Hugh Martin (left) salutes Frank Twarog, Hinesburg, VT, the previous owner
The QM I rests after its 220 miles trip to its new home in Maine
The QM I shows off its good side
First Impressions – An Affair to Remember [Rovers North News, November-December, 2006]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
Transcript of a recent telephone call to insurance agency in Maine:
“I’d like to add a 1966 Land Rover to my insurance policy.”
“You already have a 1966 Land Rover on your policy.”
“Yes, I do, but I want to add another one.”
There was a long silence over the phone line.
Good question. In the 16 years of my Land Rover ownership, I’ve had a monogamous relationship with my ’66 II-A 88” SW, the QE I. Tempted often by the charms of numerous Series Land Rovers, even by the lure of a Range Rover Classic, I remained faithful to my less-than-royal Rover. I wanted to believe that virtue girded my fidelity; actually, I was simply too cheap.
A few years ago, Hugh Martin and his family arrived on my island town and refurbished a summer house. As he walked down my lane last spring, he found me under of the QE I, replacing a slave cylinder. I needed his left leg to bleed the hydraulics, and he agreed to pump the clutch pedal on cue. We talked British cars and I discovered that he had restored a Jaguar XKE as well as classic boats; not only could he move a clutch well but he had other skills as well!
Over the summer, we talked often and developed a scheme that would have prevented Donald Trump from firing me on “The Apprentice.” We’d go halves on a Series Land Rover. This would enable Hugh to enjoy a Land Rover for the summer season and me to have another one for the winter season. Hugh would get to frighten guests during the short ride from our ferry terminal for to his house. I would get to have a second Land Rover for the winter, avoiding the cost and scramble for space on a small ferry, while still having a Rover available for cutting and hauling firewood for my wood stove.
First, we tried to extract a “bitsa” Series II Land Rover from another summer owner, an enthusiast from California. Despite the fact that the Rover is powered by a “ran when parked” Perkins diesel, features right hand drive, three exterior color schemes and hasn’t run for three years, he would not part with it.
I was still scouring the Rovers North Customer List when I drove the QE I up to the British Invasion, in Stowe, VT, last September. There I ran into Rovers North’s Les Parker and former Rovers North staffer Frank Twarog. While they were admiring the refurbishment work done by East Coast Rover on my Series II-A, they discussed that that fewer and fewer enthusiasts wanted “project” Series Land Rovers. “How do you know that,” I asked? “Why, I’ve been trying to sell mine for months and haven’t had any takers,” Frank replied. “Whoa,” I cried, “I’m looking for a Series Land Rover!” The chance to buy a Series Land Rover from a genuine Land Rover enthusiast was too good to pass up.
Frank claimed it was a “basic truck” with no frills, a 1966 Series II-A hardtop. It had been a plow truck on Frank’s property outside of Burlington, and indeed, had been a farm truck at Shelburne Farms estate for most of its life. It ran, had an inspection sticker, had done under 45,000 total miles. Frank also assured me that the Rover had been maintained using Genuine Land Rover Parts from Rovers North and looked after by Lanny Clark, formerly of Rovers North and now operating his own restoration shop in Vermont. I telephoned Lanny to learn more about the vehicle. He had maintained it for Frank and, prior to that, for the owner/operators of the Shelburne Farms Estate, the Webb family. The farm workers had used the vehicle daily for chores. Lanny also remembered that the rear door had several “Turista” decals on the window, indicators of several trips through Mexico to Central America. Lanny informed me that the ribbons hanging from the pintle hitch were from his daughter’s wedding, when the car served as elegant transportation.
When Frank emailed me photos, they confirmed the “basic” and the “farm” parts. I forwarded the photos to Hugh Martin. We negotiated a very reasonable price and set a date to pick up the Rover in Vermont. Frank left the Rover with Bob Ettensperger, a skilled welder in Underhill who completed some patches to the frame (“Jeff, I could weld this frame up for a week and it wouldn’t be finished. It’s safe enough, though.”). I asked the welder what he thought the car needed for the return trip. “Bring a can of everything, and tools,” he replied. “Are you really driving it home?” So I packed my toolbox, quarts of engine oil and pints of hypoid, and antifreeze; Rovers North shipped me a rebuilt distributor, fan belt and fuel pump. A 90 minute ferry ride and a 6 hour drive later, we arrived in Vermont to fetch our new Rover.
My plans had been to examine the car very carefully from above and underneath. New England weather conspired to produce an early fall snowstorm that downed power lines and soaked fields. When Hugh, Frank and I arrived on the hilltop field to view the car, it stood on 6 inches of snow and 3 inches of mud. Clearly I would not examine the transmission, transfer case, rear and front axles or swivel balls from below; Hugh also demurred when offered the chance to wallow in the mud.
I opened up the hood. The original Solex – when’s the last time you saw a Solex? - stared back at me. I checked bolts for tightness, added oil and antifreeze, and got into the car. Absent door seals and window channels, the car would be a bit drafty. With its aftermarket seat cushions, it would be uncomfortable. I looked in the rear. There were no seats whatsoever. It started handily, though, and sounded rather smooth at idle – no bearing rattle, no piston rapping, no tappet noise. The gas gauge and temperature gauge worked; the oil pressure one did not. I checked the oil level again.
Frank knew he had to close the deal, and he knew how to do it. He pointed to the very battered front bumper. There, barely legible, were the remains of a University of Vermont parking sticker from 1976 – just like I had on my MGB when I first started working at UVM. Of course, I had to have the car right then. We transferred plates, paid our bill, and started back for Maine.
