Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers North News, October 2008]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
In Land Rover’s earliest decades, advertisements called it “Britain’s most versatile vehicle.” “Whatever the load, wherever you go, the Land-Rover can take it.” On the estate or on the farm, Land Rover was working for prosperity.” It was the vehicle that “makes light work of heavy duty.”
42 years after my Land Rovers left Solihull, it still performs a multiplicity of duties. On this windswept island off the coast of Maine, firewood for wood stoves is in demand. When a summer neighbor lost a huge branch off his old elm tree, I arrived with all the subtlety of a vulture eyeing roadkill. I could barely lift the 4 foot circumference pieces into the Rover but I loaded it as high as possible with this valuable haul.
When another job called for a few cubic yards of fill, I folded up the seats and spread a tarp over the rear tub. I then shoveled and shoveled in dirt until I had filled it up and took it to the job site. Dump runs of old lumber, sawn-off limbs, garbage and rubbish have all occupied the Rover. At times, people are actually happy to have me offer them a ride, such as when five visitors walked down a lonely lane in a pouring rain. Even the inside of my Series Rover looks inviting at a time like that.
The Rover will also pull or tow as needed. Whether a felled tree [I’m not that good at estimating where standing trees will fall] that needs to be yanked in another direction, or a boat that needs to be launched, or a car that requires a tow, the Series Rover makes short work of the task at hand. When it needs an adjustment or a repair, you can do it yourself. The timeless lines still attract attention for men and women of all ages.
Yes, a modern 4 wheel drive pickup will accomplish of the same, but it can only carry 7 people with a crew cab and a lot of patience on the part of passengers. It’s so heavy it will sink in the mud or dig up a field with too much torque. And then it’s so long that it can’t squeeze into small spaces, or tuck into that small slot on the deck of the local ferry.And it can’t be repaired without a computer diagnostic device and an IT degree. Now what part of “versatility” don’t they understand? __________________ There are Land Rovers that you step into with a certain aplomb. Writing in our last issue of his Range Rover Classic, Mike Koch remembered gazing at his girlfriend and saying “Shall we take the Range Rover?” He probably sounded like James Bond, too. When I’ve made the same request referencing my ’66 II-A, I sound more like Austin Powers. Mike’s girlfriend seems to have agreed with him, whereas several of my girlfriends have opted to leave my presence instead. Perhaps it’s because where his request sounds like one coming from James Bond, mine sounds more like one from Austin Powers.
Unfortunately, both of my ’66 Series Rovers, the QE I or the QM I, have the aplomb of Pigpen, the Peanuts’ character permanently encased in a cloud of dust. Not only are my Land Rovers the kind of vehicles that I can get into when dirty, mine are the Land Rovers that get you dirty when you get into them.
Many years ago I called Rovers North with one of my innumerable questions; this time it was, “what is the black goop that comes off my steering wheel in damp weather?” Once the laughter died down, Mark Letorney said “Dirt, Jeff. It’s dirt.” This statement revealed the circular nature of Land Rover ownership. Land Rovers wallow happily in dirt, which encourages owners to undertake dirty jobs, which requires maintenance of your Land Rover, which gets you dirty, which you then take inside the car with you.
So while Range Rover owners might wonder which cologne or perfume to wear a Series Land Rover owner like me wonders about hand cleaners. The best of them exude a pleasing odor that should attract the opposite sex while removing grease from one’s hands. The end result should be a cleaner steering wheel, too. Fast Orange gives off the odor implied by its name, although admittedly, it’s the orange of Tang or Trix rather than the citrus from the tree. GoJo resembles yogurt in color and consistency but not in odor. Given the amount of grease on my Land Rovers and my own ineptitude as a mechanic, neither product cleans me up that well.
Sadly, I was born too late for “Whiz, Roadside Hand Cleaner,” a can of which I secured when our local hardware store emptied its upper floor of old goods.I can’t tell you the age of the can, produced by the R.M. Hollingsworth Company of Camden, NJ, but there is a color drawing of a 1912 car filled with smiling passengers, clearly happy that the driver had cleaned his hands with Whiz.
