Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy, Rovers North News]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
For the past decade or so there have been only two Land Rovers in my island town, my ’66 II-A SW and a wonderful Series II 109” SW passed along from a summer person father to his summer person daughter. Then a fisherman’s wife bought a Discover Series I 3.9 as her winter car. Over the past few years, though, the numbers have crept upwards.
In recent years, two early 90’s SWB Range Rover Classics have become summer vehicles, sitting like statues until after Memorial Day weekend. Another summer family commissioned East Coast Rover to build a coil spring framed Series III with a Tdi engine. A more conventional Series III 88” now sits beside the home of a seasonal resident; sadly, it sits too often. So, too, does a RHD Series II SW with a “won’t start” Perkins diesel.
Modernity really struck hard, though, when a new Range Rover Sport showed up on the ferry one day this Spring. A couple of local fisherman saw it drive onto the boat for the 90 minute ride and they teased me. “You should get one of those! It’s time to upgrade yourself. Yuck, yuck, yuck.” I had to admit that this was the first Sport I had seen in the flesh and the 20-something couple seated in the car looked like interesting people. So I stood on the deck and struck up a conversation. The man had purchased the lightly-used car just recently from the dealer in Maine, located 3 hours from his home. He had already tested its speed and handling such that new, low profile tires were on order. He loved its driving qualities and the awesome sound system; it also handled very well in the snow but he had not taken it off road. His girlfriend adored the Range Rover and loved riding in it on any roads, slow or fast.
There’s some question as to whether the Range Rover Sport moves the marque too far away from the traditional values of Land Rover. Rest assured, though, that one marque value remains intact. When the ferry docked at its pen on the island, all the cars drove off except the Range Rover. It wouldn’t start. Turning the key produced only a “click.” I put a tester to the battery and found it barely delivered 5 volts. A quick jump start with a battery pack and all went well. Some Land Rover qualities never change.
There’s no question the Range Rover Sport makes an impact, though. The other strangers on the ferry that day were a couple outfitted in “rambling” gear. Throughout the day you spotted them walking around the island, peering at houses, rocks and the flotsam and jetsam of a lobster fishery. A few days later a column appeared in the statewide Bangor Daily News about the wonders of a day trip to our island. The authors, who were the ramblers that day, wrote about the economic pressures on Maine’s fascinating islands, citing the presence of “a new Range Rover on the deck of the ferry” as evidence.
Oh, and as for the upgrade, well, I declined. Instead, I went halves with a summer resident on another 1966, a Series II HT that had spent its very weary life on a farm/estate in Vermont. That trek, behind the steering wheel, will appear in the next column.
The QE I had not run this strangely in many years. My ’66 Series II-A 88” SW would idle fine but under load and at higher speeds would buck, cough and occasionally backfire gently. Since this only occurred when underway on an interstate or at higher speeds on two lane roads, rarely could I stop to investigate the cause. In fact, it first reared its ugly head on Maine’s only interstate during a 2.5 hour drive to an important meeting.
Any genuine mechanics among the readership have already begun to list the likely diagnoses of the problem. Series owners like me will have already begun the other checklist, the one full of wishful thinking. This list which includes causes like: high headwind speeds, bumpy stretches of road, right foot slipping off the accelerator, etc. In situations like this, I’m generally good for several stabs at the emergency brake button. Surely the reason the car is running so poorly is that I simply forgot to disengage the emergency brake the entire distance. Nope. How about, is the car still in four-wheel drive? Nope. I check the headwinds again by sticking my hand out the window.
By now, nerves, vibration and age [mine, not the car’s] have created the need for a pit stop. Ah, there’s the rest area. I dash in and do my stuff, then run out and open up the hood. I am dressed for success so I can’t delve too deeply around the motor lest I look even more unseemly. Besides, Series owners believe that staring intently at a mechanical piece or touching an electrical item gently begins the healing process. I give it my best but deep down I know that this will be as effective as clicking my heels together twice and repeating “I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
All the fuel lines look intact. Nothing leaked that doesn’t usually leak. The distributor cap clips seemed solidly in place. Why, surely then one of the spark plug wires was loose on the cap or plug? Nope. The high tension lead to the coil felt secure. Oops, running a bit late now, so I jump back in the car and head back onto the highway.
Flooring the car between upshifts does not produce any of the symptoms. Maybe the problem is “solved?” No. After it runs at 65 for a few minutes the hiccupping starts again as I steam up hills or encounter strong winds. The car is keeping its speed up and continues to idle wonderfully but something is not right. The closer I get to Portland, Maine’s other metropolis, the less chance I have to pull over.
I find myself assuming that deer-in-the-headlights scrunched up position of the fearful driver. I remain in the right hand lane just in case it stops running. Suddenly, in the left side wing mirror, a white Discovery II appears as it passes me. Four – count ‘em, four – young blond women occupy the car. I wave and they return the wave as they pass me. I quickly drop the furtive face of the frightened and assume the confident countenance of the country set. With self-assurance I return their wave, with just a flick of the wrist that asserts Rule Britannia. At the same time, I’ve already punched in AAA onto my cellphone.
Of course, my nonchalance with the ladies should have been my demeanor the whole trip. I flash back to the great line of P.J. O’Rourke, the humorist/journalist, who once wrote about Land Rovers that they were the kinds of car that would transport you across the barren steppes of Mongolia without a hiccup but the driver’s side window would refuse to close when you washed the dust off at the car wash in India.
