Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy, Rovers North News, September 2005]
By Jeffrey Aronson
All Land Rover drivers enjoy their cars more when they can work on them, and blissfully, Series Rover, Range Rover Classic, Defender and Discovery I owners can maintain their vehicles themselves. BraveRange Rover P38-A and Discovery II owners can do the same but you need more electrical knowledge.
It’s a small example, but take the exhaust system. Rather than require welding or numerous clamps, these Rover exhausts bolt together by crimping together collars that sit over a bubble flange at the end of each pipe. That also means there are gaskets to dissipate and leak. Of course they can corrode together and be difficult to dislodge, but I’ve always been able to disassemble and rebuild my Series II-A’s exhaust. Engineering like this really appeals to me, and to my surprise, appealed to my Volvo-owning summer neighbor.
There aren’t enough weeks in summer like the last one in July. When I drove around my island town with this friend searching for firewood, the appalling roads finally vibrated away rusted metal on the downside end of the header pipe. Using about a half a can of PB Blaster, I could unbolt the header pipe from the intermediate pipe and find the split. I’m frugal so I first tried some muffler putty. That “fix” lasted two weeks. Now I had to confront a full header pipe replacement.
Sunny, warm, pleasant breezes, dry grass, these were perfect conditions for working on the exhaust. My efforts looked entertaining to my neighbor who wandered over to watch. I crawled underneath the car. The intermediate pipe connection unbolted easily but the exhaust manifold end would prove trickier. Three studs screw into the bottom of the manifold; then comes a collar and you hold the whole thing together with nuts best reached from underneath the car. A few extensions and long ˝” socket on a 3/8” ratchet should easily tighten and loosen the header. Two nuts unbolted easily [I do tighten and loosen them every couple of weeks to prevent seizing], but the third, the one that can only be reached from underneath, refused to loosen. Oops – time for more PB Blaster. I heard it creak instead and the entire stud unscrewed itself. You don’t want to have the stud extract itself break a stud because you often have to remove the exhaust [and intake] manifold and install a new gasket. It’s not a huge problem but it’s more than I wanted that day. Besides, I had a header pipe but no exhaust/intake manifold gasket. Oh, you can run the car with two bolts but the exhaust flutter was what annoyed me in the first place.
What to do? My neighbor and I pondered together. “This is really fun,” he enthused, “what would it take to get a Land Rover?” I scowled at him. This was not really fun, but a pain, I grumped to myself. However, I remembered that about 10 years ago I bought a closeout tap and die set. During the decade, all I’d ever done was loan it to fisherman for their boats and gear. What did I have to lose?
The kit came with a tiny feeler gauge filled with toothed blades. Lining them up against the thread on the stud, we confirmed that we had 24 count thread – which was great because that’s the size of most of the dies. Using vise grips to hold the stud in place, we cleaned up the threads on the stud so it would screw into the manifold and accept a nut snugly.
So I lay under the car and reached up the screw in the stud. Holding my breath, I felt it bite nicely into the manifold. Happily, I hadn’t stripped the thread. Putting everything else back together took longer because I wasted time trying to force the pipe under the front crossmember; once my neighbor suggested otherwise it seemingly popped into place. I tightened up all the bolts and started the car. It sounded wonderful and when I put a rag at the end of the tailpipe, you could feel the back pressure.
My neighbor looked blissful. “This was great fun,” he said. “What a great feeling to accomplish something like this!” Now maybe he understands why I love my Land Rover.
New England summers match only foliage season and holiday ski weeks for traffic volume. Northern New England is filled with states that have only a few major roads, stuffed with SUV’s loaded to the gills with vacation gear – kayaks on the roof and bikes on racks behind the rear bumper. No wonder everyone needs a vacation; they’re exhausted from just loading up the car.
On the plus side, these millions of visitors provide a larger audience for drivers of classic Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Defenders and Discoverys. My ’66 Series II-A, refurbished with Genuine Land Rover Parts from Rovers North and skilled labor from East Coast Rover, no longer looked as though mothers should shelter their children as it came by. Resplendent in its pastel green and capped with a new soft top, it putters proudly down the streets and dirt lanes of my island town in Maine.
