Your Discovery is only 25 years old? It looks older than that,” exclaimed the manager of our island lumberyard. Ouch – that hurt! Running three Land Rovers on a (very) limited budget means that one or another will feel neglected, kind of like Prince Harry in Spare.

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

Turning a gimlet eye at the QE I, my ’66 IIA 88” SW, I realized the emperor did indeed need new clothes. Its faded, shrunken canvas top with a tear over the rear bow did not do it justice or keep the rear tub dry. I decided to forgo luxuries like food and clothes to buy a new Exmoor Trim top. I applauded the extra touches added to this version: gussets at the corners behind the doors, hooks for the tension straps, generous cut, and lots of strong rope across the sides and rear. The new top looked, felt, and smelled fantastic as I gleefully draped it over the old hoop set.

The new top only made me more embarrassed by the QE I’s Limestone wheels. I had purchased them used from Rovers North over 25 years ago; now, significant rust marred their appearance and woefully jeopardized their safety. As I scanned the terror presented by the wheels, my eyes found the date code on the BF Goodrich All Terrain M+S tires: 2013. That year, Taylor Swift sang, “I Knew You Were Trouble;” it was time for me to listen to her. It’s as if I had bought new clothes but insisted upon wearing decrepit shoes with flapping soles.

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

Unfortunately for my bank account, it appears that tire companies must manufacture all new tires using rare precious metals and highly technical compounds – all crafted by skilled artists and dedicated scientists who, given the price of tires, must earn vast salaries. The cost of two tires approached my monthly rent; buying five should be limited to Powerball winners.

Brushing back the tears, I paid the invoice and went to back the QE I out of the tire shop bay. I immediately noted that the previously Herculean steering effort had been reduced substantially. Ten-year-old sidewalls really do harden up.

With a new top, wheels, and tires, maybe I’ll have to wash the IIA next Summer?

As a volunteer EMT who’s often on call, I must be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. That’s why I own three Land Rovers.

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

On a recent nighttime call, I jumped out of bed and dressed quickly while listening to the county dispatcher describe the nature of the emergency. I ran outside toward “Gilroy,” my ’97 Discovery I. Oh, right, the headlight switch fails intermittently, leaving me with no lights. I moved quickly across the snow to jump into “Rickman,” my ’67 IIA 109”. Out came the choke as my foot pumped the accelerator pedal. I turned the key, pushed the starter button, and listened to the starter crank with gusto. Oh right, “Rickman” requires routine starting when parked on a downhill slope because the mechanical fuel pump can’t pull all the way from the rear tank (note to self: must start “Rickman” every few days). That left the “QE I,” my ’66 IIA 88”. Pull out the choke, pump the accelerator, push the starter button, and listen to it fire up. Can’t go right away on a cold night, as the 80/90w gear oil in the transmission, transfer case, differential and swivel balls congeal – the IIA will barely move. Given the temperature inside the Land Rover, I can barely move, either. I now have time to wonder how the patient is doing, Fortunately, I have a short drive and our ambulance has a killer heater.

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

Having dealt with the emergency, I now had time to reflect. I could not face this humiliation again, so I redoubled my effort to replace Gilroy’s headlight control stalk. With the help of Rovers North, I procured a replacement stalk. Land Rover considers the replacement so basic that it’s not even included in any of the 86 sections of the Factory Workshop Manual. Removing the upper and lower plastic shrouds that hide the stalk proved so simple even I could figure it out – ah, but once opened a new problem arose. Two tiny Phillips head screws hold the assembly in place, hidden from easy access by the angle of the back side of the steering wheel. Removing it would offer the opportunity to screw up the airbag – no thanks – but how else to access the screws?

