In simple terms the QE I is a 1966 Land Rover Series II-A 88 SW. It's sage green, like most Land Rovers, and came originally with a "deluxe" interior because it's the 7-passenger station wagon. The wheelbase is only 88 inches.
Mine is called the QE I in honor of the great passenger liner , the QE 2. When it was launched, it was the first passenger liner built in Jolly Olde and thus it carried with it all the pretensions of a revived shipbuilding industry. On its maiden voyage to the Caribbean, with lots of dignitaries aboard, it stopped working for a while and lay dead in the water. Champagne and caviar made up for any inconvenience aboard ship, but like many British Leyland product owners of that time, I watched the television coverage and said "my British car does that!" I promptly secured a Vermont license plate that read QE IV as my MG Midget was at least half the size of the QE II. The QE IV plate has traveled with me to Maine and now sits on a Triumph TR -7. The ?66 Series II-A Land Rover became the QE I.
I found the QE I in days before the internet. In 1990 you still relied on personal recommendations, so I bought the time of a "Land Rover expert." Plugged into the Land Rover community was a strange fellow in far southwestern Maine. If you wanted to source a Land Rover, you needed to see this guy. We struck a deal; I would pay him for his time and gas for his Land Rover, and he would let me drive the two of us to look at Land Rovers on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
His Rover made noise, noise, noise, the level of which drove the Grinch crazy in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." We made an 8 hour trip to see two Land Rovers, one with holes in the frame ["Now those holes weren't there the last time I saw this car!"] and the other with a price tag $2,000 higher than my bank balance. The trip didn't land me a Rover but it did give me confidence. If one could run as noisily and raucously as this one for 8 hours straight and make the trip without a hiccup, I could rely on a Land Rover.
My next effort took me past a British car shop in Marlborough, NH, called Cheshire Motors. There, in the front lot, were a few Land Rovers and some British sports cars. The owner refurbished and customized Land Rovers and felt he needed to do "due diligence" on potential buyers. A quick glance at my Triumph Spitfire demonstrated I could not have much cash and raised questions as to whether I was just a dilettante.
In his front lot sat a white Series II-A Land Rover with a safari top, the very combination I had hoped to find. Could I take a test drive? He sniffed, " we don't do test drives." So I sniffed back that I don't even make offers on cars that I have not yet driven. The car, he explained with barely concealed disdain, was not his company's but a consignment for a customer. If so, he had a least one customer with as little money as me.
We danced around this for a while and he finally consented to a test drive. He showed me where the starter button was located; I pushed it and discovered the dead battery. Out came the battery pack to start the car. Once running, he would not let me drive because he didn't know the condition of the brakes. Series II-A transmissions do not have synchromesh between first and second gear so you need to know how to double clutch. I did, I insisted, and finally, he let me take the wheel. Clearly he was uncertain about the condition of the car - even though the owner was customer and presumably, he'd done some work on the car.
The final straw came two weeks later when I stopped by to finally see if he had an asking price for the car. Something looked different - the safari top that had been on the car had been replaced with a standard hardtop. Sure enough, when I pressed him, he admitted that I was right and that he had sold the safari top ["they're worth a lot, you know."] and replaced with a lesser hardtop. An interesting step to take with a customer's car - but never mind.
OK, I said, what's the new - surely lower - price? No change in price, he replied. Goodbye, I said.
Good fortune followed when my "fixer" found a Land Rover for me. It has been owned by an enthusiast, himself a mechanic, known in off road circles as "The Terminator." The 1966 Rover was totally stock, and from the dealer's sticker on the car, had once spent time in southeastern Massachusetts. It was sage green, my favorite color, had a safari top and the original grey "elephant hide" interior.
It had no plates so I drove it around the farm fields that surrounded the fixer's house. The car had 111,000 miles on it and at 25-30 mph in the fields, it ran beautifully. I had brought with me a long list of things you were supposed to check out on a Land Rover and promptly ignored it. I even paid his asking price of $4,200. In the sunny warmth of a late fall afternoon, the Land Rover felt spectacular.
Three days later, I withdrew my savings and arranged for a ride to pick up the car. Now it was rainy, cold and damp. I bolted on the license plates and started down the road. Within 100 yards the windshield wipers had stopped working. That's when I learned where the fuses [only 2] were located. Once I wiggled the fuses the wipers started working again. Above 30 mph on a bumpy road, the four unmatched retread tires started shimmying down the road. By the time I arrived home I had serious reservations about my sanity.