Now I’ve taken a whiz at the side of the road but never cleaned my hands with Whiz. According to the instructions, I’ve missed something. “At once a luxury and a necessity, it may be used to cleanse the hands while making temporary repairs on the road. Sprinkle a liberal quantity on the hands and rub briskly until grease or dirt is removed. Then wipe them on a towel or piece of waste. Unexcelled when used as a Liquid Toilet Soap or a Shampoo Compound. It is prepared wholly from vegetable oils, is pleasant to use and leaves the skin soft as velvet.”
Now I’m ready to get behind the steering wheel. As Austin Powers might say, “Baby, shall we take my Land Rover?” _________________ National pride once dictated that every state wanted to strut its stuff through a national ship fleet flying the flag of the home country. Even though transatlantic travel had become the mainstay of international airlines, The Queen Elizabeth 2 pridefully reminded the world that Britain could still construct an ocean liner. Built at a shipyard in Scotland, her keel was laid in 1965 and she entered her service as an ocean liner in 1969.
In 1974 on April Fools Day, it stopped running. Or in the words of the Cunard Line, “whilst on a cruise from New York to San Juan, a technical fault caused the propulsion machinery to shut down.” The ship lay disabled in the Caribbean. Florida television stations sent helicopters with reporters and cameramen to cover the misery of passengers forced to eat caviar and drink champagne. Cunard hired tugboats to tow the stricken vessel to Bermuda.
As the then-owner of an MG Midget in daily use, I thought, “This sounds familiar – a British piece of machinery towed in for repairs.” Not long after I secured a Vermont license plate that read “QE IV” (that plate now adorns my Triumph TR-7). When I purchased my ’66 Series II-A SW 18 years ago, it became the “QE I.” In 2006, my second ’66 HT became the “QM I.”
So it’s with sadness that I note that in November the QE 2 starts a new life as a floating hotel and entertainment center in Dubai. It’s as sad as watching blue water yachts sit at a marina, floating bars and cabins for their owners. What a waste of engineering and craftsmanship. Now the challenge is to make certain that a similar fate does not befall our beloved Series Land Rovers, Defenders, Range Rovers and Discoverys. Keep them in use, and on the road. _________________________ 2008 represents the 60th anniversary of other significant automobiles beside our beloved Land Rovers. When Citroen decided it should make a people’s car for postwar France, their edict was that the car should permit a French farmer to wear his favorite chapeau as well as a basket of eggs – never broken. The result was the Citroen Deux Chevaux, their wonderfully corrugated “Tin Snail.” With its light weight, front wheel drive, simple construction but brilliant engineering, it became the favorite car of rural France. By the 1980’s it had grown into an urban statement car, too.
Morris Motors needed a postwar car that would appeal to the financially strapped public in Great Britain and developed the Morris Minor. With its monocoque construction and rack and pinion steering, it offered excellent handling, comforting styling and a comforting interior.60 years later, they remain beloved in England and a perfect purchase for the sensible motorist today.
Lotus Automobiles is stretching things a bit, but the cars that exemplified lightness as strongly as Land Rovers embodied ruggedness also want to celebrate their 60th anniversary. While we’re partying, wish the Austin-Healy Sprite (the other Bugeye) and the Rover P5 saloon a happy 50th.anniversary, too.
Younger but more tragic, British Leyland would have been celebrating their 40th anniversary had they survived their scrambled product mix, odd management decisions and surly worker relations. At least they worked hard to support the creation of the Range Rover, which in turn, brought a lot of luster to the parent corporation and gave us a wonderful automobile. _______ As this issue will arrive in November, it’s a perfect time to send holiday wishes to Mark Letorney, Matt Martin and the Rovers North staff for all their professionalism and energy. Greetings, too, to correspondents Mike Koch, Tami Sutherland, Don Flye, Calef Letorney, Eric Evans, Jeremy Bergeron, Bob Rusnak, Christopher Berdy, Louise Orlando, Tom Lynch, Tom Johnson, and Jim Edson for their wonderful articles. Most importantly, best wishes to all readers for a terrific holiday season.
Copyright 2008 by Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."