I proposed to Sophie on March 21, 2015, in Montauk, NY, on the eastern tip of Long Island. I had arranged for a photographer to capture the moment, but needed a way to stall for time before the magic happened. So I arranged for a test drive of a new diesel LR4. When I picked her up, Sophie commented that I looked sexy driving it! What I didn’t know was that she thought to herself that it would look even better if we were engaged in it—which happened 90 minutes later.
In a world where everything is connected, I wanted the simplicity of analog, with the ability to go anywhere—something that did not connect to my iTunes, email or Pandora, or have WAZE built in, but that relied on paper maps for navigation, and was unencumbered by “modern technology.” I wanted a vehicle that allowed me to disconnect and drive, that had real buttons that could be pushed, pressed or turned; a vehicle built with the intention of lasting forever—that had craftsmanship, that could be taken apart and put back together.
I first pursued a base model LR3, pondering them for about 5 years, waiting for the day I could sell my car and get a Land Rover. With the LR4 on the way I thought of searching out a used LR3. At times I wavered back and forth between the Land Rover, a Geländewagen, a Jeep Wrangler/Grand Cherokee or a Toyota. My wife, Sophie, duly noted the problem they all presented, “With the others you don’t want last year’s model, you want the newest one, the newest and the greatest.” Damn if she wasn’t right—again.
I did not want a vehicle that became obsolete the following year. I did not want one I would turn in at the end of a lease. I did not want to use it, toss and repeat; I wanted to experience ownership. I wanted to be proud of a vehicle that would serve as an extension of my personality. I wanted something that offered versatility. I wanted to experience the challenge of maintenance as part of the joys of ownership; I wanted to know it inside and out, to talk around a bonfire about that time I broke some component and fixed it. Those automotive moments would enhance my life. When the whole world becomes plug, push and play, human beings will become no more than programmed robots. I wasn’t interested in something that did everything for me, or something that, “made sense.” I was interested in something that did important things in a great way.
And then, there it was: a 1990 Range Rover Classic in Birmingham, Alabama. Thinking back, I’m not even sure how I found it; most likely I was searching Autotrader for Land Rovers within a certain year range within “any distance” of Manhattan, NY. The truck was Mosswood Green with a light brown or beige interior, had bold angles, classic clean lines, with a mild lift and mud tires. As far as I could tell from the pictures online, it was otherwise stock. Having owned trucks in the past, this was important to me, as I was hopeful that it had lived a relatively easy life. The interior had been mostly replaced, the front seats and headliner were new, the carpets clean, the mileage, at 125,000 miles, not too bad.
The Range Rover was in near-mint shape—a big selling point for me and for my wife. I knew that these old Land Rovers could present the new buyer with large bills and wanted something that was in the best condition possible; Sophie was open to a classic car, but didn’t want rust bucket. I showed the pictures to my wife—she looked at me, laughed and smiled. She said, “I love it, get it.” I was somewhat shocked.
The next day, I called Bart Burgess at RMR 4×4 and said, “I love the truck, give me details.” He said it was in mint condition, rust free, and had been recently painted. I asked a few random questions and he indicated that he’d be happy to do a Facetime call to show me the truck. I said, “No, I will fly there on Thursday,” and implied that I would drive it home. While Bart sounded surprised, I’d been traveling a great deal and a trip to Birmingham on short notice didn’t seem out of place.
My next question, “How tall is it?” might have proven the deal breaker. I live in Manhattan with parking garages in short supply and with serious clearance issues. Bart told me the Range Rover stood 72 inches; my existing garage space would permit only 68 inches. But this Range Rover spoke to me so loudly that I searched out a garage in the West Village at a reasonable (for Manhattan) monthly rate, space for the Range Rover and the right clearance. Boom! I thought to myself, “I’m going to buy this Range Rover!”
Two days later, I landed in Birmingham with my briefcase (containing a change of clothes and my laptop). The moment I saw the Range Rover in person, I knew I had to have it. I’m reasonably mechanical, but not an expert; I asked as many questions as I could think of to learn as much about it as possible. A test drive revealed an immediate positive and a few negatives. It drove like a dream and felt as solid as a truck; you felt an immediate sense of safety. On the other hand, the windows did not work at all, the sunroof had issues, engaging the high beams shut down the engine and the center console was broken. But man, the Rover looked good! I had arranged a pre-purchase inspection by a local mechanic, who confirmed that the Range Rover also lacked the typical rust spots under the wheel arches and around the tailgate. I gulped—either I had overlooked something really big or this Range Rover really was a good buy. I filled out some paperwork and became the owner of a 1990 Range Rover Classic.
That night, I drove my “new” Range Rover to a hotel, still uncertain whether to drive it back to New York City or ship it. The next morning, I went online at a local coffee shop to debate the options. The Range Rover apparently attracted immediate attention while parked out front as I received my first parking ticket. After much back and forth, I decided to ship the Range Rover back to Manhattan.
The shipping process took a few weeks, but it arrived in the nick of time, just before a scheduled trip to Montauk with Sophie. I picked up the Range Rover at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and drove straight to a car wash. There I learned a valuable lesson—the sunroof seal had disintegrated. And so began my unsuccessful search for the rear end of the two-part sunroof seal—it’s NLA. Hoping for a few sunny days, I drove out to Montauk, and of course, it started raining half way through the second day. Luckily, I met two classic car collectors who told me their favorite trick, Saran Wrap. So on the beach with my wife, I wrapped the roof of the Range Rover through the door jambs again and again, trying to stay dry.
That proved the perfect start to many similar adventures with many new Land Rover friends. Could I own something newer and easier? Yes. Would I love it as much? Probably not.
By Matthew Moisan