Within three days I had started on my first of dozens on weekly trips from Maine to Vermont, where I worked with the Vermont Council on the Humanities and libraries throughout the state. I also secured an adjunct appointment with the University of Vermont's History department. So for several years I put 20,000 - 30,000 miles per year on decades-old Land Rover.
The trips were not without their moments. Once, on an interstate highway in Vermont, the Rover suddenly lost power and started to run poorly. I pulled into a convenient rest area and took out a spark plug. Between the electrode and the tip, some sort of carbon stalactite had formed. There was no longer any distance to arc. Only one plug looked reasonably clean, so I sprayed each one and used a knife and sandpaper to clean them off. The car ran perfectly after that roadside maintenance. I?I've told this story with admiring tones to friends who drive lesser cars; to my surprise, they?re unimpressed. To them, the larger question is why anyone other than a mechanic would have to remove the plugs at all.
Life would never be dull in this Rover. One night in 1996 I crested a hill in Knox, ME, and came across a lovelorn horse in the middle of the road; avoiding it at the last moment, I would up in a ditch, the Rover on its side. Within two days, parts replaced from spares, it was towing other cars out of ditches in a March snowstorm.
In 2003, late one night on a rural two lane road I had been listening to the radio broadcast of the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees championship baseball game. The Red Sox - under my telepathic guidance - had held the lead. My headlights illuminated the woods on either side of the narrow road. You could barely exceed 35 mph on its curves.
Perhaps you'd seen the advertisement - the one in which a rhinoceros chases a Defender on the savannah? You chuckled until you realized that the rhino, normally a gentle star, threw a tantrum and actually butted the Defender a couple of times during the shooting of the advert.
Well, that's what I remembered when a deer bounded out of the woods and attacked the Rover. It waited until it was just in front of my bumper, cut across the road from the left, and began its assault. I know it was a Yankee-fan deer because I swear I saw the initials NY, crossed just like a Yankees? cap, on its fur. The front bumper lifted the animal into the radiator support and the right front wing, and then off to the side of the road. The radiator support gave way enough to push the radiator into the fan which disabled the car.
I ground to a halt, infuriated but unhurt. The road had tall trees and thick woods on either side, offering the skittish deer a perfect hiding spot. Why it chose to bound out in from on my car at that precise moment baffled me. No other car came by for the next 30 minutes. I stepped out of the car and looked around. Antifreeze leaked copiously onto the road; the right wing resembled an origami exercise. The deer lay still, clearly destined to become someone's mince meat pie.
The deer's sudden entrance raised suspicions in my mind. By the time the state police and tow truck arrived and I could turn my attention back to the game, the Yankees had stormed ahead and won the game. Clearly the deer, sensing the assistance I had given to Red Sox manager Grady Little, gave up its life to assure a Yankee comeback. While I was tied up with the tow truck, Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in the game through the 8th inning and, well, the rest is history.
Of course, just the week before, I had fully tuned up the Land Rover, installing new points and spark plugs, checking the timing, topping up all fluids from rear differential to front swivel balls. I had even adjusted the brakes. Now the Rover sits awaiting some welding and body work before it can resume its daily service. The radiator support, radiator and fan require replacement. The right front wing might be salvageable with some skilled hammering.
I've consider myself a buff about animals. I love dogs, ride horses and willingly much out stables and stalls. I mourn gently over road kill. But a horse put my II-A into a ditch a decade ago and another deer ate my MGB last year. Land Rovers have been chasing, transporting, tracking and otherwise hanging around animals for decades; in my case, hanging around too close for comfort. I don?t think I'll be renting a video of Bambi soon. Maybe instead, I'll find a copy of "The Deer Hunter."
Thanks to East Coast Rover and Rovers North, the Land Rover was "Roverhauled." You can see the story here.
The QE I has been featured in British Land Rover magazines such as Land Rover Owner International, Land Rover Monthly and Land Rover Enthusiast. It's featured on the video "Land Rovers Across America." It's appeared in Notes, the publication of the Maine Humanities Council.
In 2008 and 2009, the QE I joined a lot of models and equipment in a catalogue shoot for L.L. Bean. You can read the story here. In 2011, the QE I appeared as a prop for the Yuketon brand of shoes and canvas wear.
At 46 years of age it has over 500,000 miles on it. I couldn't be happer.
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."