilled mechanics to work on their cars. As these models age out of the dealer network, how do you find mechanics with sufficient product knowledge to effect reliable, cost-effective repairs so you can use your Rover daily?
If you’re not interested in maintaining or repairing your car yourself, it’s good news that some enthusiasts have decided to open new shops devoted to Land Rovers. Ed Starr opened Resurrected Rovers in Chocorua, NH, specializing in Series Land Rovers. Carey Knause and T. J. Copeland, Warren, ME, started Downeast Coachworks to repair, restore and upgrade Series Land Rovers. Kevin Murphy, Ridgefield, CT, will work on restorations and repairs on any Land Rovers. I’m certain there are many more start ups in other areas of the US and Canada; let me know via the Rovers North Forum so enthusiasts everywhere will know of your energy and talents. Thank you, congratulations and best wishes for your success in your new venture!
Wired magazine selected out the “10 Best Winter Cars” for their Autotopia site. Despite the fact “it has a Brit heater and you’ll probably freeze to death, the Defender has a lot going for it. Lightweight body riding on a super-robust frame. Stout suspension and four-wheel drive. And if it breaks down, most repairs can be made with a rock and a pair of Vicegrips. If a Land Rover was good enough for Marlin Perkins, it’s good enough for you.”
If you’re already looking forward to Spring Break, Winding Road magazine put the LR4 on its “Top 10 Spring Break Cars.” As they wrote, “One for the guys only. We can’t explain the phenomenon, no matter how much we try—all we know is that ladies love Land Rovers. The fairer sex seems to be inexplicably drawn to Landie branded products, and our guess is that the spring break vibe will only enhance this effect. LR4 is now the cheapest way to get into a Land Rover (women assume the LR2 is some kind of Toyota), and conquer the lady-hordes. Go with god.”
Santa, I’ll take one of each for Christmas!
[Copyright 2010, Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers North]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."