I offered Hugh the chance to drive his shared purchase. He looked at it and then wondered if we shouldn’t have towed a trailer instead. He stared at his Chevy Suburban and made his choice. I put the Rover into four wheel drive and drove out of the fields. Immediately I noted that the generator light remained on. I called Rovers North, only 20 minutes away, and they agreed to test it for me. We hooked it up to a tester and it wavered back and forth. It might work, or it might not. Hugh needed to make the last ferry of the day; thus there was no time to install a new generator. We started out for the 250 miles trip home.
Northern Vermont and northern New Hampshire are filled with some of the most scenic mountain and valley drives in the country. Two lane roads predominate and meander through stunning villages, past working farms, forests and national parks. The Rover’s generator stopped working within 20 minutes of the trip but in daytime and sunshine, we weren’t using the battery very much. Good thing, too, because the taillights and turn signals didn’t work, either. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have used the Kodiak heater, but I’d have to put on a coat instead. However, the car steered true, braked smartly, made no untoward noises, leaked gently and cruised happily at 55 – 60 mph for hours. The real driving test would come in northern New Hampshire as you approached the White Mountain National Forest. The hills became very steep and while the car lost some speed, it chugged right up the hills without holding traffic up too badly.
In western Maine, we regrouped at a gas station. Hugh did the math and determined that if he did not head out at a rapid pace, he would not make the ferry. Confident that the Rover would make it home, I released him from convoy duty. As he drove off rapidly, I realized that my toolbox, spare parts and extra fluids were in his car. Hmmm… I gassed up, said a prayer to the Rover gods, and headed towards the coast.
Six hours and 250 miles of driving without an audio system meant that I had plenty of time to sing out loud, run through many of life’s stupid mistakes (6 hours was barely enough) and enjoy the charm of a 40 year old car running as though it just left Solihull. Maybe the mileage was honest! I missed the ferry by only 10 minutes and took a motel room for the night. At the bar, weather-beaten fishermen listened in horror as I described the trip. “Is that your heap out front? I wouldn’t have even climbed aboard!”
The next morning, the battery would barely turn over the engine so I got out the crank. She started on the second turn and I drove down the ferry. While waiting for the arriving ferry to empty, the island mechanic walked by to look at the Rover. He did not look pleased. The crew watched it cross the ramp with bemusement, shaking their heads, and saying “What have you bought now?!” I entertained them later when I crank started the car to get it off the boat.
Once home, I retrieved my tools and tackled the niggling problems. First, I put the battery on a charger for a few hours. I tightened up the exhaust header pipe and intermediate pipes. Suddenly the car sounded much better. I checked the transmission, transfer case, differentials and swivel balls, and found them full up. While under the car, I ticked off the sections of the frame that would need replacement. I pulled the spark plugs and found four different brands – one a Lodge – and sizes. Since the head had clearly never been off the car, I assumed it still had the 7:1 head and I ordered a set of replacement spark plugs.
With the battery charged up, the car started quickly but the generator light remained on and the gauge signaled “discharge.” I pondered disassembling the generator but instead, struck it smartly with a hammer. Immediately, the light went off and the gauge changed direction. I found a set of spark plug wires and replaced the existing ones. The wide mouthed radiator hissed at me so I searched through a parts box and found a rubber seal around an old unit. Guess what? It sealed the radiator perfectly.
Amazingly, the car really ran as if it had only 45,000 miles. On the other hand, a goodly number of those were logged on a working farm so it had some “custom” features. One toggle switch substituted for the high beam dip switch on the floor, but if you flicked it too quickly, it disappeared through a hole in the bulkhead. Another toggle switch bypassed the ignition switch so you could start the car without a key – great for fellow farm workers and unskilled thieves. A special horn, one that would herd cows, had been installed; it sounds like something J.C. Whitney would have sold in decades past.
Throughout this past winter, the Rover hauled logs out of the woods, served as a bench for the chain saw, and then as a carrier for the finished woodstove fodder.It handled deep snow, icy roads, and muddy trails with aplomb. The car would often sit in the frigid cold for a week while I worked on the mainland, and then start up with only a couple of pumps and a pull of the choke cable. Once I loaded it so excessively that the rear tailpipe rubbed against the rear tire as the springs sagged under the tremendous load. Naturally, I was in deep in the fields when this happened, so I just drove slowly for several miles until I could empty out the rear compartment of wood.
This spring, I treated the car to $200 of sheet steel and welding. The frame now runs in a continuous run of solid steel from front horns to rear crossmember. When the car died one day and refused to start, we opened the distributor to find a failed Petronix system hiding under the stock distributor cap. Replacing the plate with one from an old distributor, with new points, did the trick.
As part of our original purchase, Hugh and I bought a hoop set from Frank and this summer, a new top from Rovers North. Removing the old top took much less time than anticipated, and scooping up an old tailgate has completed the job. We even found a set of jump seats from a Rovers North customer and will install them this fall.
Just before I transferred the Rover to Hugh for the summer I decided to smooth out the idle by cleaning out the tiny screen filter, at the pipe union where the fuel line enters the Solex, What I wound up with was a totally distressed screen and two dissolved circular gaskets. The carb sprayed fuel everywhere. I pondered what to do and then remembered that ten years ago, an enthusiast gave me a Solex with a rebuild kit “in case you ever need it.” I dug it out of the guest bedroom closet and installed the new parts, just in time for Hugh to share the Rover with his guests.
Wow, this is too much fun. Maybe I can find a 109”!
Copyright 2006, Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers North
A coveted University of Vermont (UVM) Faculty/Staff Parking Sticker, ca. 1976
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."