Back in July I took off for the village with the top’s sides and rear rolled up. I approached the town wharf that doubles as a parking lot in the village. Two lovely, tanned young girls screeched “We love your car!” Heaven, I’m in heaven, I began to hum, until a local woman hollered “Not you, the Jeep!” Nonplussed, I waved to the young ladies as I pulled into the parking lot. I dismissed my critic as yet another jealous local who knew how to offend me deeply. “Jeep, my foot,” I sputtered.
Last weekend I ran in a road race filled with thin, whippy, oxygen-laden, well-rested summer people (do you sense an excuse building?). Well, who should be running but the two young girls. Of course, they dashed off the three miles well ahead of me but when I recovered at the end of the race, I passed them in the Rover and they hollered for a ride. “It’s like being on safari,” one said enthusiastically as they clambered in the back. They live in Savannah, GA and had never been in a Land Rover. “This is the best thing that’s happened all summer,” said her sister.
Of course, it was the Land Rover ride, not me, that made their summer. If and when your Land Rover might drive you to distraction, remember a driving moment like this one. That’s why you want to be behind the steering wheel of your Land Rover.
Solihull is famous world-wide as the home of Land Rover. Until I carefully read the Wall St. Journal one day, I had no idea that is was also the home of Enterprise Inns, one of the largest owners of pubs in Briton. What a perfect combination – Land Rovers and pubs!
If Land Rover continues to reinvigorate the SUV (witness the LR3 and the Range Rover Sport) so, too, is Enterprise trying to reinvent the traditional British pubs. The Journal called pubs “best known for fireplace[s], bad food and warm beer.” Our overseas cousins seem to enjoy sophisticated foods, purchasing better and cheaper beer at markets and enjoying wines, all to the detriment of “the local.” The reason: Britons are drinking less beer these days, and even less at the pub. Changes in Britain -- a newfound interest in sophisticated food, the expansion of supermarkets selling cheap beer and a boom in wine drinking -- have made the traditional "local" look out of date.
"There is very little future for the sort of pubs that were there 10 years ago, where all you were offering was a place to sit and drink a glass of beer," said Ted Tuppen, chief executive of Enterprise. This is a shame as that’s the main reason I like to enjoy a pub when I’m able to visit England.
Some pubs have been redecorated to appeal to women, “throwing out the worn carpets and repainting the nicotine-stained ceilings in favor of light-colored wooden floors, brighter lights, wine lists and sophisticated menus.” This was not the case at The Royal Oak, Ledbury, Herefordshire, near EastnorCastle [Land Rover’s spiritual home], where I became one of “The Spice Boys” back in 1998. The dim light and dark wood made even me look young. Still, change is on the way and it might harder to search out the pub made famous in Land Rover advertisements in the future.
Warren Brown is a Washington Post writer who introduced helped me understand why people drive to New England for the fresh air, summer smells of farms, woods and seashore, with their windows rolled up. In August, he wrote of a colleague who drove her family on vacation in a Honda Odyssey. She plugged in earphones to listen to her favorite satellite radio station. Her two kids watched a DVD on the small screen mounted on the interior roof. When it ended, they pulled out electronic games. They also had three cellphones and two walkie talkie units. Just in case they might be forced to listen to the sounds of nature and highway, they took along a backup DVD//MP3 player.
A Best Buy executive, thrilled at the explosive sales growth in these mobile accessories, called it “a lucrative migration of the pleasures and conveniences of home to the automobile.Digital living is all about personalization and mobilization . . . about taking the products and technology that you already own with you and making them work the way you want them to work,"
Auto engineers are less thrilled because their design cycles run much longer than the precocious winds of change that afflicts the consumer electric industry. How can you keep up with the connectivity requirements when they change constantly?
As a driver who keeps the windows and scuttle vents open and the top off except in the rain, I’m baffled and disappointed by this reality of contemporary travel. What about family togetherness, shared discovery, the dazzling impact of geography? Warren Brown’s friend said "I was at peace on that trip," she said. "I could listen to my music and concentrate on driving while they played their video games and watched their movies. Everybody was happy. But the main thing is that there was no fighting. It was peaceful, restful -- and that is what family vacations are supposed to be about."
No, it’s about connecting, not disconnecting. Connect in your Land Rover this Fall!
Copyright, Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North News
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."