Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers North News, November, 2009]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
Every fall in Peanuts Lucy Van Pelt entices Charlie Brown to kick the football she’s holding for him. For decades the end result has been the same – Charlie Brown kicks at the ball just as she yanks it away. I know the feeling.
You’d think that after last year’s humiliation I’d have learned a lesson. I still stare at the cover of the Rovers North News, the QE I with the headline, “They Chose Your Rover?” The faint taste of crow still lingers in my mouth as I remember the taunts of “nice photo of your windshield,” snark, snark.
No, I learned nothing. When L. L. Bean asked again if my Rover could be used in the 2010 Outdoor Gear Catalogue (they suggested “you could always entitle the article, ‘They Chose Your Rover, Again?”), I demonstrated my shameless quest for meaningless recognition and meekly asked, “When?”
It had been a year since the QE I’s last waxing; three months since its last wash. This was not going to be a quick job. Who knew that I had such a collection of carpentry tools, lawn mower fluids and parts, even a toilet tank float and stopper, packed away in the car? Out came a bunch of quarters for the local power wash [twice] and the Rovers North Waxoyl cleaning kit to remove the oxidized paint. Out came the shovel to remove the caked-on layer of bark and grass clippings from the rear. After the ferry ride to the mainland, out came more quarters to wash the car again, particularly the cockpit and rear tub mats. I enlisted the help of Rover mate Greg Black, Lincolnville, ME, to polish up the car. Naturally it promptly showered, which sent us both off for a beer. I put on a final coat of wax and readied myself for the photo shoot – a mere two days and 10 hours of toil.
Next morning, I removed the soft top and made the two-hour drive to Bar Harbor. The L. L. Bean catalogue producers, photographers and professional models, largely the same personnel as last year, waited for me with some impatience. It seems that their chosen photo op locale was a sand bar exposed and available only during low tide. Besides, fair weather clouds kept rolling in, covering up the sun and perfect light.
L.L. Bean staffers showed their pleasure at seeing the QE I again; they seemed more subdued at my presence. A brisk wind off the water chilled the sand bar and its occupants. This year’s trained dog, named Gunner, strutted his stuff and gamboled in the harbor with pleasure as the models forced their smiles in the cold water. In between their shots, the models retreated to the warm, well-stocked RV parked on the waterfront. My assignment, should I wish to accept it - stand by the Rover and wait for the art director to come up with her next creative inspiration. I’m good at standing and waiting. I chatted with a lot of spectators, listened to a mix of appreciation and nonsense about Land Rovers, drove the car around the sand bar and watched the production crew at work.
The QE I figured prominently in campsite shots, clearly implying it brought the L. L .Bean tents, coolers, blankets, kayaks and their owners to this stunning shoreline. On the other hand, I thought it looked good last year, too. I’ll have to wait until late next Spring to find out whether it winds up in the Outdoor Gear catalogue. I’ll be on tenterhooks all winter.
After a late lunch, I reassembled the soft top hoop set as I thought about the work the QE I accomplished this year. What a treat that a vehicle that could serve as a groundskeeper’s work truck, could also look so special, especially to the one model who gave me a big hug and thanked me for bringing it.
Maybe that’s why Charlie Brown returns every fall to kick the football?
These are the times that try men’s souls, or at least, mine. The 43-year old QE I had worked like a draft horse all summer, hauling around workers and our caretaking gear as well as a trailer full of heavy groundskeeping equipment. Other than oil change and an ignition tune up, I paid scant attention to its numerous groans and clanks as I worked seven days a week.
Robin Winks once wrote about an old car in whose trunk he kept a snow shovel. He listened to the incessant clanging and felt reassured by the presence of the shovel. Then the gas tank fell off and the clanging ceased. I thought of this when I backed the Rover and its trailer over a ledge on my front yard. A horrible “graunch” filled the air as the car stopped moving. It would go forward in four wheel drive, so I assumed the best and removed the right rear axle. Its perfect splines gleamed in the late evening light, so I removed the left rear axle. It, too, looked perfect. Oh, oh.
When I called Rovers North the next morning, Les Parker and Arthur Patsouris correctly diagnosed the broken spider gears in the rear differential. Long ago I had learned the lesson of Rover owners who live in remote locations – never say “no” to an offer of parts. Years ago, a parts cache given to me had included a differential. I packed it in grease, covered it with an old shower curtain, stuffed it into a large tin, and hid it under the front porch. It sure came in handy that morning when I removed the old differential to discover the broken spider gear carrier. So, too, did the differential/axle gasket kit that Rovers North put together for me a while back. Two hours later, the “new” differential was installed and the QE I disembarked for more work.
