Few vehicles create a passionate attachment as powerfully as a Series III Land Rover.
When, at age 19, I returned home from my first year at Northern Michigan University, our family Land Rover sat on blocks in the garage. Dan, my dad, had been working furiously the previous two days, prepping it to start up our new Rovers North crate engine. I noticed that my normally calm father seemed unusually anxious as he checked items off the to-do list. The motor replacement project had dragged on for three years, but finally, one late afternoon that May, Dad called me from my room. He brought me to the garage and didn’t say why we were there. He got into the driver’s seat and started the engine. When we heard the engine turn over, a sudden feeling of relief and excitement washed over us. The last three years of work had finally paid off! Now we had a new road with new adventures ahead of us.
Why were we so connected to the Land Rover’s engine starting? Most people start their vehicle every day without giving it a second thought. Our joy grew out of our 33-year emotional attachment to our Land Rover, very much a member of our family. How did our Land Rover achieve that status?
Way back in 1990, Dan Carr had stood outside an Ann Arbor, MI, canoe shop, besotted by a polar white ‘74 Series III Land Rover. He bought it and drove it to my grandfather’s house. Dan remembers it came with a Mexican “Turista” decal: “I remember it being a bit Flintstone-like, so I cut up a cardboard box to keep the rain and mud out.” He named it “Smedley” and drove it 220 miles to his to Dayton, OH home. He took the car apart down to the chassis and did an overhaul of the floor, body panels, firewall, clutch and brake systems. Dan enjoyed trail drives but didn’t rock crawl or overland; the capabilities of the stock Series III suited his needs perfectly.
During this time, Dan met his future wife and my future mother, Jen. Her family had a vacation house in the Upper Peninsula town of Deer Park, right along the shore of Lake Superior. She took Dan through the old two-track logging roads and four-wheeling trails. Along the drive, my dad mentioned he had a ‘74 Series III Land Rover. To Jen, the UP and a Land Rover “went together like peanut butter and chocolate.”
A few months later, Dan drove Smedley from Dayton to Deer Park through a driving rainstorm. (Smedley dripped water onto his right foot for the entire trip.) Five hours of brutally slow, wet highway driving convinced him to install a Superwinch (née Fairey) overdrive [Superwinch purchased Fairey in the 1990s -ed.]. My parents went on their camping honeymoon in Smedley. My dad told me, “We took it on our honeymoon, loaded up with three bikes and — given our slow pace — about 45 cars behind us!” Afterwards, Smedley came to live permanently at the family cabin in Deer Park. Our stock Land Rover traveled the sandy trails and dunes near Lake Superior perfectly. It had the low-end power to get through sand and the torque to climb dunes.
I entered the picture in 2004. I remember the six-hour drives to our cabin in the family car, but the subsequent Land Rover drive made my day. Our local general store sold “Hog Wash” (a sweet punch that only a 4-year-old would covet) and Rolos, the British candy; I would devour both. We’d follow this up with an exploration of the far-flung parts of the woods to go blueberry picking, or just drive for hours and get lost in the never-ending Michigan forest. As the years passed, Dan’s routine maintenance would grow to include replacing the timing chain, brakes and an alternator. As he worked on Smedley, he would call me and my brother to help him. I remember as a four-year-old, I could not reach the pedal to help bleed the brakes, so I sat in front footwell and pushed the brake pedal with my hands.
These small experiences would grow into my own connection with the Rover. One year, my parents decided that my brother Ben and I had reached the age to attend a July 4th festival in a nearby town. I remember sitting on the roof with my dad and Ben, watching the fireworks explode above us as my mom and grandma sat in the front seat. It remains one of the best family memories we have with Smedley. I also remember sleeping on my dad’s knee in the back seat as we bounced down the road on our way home. We made this trip many times and drove back in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on a rough old logging road, but the Rover never faltered. Third gear served us well in traffic — another reason to keep the stock 4-speed transmission as it gave us a wide range for our non-highway applications.
The adventures continued as I got older. On drives like this, the Rover shone in its ability to get through sand. We would put up to ten people (some of them kids on laps) in the Rover and drive down the sandy tracks to remote beaches along the shores of Lake Superior. The Rover never let us down. The stock transmission and 2.25 4-cylinder gave us the low-end power to claw through sand and get through almost anything.
These good times unfortunately experienced a hiccup when Smedley’s flywheel required replacement. I watched my dad take the car apart and remove the transmission. He then spent the rest of the summer putting Smedley back together. I remember the day he drove it around our driveway with most of the body off the chassis. That year, we had only three days of summer with a working Rover, but we appreciated every one of them.
When I earned my Learners Permit, my mom asked if I’d like to drive Smedley. I fumbled with the clutch while finding reverse instead of first, but I eventually figured it out and got it going forward. I came over a hill on our driveway and saw the look of shock and horror on my dad’s face — something we laugh about to this day. My dad let me drive Smedley home and my love for the Series III grew tenfold on this drive. The bus-size steering wheel felt huge, but going through the gears was so much fun. The car pushed through the sand like it was nothing; my feeling of joy from this short drive was unmatched. I drove it often that summer and found myself loving it more each time as I mastered the skill of manual shifting.
Alas, these good times didn’t last. Smedley began to ail with a noticeable lack of power; the mighty machine felt like it could not punch its way out of a paper bag. We ended up deciding we needed a new motor and ordered one from Rovers North. Although upgrades and options for different engines exist, we chose to replace our 2.25 petrol with another one. It was heartbreaking to see our dear Smedley parked up on blocks in the garage, but my dad worked tirelessly to install the new engine.
Thirty-three years and many miles after my dad first saw Smedley, we’ve retained only the original differentials, transfer case and transmission. Along the way, there have been many opportunities for upgrades, but the stock setup of the Series III Land Rover has met our needs perfectly. My mom told me, “I drive it all over the place. I don’t worry when I drive to go blueberry picking in the farthest reaches — it will always get me back. And it gets a lot of admirers. Just last week, someone saw it and followed me until I stopped. He just wanted to talk about Land Rovers!”
Watching my dad’s excitement as he witnessed the new motor start and run smoothly, it feels like we’re at the beginning of a massive journey: a new set of adventures and fun expeditions stretch out ahead of us — all thanks to Smedley. It doesn’t matter if you have owned your Land Rover for six months or sixty years, they remain very special.
We all have a deep connection to our Land Rovers and the stories that go along with them. This one is ours, our three decades with Smedley.