Remember the best summer of your life? The one where you met the girl or guy, experienced life in ways that you had only imagined, woke up every day with boundless enthusiasm and then — as it if was all too good to be true — the summer ended and you returned to the daily grind?
Last year, I had that summer when I purchased a Defender 90 in Europe [See “The Art of Driving Slowly, Holiday 2022 issue -ed]. Just like the movie Grease, my return to the grind would come with a surprise reprise.
Last year I randomly met the Land Rover Wizard of Genoa, Maurico Ferrando of Technomeccanica, who gave my “Bella Rosie,” a Portofino Red ‘94 Defender 90, a thorough going over. His son, Federico, was just winding up his university studies in Business and Sports Management and came to the garage that very day to help translate for his dad.
Hold that thought.
Come March 2023, with the MotoGP season about to start in Portugal, plans for a mobile paddock display went to hell in a handbasket when I discovered the exorbitant cost of production, set up, tear down and transportation from race to race. Not only that — I needed some willing helpers to get everything done behind the scenes while I followed the series from Europe to Argentina, then to Austin, TX, before returning to Jerez in southern Spain.
I formulated an idea. That kid that I met, Mauricio’s son, the one who loves MotoGP? I’ll call him. The conversation on WhatsApp went something like this.
Graeme: Hey, Federico, it’s Graeme the Australian with the red Land Rover, your dad’s mate… remember me?
Federico: Ahhhh, Graeme MotoGP, Graeme, yes of course, I remember you!
Graeme: What are you doing this year mate? Did you find a job yet?
Federico: Yes, I did, but it’s a lousy one. I sell crap to restaurants.
Graeme: Do you want to work in MotoGP this year and go to all the races?
Federico: Are you shi*ting me?! Of course, I’ll quit tomorrow!
Graeme: Perfect! I’ll email you the plan – welcome aboard.
And with the WhatsApp equivalent of a handshake and a beer to toast, we were off to the races, literally. The first step was to come up with a mobile exhibit that we would move from race to race. It had to be cool, it had to cover some big miles and it had to be reliable – well, mostly reliable.
I suggested to Federico that he speak with his dad and see what he suggested. As it had to be cool, that ruled out every other vehicle except a Land Rover, but which one?
Federico: Graeme, my father says we should get a Land Rover Discovery II, a diesel one as it’s best for the highway and is most reliable.
Graeme: Awesome – go find one. $10,000 is your budget.
Federico: OK, I’ll find one.
I kid you not — within days, Federico and his dad found a one-owner, Zambezi Silver ‘03 Disco II with 194,000 kms. Set off by a stunning charcoal fabric interior, only a couple of scratches on the bumper marred its appearance. Best yet, he could buy it for only 7,000 euros. The following weekend, it arrived at Technomeccanica to receive the customary preventative maintenance performed to ready it for an epic adventure.
MotoGP took on the Title Sponsor role at the Grand Prix of Spain. To further prep the Discovery, we sent it for a wrap at the Gresini Racing headquarters in Faenza. The team worked around the clock to clean and tidy up the body work, print and apply the wrap, to make the vehicle ready for public display. I would fly from Austin, TX, to Bologna, Italy, drive the Discovery to Genoa, jump on the ferry to Barcelona, then make the long drive to Jerez, Spain.
Along the way I would pick up Declan, my mate from Phoenix, the perfect wingman (and owner of an immaculate ’59 Series II, a ’92 Defender 90 and a ’04 V8 Discovery II). The Discovery, named “Gurumobile,” ran like clockwork until, about 350 kms from our destination, the truck ahead of us decided to discharge its load of construction debris all over the highway.
The shrapnel field of concrete and iron miraculously missed the Discovery, but took out a car beside us. However, the necessary avoidance maneuvers put us right in line of a large concrete block, still skipping down the road, shedding shards of concrete and dust. With an incredible sickening thud, it hit the undercarriage. All we could do was wince and hang on. The transmission shifter violently punched out of high range, something made a horrible grinding noise and with the anchors applied and ABS engaged, we came to a full stop on the side of the highway. Once Declan removed his fingernails from the passenger airbag cover, we both got out to inspect the damage.
Of course, it couldn’t have been a mild day – no, that would be too much to ask. It was over 42 degrees C (107.6 F), and the burning asphalt could have cooked an egg. To get under the car and inspect the damage, we had to pull out the floor mats and make a thermal shield capable of protecting us from 3rd degree burns.
Declan went under first; I passed him with his phone flashlight aglow. Then I heard the words nobody wants to hear on the way to their sponsored Grand Prix. “For f*** sake it’s taken out the transfer case!” Our journey of 1,800 km had come to a traumatic stop, agonizingly close to the finish line. We called Mauricio and described the problem. His reply was not encouraging.
“You’re going to need a tow truck!
We had no time to get this fixed. We had to be at the race track that afternoon to position the Gurumobile which was full to the roof with t-shirts and other goodies for the fans in the “Fan Zone,” which would be closed to vehicles from 10 pm on.
What to do? Google “Tow Truck Near Me.” Happily, one sat in a town nearby with a lovely guy aptly named Jesus, who would come to our rescue. My aunt always said, “Jesus would save me.” By God, she was right, but it would not come cheap. (In case you were wondering, I did crack that joke, and even in broken English, Jesus managed to tell me he had heard it before.) It cost me 1,150 Euros to flatbed the Gurumobile, bring her to Jerez and deliver us from evil. When we arrived at the circuit in the late afternoon, looking like the Three Wise Men sitting abreast in the cab of the “grua,” Jesus skillfully reversed the flatbed to deposit our “mobile display” in the perfect position. But Jesus wasn’t done with his miracles yet. For the extra cost of a couple of passes to the race, he drove us to the local rental car place. Relieved, Declan and I got into the car, fired up the air-conditioning and in unison burst out laughing. What a day!
Over the race weekend, Maurico used his ever-helpful network of Land Rover “appassionati” to locate a used and low mileage replacement transfer case only a three-hour drive away in Marbea — and a willing mechanic in Jerez to fit it. Miraculously, within a day, the Gurumobile returned to its journey.
For the rest of the summer, the Gurumobile performed like a champion, clocking up nearly 20,000 kilometers on a journey that took us across Europe twice: Jerez to Le Mans; to Mugello, Italy; then Sachsenring, Germany; