What does it mean to have “an old Land Rover”? I’ve learned it’s quite generational.
As a child of the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” 1980s, the only Land Rovers I saw were very-used, ‘60s or ‘70s Series II-A’s or III’s. If you had asked me to draw a Land Rover, I would have produced the square lines of a Series Land Rover. If you had asked me which vehicle would get me around the world, I would have told you a Land Rover. No matter what point in my life, when I thought of the best vehicle in terms of style, engineering and versatility, I dreamt of a Land Rover. During my school years, Land Rover imported the Range Rover Classic, NAS Defender and Discovery; as I got older, they became my “classic” Land Rovers.
So it’s no surprise that we bought our first Land Rover in 2014, it would be a 2000 Discovery II. I’m a certified “car girl” and Anthony works as a British car specialist, so the 163,000 miles on the odometer didn’t faze us. Tony Stella of Tuscaloosa, AL, had already purchased new tires, replaced some small fuel and cooling system pieces and provided new speakers so I could sing along, loudly, to my favorite songs. After we bought it, we replaced a front wheel bearing, outer tie rod end, air and oil filters, and it hit the road without incident right up to our current 180,000.
Searching for parts, we discovered Rovers North online and starting receiving Rovers Magazine. The Summer 2015 issue will remain special to me. Anthony and I had been very eager to get out, explore and use the Land Rover for its original intent. Living in Alabama, the question was, “Where do we go?” As much as I love my native state, it doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of off-roading. That issue had numerous stories of off-roading adventures all around us: Overland Expo WEST in New Mexico, SCARR in Texas, and more. Anthony wondered aloud, “Wow, how much fun would that be!” I became more and more excited with each article that he summarized to me.
When he turned the page he said, “Alaina! How much fun would it be to take our Land Rover on some trail rides at the beach in Florida?!?”
“Are you kidding me?!”
“No! There’s an event called the Sand Rover Rally and they have it every year!”
“We have to go!”
“It’s in April so start saving money.”
Saving funds for the Sand Rover Rally would present a problem, because we already had started angling for a Series II-A. It had popped up on Craigslist over the winter with an ever-lower asking price. The ad featured a “100 foot shot” of it sitting forlornly in a field in Repton, AL. I called Adam Busby, the owner, once, then twice, until I reached him.
I said, “I’m sorry to bother you, I was just calling to see if you still had the Land Rover for sale?” He said, “Yes ma’am.” I said, “Oh, really? Just one question… Has it ever been registered in the US?” “Yes ma’am, I have the last plate that was on it, from 1999.” I could hardly believe our luck!
I called back the next day and learned that it was a LHD diesel, previously owned by a Repton farmer who used it on hunting trips. Some archival research showed that if he bought it new, it might have been from Mobile Jeep Corporation, the state’s only authorized Land Rover dealer (there were none in nearby Mississippi in the 1960s). Adam told us that many people had come out to look at it, but they immediately lost interest when he told them he could not find the bulkhead plates with the serial number. (Happily, he found them just before our purchase, but we still can’t confirm its build year.) [Series II-A chassis numbers don’t denote model year –ed.] It had not run in at least 14 years, due in no small part to a missing starter. It’s clear the farmer wanted it to keep running; he had cleaned out the fuel injectors and we found a Rovers North parts package in the back. Adam, who considered Series Land Rovers, “the coolest vehicles I’ve ever seen,” had admired it from afar and purchased it from the farmer’s family upon his death. We were thrilled to be its next owners and made the financial and logistical arrangements to pick it up on our way back from the Sand Rover Rally in two weeks.
So when April 8th rolled around, a convoy of three Discoverys started out for the Rally. You see, our enthusiasm for this Rally led our nephew, Roman Ghabayen, age 19, and our best friend, Jesse Jackson, age 24, to search for Land Rovers of their own. Roman found an ‘02 Discovery II in Florida on Craigslist within a week, actually trading in his Audi TT for it. After some fiddling, it ran wonderfully and he even added a lift kit. Jesse found a ‘96 Discovery l, also on Craigslist, with a bad transfer case. Despite this, upon meeting up with the owner, Jesse fell in love with the Discovery and had it towed to our shop, where Anthony had no problem with the transfer case and welded up a hole in the rear axle housing. Add a new set of tires, and Jesse was ready to go. The buying spree had not yet ended; before we left for the Rally, Roman had found a Discovery l for his fiancée, Stacey Tate. In a region with little concern for rust, 15 to 20-year-old Discoverys become the perfect adventure machines, especially for enthusiasts who came of age in the 21st century.
The Sand Rover Rally gave us more excitement and entertainment than we expected—plus, we knew that at the end we’d be picking up our “new” Series II-A. By pure chance, we found that we and two of our convoy’s Discoverys appeared in the 30-A Facebook Live webcast of organizer Mike Ragsdale and Rovers Magazine’s Jeff Aronson. Among the many enthusiasts we chatted with we met Bobby Sanderlin, Niceville, FL, who told us he had made several unsuccessful phone calls to Adam Busby in an effort to see our Series II-A! On the trails at Point Washington State Park, we enjoyed four hours on the sand and mud, and helped tow a 75-year-old, flat-fendered Jeep so they could pop the clutch to get going again (and that’s why our Series II-A comes with a crank). “Boy, are we glad you came along,” said the Jeepers. The guys in the Wrangler who got stuck in the sand were equally happy to see us.
The disappointment of the Rally’s end would be tempered by our excitement of finally picking up our Series II-A. The 100-mile drive to Repton, AL, went smoothly enough, but we hadn’t reckoned with Adam’s karma with his Land Rover. We knew of his reluctance to sell it; but what we didn’t know was the Land Rover’s reluctance to leave the field. While the wheels would turn, the tires seemingly dissolved upon their first revolution. It took hours of winching, leveraging, head-scratching and grunting to move it onto the trailer for the 180-mile drive home—all part of an 11-hour ordeal, some of it in the rain. For Roman, Stacey, Jesse and Anthony on their first Land Rover road trips, the long weekend’s driving, on and off-road, did not reveal any problems in their respective Discoverys.
It will be unusual for me, but I can’t wait to fire up the diesel and start “driving in the slow lane.” The II-A still has the original “elephant hide” seats and instrumentation. We’ll need to reinstall the door top and secure a temporary rear window soon, as birds have started eyeing it as a nesting site. No doubt all the brake and clutch hydraulics will require replacement, as might the fuel lines. Fresh gear oil everywhere, fresh fuel and elbow grease will get it running and stopping. My next tasks will be to name it, and then decide whether to paint it.
Different generations might disagree on what constitutes an “old Land Rover”, but this Series II-A, living and working on South Alabama farms, embodies both old Land Rover and old Alabama. I am proud to keep it in my home state.