My meeting went fine and the car continued its coughing whenever it climbed a hill at speed and under load for a two hour trip along the coast. While disconcerting, I also noted that the car never lost speed nor refused to idle nor refused to start. The next morning, I disassembled the Weber carb and found small bits of red sediment in the carburetor bowl. I sprayed through all of the jets and orifices. I emptied out the sediment bowl on the fuel pump and found it had raw bits settling on the bottom. At the same time, I checked the points gap, the rotor and distributor cap. All looked well. The spark plug wires are fairly new and Genuine Land Rover parts. The car ran perfectly for another two hour trip through rural Maine. Then, the same symptoms cropped up again a few days later.
I will have to confront the source of the unidentified sediment. The bits of crud can’t be doing the fuel pump’s tiny valves and seats, nor the carb’s tiny needles and jets, any good. The fiddly stuff is why some Land Rover enthusiasts prefer Range Rover Classics, Defenders or Discoverys to Series Rovers.But then, once every few maintenance moments, you get it right using only the most minimal of tools and time. Then, you can’t beat a Series Rover.
The Roadster Factory is a British Heritage Parts supplier in Pennsylvania that specializes in Triumph and MG spares. A recent email message read “Don't forget that Sunday is Mother's Day! Why not take the wife or mother in your family out for a drive in your MG or Triumph and stop for brunch, lunch, dinner, or a picnic along the way?”
I remember offering my mother, who’s now dearly departed, a Mother’s Day Sunday drive in the QE I. As she was born and raised in Manchester, England, and lived there for a few decades, I thought she would enjoy the treat. She stared at the Rover and assumed the same look as Margaret Thatcher when she declared war on Argentina during the 1982 Falklands War. “That car is one of the many reasons I left England. No thank you.” As my other car at the time was a 1978 Triumph Spitfire, I knew ride was out of the question.
The issue raised by the Roadster Factory resonates with many Land Rover enthusiasts. Who wouldn’t want to treat their Mum to a Whitworth spanner set just to show how much she means to you? Exercise has been proven very important for overall health; a few pumps on the new Hi-Lift jack is just the thing instead of a wasteful cardio workout an overpriced gym or spa.
Perhaps your significant other has not requested a winch and bumper because of a fear of rejection? Why not purchase it for him or her? What wife would not eschew flowers, which will wilt anyway in short order, for a set of Hella driving lights for the Range Rover Classic or P38? You could sing “You light up my life!” at the same time.
Land Rover has expanded the boundaries of hybrid technology by focusing not on fuel mileage or emissions alone, but on off road capability. According to Autoweek, Land Rover made quite a splash at the Geneva Auto Show with its “Land_e,” an “e-Terrain Technology Concept” vehicle intended to demonstrate Land Rover’s bybrid, biodiesel and exhaust heat recovery systems. Land Rover believes that these could produce a 30% fuel economy savings. Matthew Taylor, the managing director of Land Rover, claims that “the e-Terrain technologies are practical, feasible, real-world solutions. In every case they preserve – and in most cases improve – our breadth of capability.”
Not surprisingly, Land Rover is examining how hybrid technology could help with off road capability. The company believes that electric motors, bolstering mechanical rear drive, have the low end torque and smoothness that benefit off road driving. Expeditioners might question increasing dependence on electronic driving assists but they certainly provide enhanced capabilities for novice or infrequent off roaders.
Hybrid technology might help offset the ever-increasing costs of gas and diesel fuel this summer. I’ve felt it on a personal level. It doesn’t seem that many years ago that I could fill up my II-A tank and still receive change back from a $20 bill. Now it takes nearly $30 to fill the tank. I’m quite aware that Range Rover and Discovery/LR3 owners have to put our far more cash to fill their tanks.
In May, the average price of regular gasoline nationwide was $2.92 per gallon, up 70 cents from a year ago. Meanwhile, our British colleagues paid $6.28 in May. Norwegian Land Rover enthusiasts had to fork out $6.90, the world’s highest price by nation. Taxation plays a role in the higher European prices, as it does in ethanol-rich Brazil, where gas ran $4.60 despite high supplies. Lower prices must make life much simpler in Saudi Arabia [91 cents] or Kuwait [78 cents]. Better yet, we could mollify ourselves in the turmoil of Venezuela and its 12 cent per gallon gasoline.
The rising costs of gas have made shuffle how I spend my limited discretionary income, but for many Land Rover owners with higher incomes, the increases have been manageable. In 2004, about 26% of all the households in the US earned more than $70,000 per year; together, they accounted for about 40% of all the gas and oil sold. Not surprisingly, this same group also purchased many of the SUV’s sold in the US. They have the financial wherewithal to accommodate increasing gas prices, at least for a while.
For a Land Rover enthusiast, every trip is, well, a trip. I find every ride in either one of my Series II-A’s a hoot. Every drive provides an adventure; even when you’re not going far the stares of envious or curious or disdainful strangers adds to the entertainment. You can’t buy this kind of fun!
I sat in my Land Rover one morning after running into holdups due to road construction. I had a bunch of newspapers with me, so I crawled into the back jumpseat, opened up the paper, and began to read articles. One reporter interviewed comedian and movie star Robin Williams about his summer “blockbuster” entitled RV. The movie, which appears to be a needier version of the National Lampoon Vacation movies, required that Williams learn how to drive a huge RV. He claimed “it’s a very wide load. A big RV is really a ship. Working the mirrors is tough. Some RV’s have rear view TV cameras, because the mirrors aren’t enough. Personally, I prefer a Land Rover.”
Copyright 2006, Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."