Behind the Steering Wheel[Courtesy Rovers North News, June, 2009]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
Ahem, it’s time to eat crow. Rovers North generously put my article about the QE I serving as an appealing prop for an L.L. Bean catalogue shoot on the cover of the Winter 2009 issue. In addition, I found myself compelled to mention its appearance to most of the 1,200 people who live on this island, the several friends I have off island, and post the story on my website. At the Maine Winter Romp, members of the Southern New Hampshire Land Rover Club asked to have their photos taken with the “famous QE I.” With all the humility of a privileged celebrity, I granted their requests. Meanwhile I waited for the catalogue to arrive in the mail.
I woke up one March morning to a strange sound coming over the ocean from the west. This frightening noise, sounding like a guffaw of derision, emanated from Rovers North the day the L.L. Bean Outdoor Gear and Clothing Catalogue arrived in Westford. On page 54, a handsome guy stands next to an open tailgate; on page 63, two stunning models lean over a windshield. You’d have to be Maurice or Spencer Wilks to recognize that those were Land Rover parts in the photos; you’d have to be me to know there were on my car.
As economists remind us routinely now, deflation – whether of money or ego – is a terrible thing. I do appreciate that Allen Padgett, Lafayette, GA, and Laura Bright, Kingsport, TN, recognized the car as mine. Larry Goldstock, Boca Raton, FL, whose ’73 Series III figures prominently in a Ralph Lauren ad, and John Kountz, Laguna Beach, CA, whose ’67 Series II-A has been featured in CQ and QST amateur radio magazines, may now step into the limelight. Enjoy the 15 minutes of fame, gentlemen. I’ve discovered it’s fleeting.
To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, the acerbic writer and critic, there are two things you can do to help the aspiring Land Rover owner. The first is to give them copies of The Rovers North News. The second is to shoot them while they’re still happy.
My most recent aspiration involved installing a new master cylinder in the QM I, ‘66 Series II-A 88” number two. According to my CD of the Land Rover Service Manual, this read like a simple job. You remove 6 bolts from the toeboard area inside the car and remove the return spring from the pedal.
In reality you accomplish these tasks while lying on your back inside the car, your legs akimbo bracing yourself on the ground – sort of like doing the limbo at a beach party, only sober.After calling your massage therapist or chiropractor, you then assume a new position leaning over the open hood, unbolting the brake/clutch fluid reservoir. You should also remove the brake and clutch line fittings from the cylinder so as not to damage them. You then return to your Beach Party Bingo position under the toeboard and twist the pedal assembly to one side, removing it from the car. Take the pedal assembly to a vise and unbolted the master cylinder. Installation of the new cylinder is the opposite of removal –yeah, right!
Ahem, shoot me now, please.
For solace I posted a question on the Rovers North Forum asking for the most miserable repair on a Series Land Rover. The responses filled 3 pages of postings.
One disgusted enthusiast reported that “as of today I can safely say it is replacing the headliner on a 109 after pack rats have got in there and built a nest.” Another reported that “I'm in the middle of refurbishing the front axle assembly: differential input seal, differential gasket, axle case seals, swivel ball seals, wheel bearings and seals, brake wheel cylinders, brake lines, shoes, steady posts, springs and drums. Plus it's my first time working on 11" brakes. At the moment, I'm finding this to be a very miserable job.”
A few voted for replacing clutch master cylinders on LHD vehicles. See, they are well hidden beneath the left side wing. Whether you contort your hands and wrists to remove the master cylinder and lines, or you remove the entire wing and pedal box to expose the master cylinder, you’re in for a miserable time.
A female enthusiast from St. Louis opted for replacing the pedal covers. As she wrote, “Geez Louise, bending those thick steel tabs on the replacement covers is just ridiculous! I even prebent them using pliers but still found it frustrating to try to complete the bends to secure to the pedals. My hands are so sore from squeezing for what seemed like an hour.”
Votes were also received for replacing spring shackle bushings, which often call for massive torches or Sawzalls, removing a rusty steering relay [which is the only time you ever change them out] or “replacing the three tiny screws that hold the speedometer cable to the transmission.”