My good feelings lasted about two weeks. As the QE I backed a boat trailer down a ramp into our harbor, I felt resistance going backwards. I got out and checked for a rock behind a wheel when I discovered the left front wheel had moved several inches forward against the bumper. Indeed the front axle pivoted side to side as the left side swung freely. I inched forward to get the trailer and its boat off the ramp and out of the way. I thought of strapping the axle to the crossmember to hold it in place but realized that was too risky in village traffic. I sucked in my pride and headed for the local garage.
My passion for British cars in general and Land Rovers in particular, is not shared by many on this island. Arriving at the local shop I felt like President Obama finding himself at a Glen Beck-Rush Limbaugh party. I could not have asked for a less sympathetic audience. Leaning on the back of a pickup was a collection of Anglophobes who grinned broadly as I described the grounding of the QE I. Several suggestions included simply pushing it back down the boat ramp [“Tide’s coming in, right?”] to parading it around town on the back of the flatbed for emphasis. For solace I called Rovers North and Mike Koch found me the right locating pin and U-bolts just in time for the daily UPS delivery. Using a bottle jack and some leverage, the mechanic and I wrestled the spring back in place. The QE I then returned to duty, hopefully without significant repairs this winter.
Once advertised as “The World’s Most Versatile Vehicle,” Land Rovers are equally versatile in their appeal to enthusiasts. A recent drive to the British Invasion in Stowe, VT, reminded me the range of Land Rover enthusiasm.
For some Land Rovers represent exploration of new places. Whether you’re packing up the family into your Discovery to travel to new states, or like correspondents Andrew and Karen Taylor of London, packing up the Defender 130 for round the world travel to new nations, your Land Rover can take you to all the places in your imagination.
If you appreciate classic cars, the Series Land Rovers and Range Rover Classics provide perfect platforms for owner restorations. Parts availability is unsurpassed and as cars, they represent the finest of their era’s engineering. Brilliantly styled and designed, a restored Land Rover pleases everyone’s eyes. You might not want to commute anymore in your MG TD but you can happily take your Land Rover to work every day. Neither sleet, nor snow nor rain will stop it from meeting its appointed task.
If you’re a tool guy at heart, the inherent simplicity – as opposed to crudity – of the Land Rover makes it the perfect vehicle to bring out your inner mechanic. The Land Rover Series vehicles, Defenders, Range Rover Classics and Discoverys all feature recognizable engine, suspension and braking systems that can repaired with hand tools rather than software patches.
If you like to test your off road driving skills, you can take your stock Land Rover most anywhere and you can kit out a Land Rover to tackle virtually any terrain. You’re limited only by your willingness to risk possible body damage; pick your route with care and you have little to worry about at all.
The variations of Land Rovers, from people haulers to military weapons platforms, never fail to amaze onlookers. Land Rovers tend to be used for significant reasons, whether transporting medical workers to remote locations or transporting you to the corner market. Children get it and universally adore Land Rovers. Adults realize that a Land Rover can be as entertaining at 2 mph as it can be at 75 mph. Visually there’s no anonymous Land Rover. Aurally each engine has a unique and compelling sound. As examples of brilliant engineering and design, they have few peers in the automotive world. No wonder the range of enthusiasts is as wide as the range of Land Rovers.
As anyone actually working the automotive industry will attest, these are tough times in the car business. For a small, focused automobile manufacturer like Land Rover, these are especially perilous times. Unlike larger companies Land Rover cannot afford a flop. US enthusiasts never took to the Freelander but British and European buyers certainly did and its success helped keep Land Rover profitable at a critical time.
In North America we’d love to see Land Rover return the Defender to our market but our SRS (“supplemental restraint system”) requirements and unique diesel emission requirements mean that new Defenders won’t arrive in their current guise. Instead, Land Rover has announced both good news and bad news.
The good news is that the Land Rover LRX, previously a concept car, will go into production for the 2011 model year. The relatively small SUV might well wear the Range Rover name when it arrives in the US and it promises interesting new technology.
The bad news is tucked away in a corporate announcement. The UK AM website reported that “on the product front, new segment entries will build on Jaguar and Land Rover's design, performance and technology. In addition, a new generation of lightweight saloons, sports cars and premium SUVs with hybrid and electric powertrains, will significantly reduce fuel consumption and CO2. There will also be additional derivatives and powertrain variants from core model lines.” AM also noted that Jaguar Land Rover “aims for volume growth, especially in emerging markets, combined with low-cost country sourcing will also reduce variable cost.”
This leads to the bad news, which is that within five years Jaguar Land Rover will close one of its three historic factories – Solihull (Land Rover), Halewood and Castle Bromwich (Jaguar). With only 60% utilization of the combined plant capacity, it’s unlikely that all three will remain open. AM claims that Halewood will be the new home for the LRX. For Land Rover enthusiasts, Solihull remains the symbolic home of the marque; no trip to Jolly Olde feels complete without a pilgrimage to Solihull. No doubt Jaguar enthusiasts have the same attachment to Castle Bromwich.
Copyright Rovers North News and Jeffrey B. Aronson
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."