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

Salvation came in the form of “right-angle screwdrivers.” I found the right tools online: an “ultra slim” ratcheting one and a selection of “ultra slim” flat bars with a screwdriver tip. Once they arrived, I stood out in the rain and gale-force winds installing the new stalk. With the right tools, everything became ridiculously easy. I held my breath after plugging in the connectors and turning the stalk to “on.” My joy felt ridiculous – I mean, who’s ever thrilled with the stock headlamps on a Discovery I – but at least, regardless of candlepower, they illuminated the road.

My arm ached and my throat felt sore after two days of back-patting and crowing about my accomplishment. That’s when the headlamps failed to illuminate again. Rovers North’s Pete Golovach listened to the symptoms and said, “Grounds.” Downeast Land Rover friends Matt Browne of Overland Engineering, Bruce Fowler, and Scott Preston concurred and offered advice on how to locate them. Cleaning and tightening them has returned light to Maine winter nights.

“You probably own every Land Rover book ever written,” lamented a friend who sent me a Christmas gift, “but I couldn’t think of anything else to get you.” While waiting for Santa to deliver it under my tree, I counted the number of Land Rover books that sit on my shelves: 53.

Number 53 arrived last fall as a gift from Italian correspondent and adventurer, Moreno Torricelli. His articles in Rovers Magazine have shared the travels of adventurers in Africa and the roles of Land Rovers in wineries. His book, Over the Horizon: 30 Years of Travel in Africa, Oltre L’Orizzonte, 30 Annie Do Viaggi, (Pierluigi Ducci Editore, 2020) features stunningly powerful photography and text in both Italian and English. After Torricelli’s first transformative trip to Egypt in 1983, he spotted an L316 Defender 110 County that an English geologist used as transportation in the Algerian Sahara; by 1986, he had his own 110 that made numerous trips across the continent.

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

Torricelli noted that “The journey doesn’t start on the day you leave. It begins much earlier when you start dreaming of a destination and it pushes its way into your mind until you think of nothing else.” That’s strikingly clear from the brilliant photography and evocative stories that cover every year of the three decades of travels in this book.

Number 54, Gilles Chapman’s Land Rover: Gripping Photos of the 4×4 Pioneer (The History Press, 2020), recounts the decades of “Defender” production beginning in 1948. The photos include many archival items previously seen in other books, magazines, and online sites, but with enough new ones – at least to me – to provide an enjoyable visual treat. While most of the text consists of captions accompanying the hundreds of photos, Chapman’s six-page introduction captured my attention.

“There is now, as you read this, a brand-new Land Rover Defender [L663 -ed.],” he wrote. “There needs to be. For Land Rover diehards its departure left a gaping hole not only in the supporting wall of the British motor industry but in the fabric of the country itself. It was like someone had banned cricket from the village green, or decreed Christmas lunch was henceforth to be strictly vegan. The original Land Rover, stretching unbroken from a muddy timeline from 1948—2016, was a proper institution.”

Behind the Steering Wheel – Winter 2023

“In today’s world, the final Land Rover Defender was at the absolute limits of its ability to comply with regulations governing the construction of, and emissions from, new vehicles… The Land Rover Defender hails from a far-back time when [those] things hadn’t even been imagined.”

Interestingly, Chapman opined that “the most fundamental change in the Land Rover’s long and illustrious career” occurred in 1983 [L316- ed.] when the leaf springs were replaced with “a new Range Rover-style chassis complete with heavy-duty coil spring suspension all around. These new Land Rovers were, without doubt, the most capable four-wheel-drive vehicles for serious work on all kinds of demanding terrain.” Chapman hopes that the contents of his book “will inspire [readers] to get one of your own, and head for the hills with a big grin and a firm grasp on the steering wheel.” Good point.

As satirist Bruce McCall laments in How Did I Get Here (Penguin Random House, 2020), “Automobiles have morphed into emotionally neutered large appliances, competing more on entertainment than performance, the dulling risk with technological interventions that replace the need for judgment. This is good for safety and inarguably progressive – but it’s heading into a tomorrow where we’ll all be guests in our automated, self-driving blobs.”

Not in an L316 Defender. Grasp the steering wheel firmly!