Two categories of repairs galvanized everyone’s attention: fixing the bodge jobs of previous owners and “whatever repair has to be done at night, along the road, in the wet snow, and from underneath the car.” As one enthusiast remembered with a shiver, “I-40 east of Flagstaff, in December, 2:00 am, with a steady 35 mph wind,no gloves and just a light jacket, cleaning a clogged fuel filter with carb cleaner, I thought I was going to lose my freakin’ fingers.”
Ahem, may I have the revolver back, please?
While working in the QE I offroad on the island, I neglected to scout ahead and drove the Rover right onto a large unmovable boulder. The front bumper buckled into a deep frown. The replacement task should have been simple. The new Rovers North galvanized bumper looked identical to the old one. The holes matched up exactly. All that should have been required is to remove the 4 bolts that held the old one in place. I took additional solace in the fact that my bumper had been off the car in 2003, so these bolts should be in great shape. Only a set of Hellas sitting on the bumper would provide an impediment to an easy removal and replacement.
Land Rover cleverly designed the bumper bolts to reside in a cupped area that meant you could not get a ring spanner in there, only an open wrench. And it would help if the 1/2" wrench was of the long "professional mechanic" type, not the shorter standard Craftsman wrenches that I use.
A 3/8" ratchet would not turn the corroded bolt head so I moved on to my 1/2" heavyweight. Even the larger ratchet required two hands to pull it, which left my right knee to provide leverage to hold the short open end wrench in place – like the position that Cameron Diaz held for one of her kicks in “Charlie’s Angels.” For one bolt I even had to get out my breaker bar. During the pleasant 30 minutes of wrenching, I watched each nut and washer fall to the ground and disappear in the dirt.
So I got out a magnet and found them all. The bolts had been covered with Never-Seize (thank you East Coast Rover!); still, they were a bear to remove. I tried to chase the threads with a tap and die set but found I did not have the right sized units for these bolts and nuts. So I sprayed them liberally, put on a new coat of Never-Seize, and tried to put the new bumper on.
That's when I discovered proof that Rover must have employed child labor constructing my Series II-A. No adult-size hand could hold a washer and nut in place in the tiny inset of the bottom of the bumper. I balanced them on a greasy finger and offered them up to meet the bolt. Cleverly, Rover also designed the inset so you can't see anything from underneath; if you lie on your back, you can't line up the bolt properly. Don't ask me how I know.
One hour later, the new bumper sat on the car, lining up perfectly with the crank hole and pulley. Four bolts, on and off, requiring one hour’s labor. Yikes!
Of course field repairs do appear on the mental radar for thousands of enthusiasts. While newer Land Rovers might require more involved repair procedures, they also require far fewer of them.
Rovers North News correspondent Tami Sutherland (’05 LR3) and Dan Chapman (‘98 Discovery Series I) drove from Virginia to Maine in May and graced me with an overnight visit to this island. As we drove around in the QE I, Tami listened to my “to-do” list of repairs and she quietly suggested that she did not find field repairs that much fun. She did not mind preventative maintenance but she found “sitting offroad on a trail while someone up ahead fixes their car” unentertaining. Tami has off-road credibility, driving her used LR3 to events in Florida and Texas several times.
Barry Enis, Kent, CT, a former airline mechanic, always reminded me that the electronic and computer systems built into modern aircraft, properly maintained, have proved hugely reliable over millions of miles. Similar systems and sensors have found their way into contemporary Land Rovers, enabling them to achieve highway and off road capabilities unimaginable in Series Land Rovers. In 6 years of daily use, the laptop I’m using now has required one replacement power supply, accomplished in one hour. And this laptop bounces around in the back my II-A much of the time. Maybe some of this technology is quite rugged and dependable.
After their stop in Maine, Dan and Tami continued in his kitted-out Discovery to Nova Scotia, Labrador and Quebec, before returning to Virginia. As highlighted in Gustav Kupetz’s article on LR3’s in this issue, the newest Land Rovers might have more complex technology but still keep reliability and dependability in the forefront of their engineering.
Copyright Rovers North and Jeffrey Aronson
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."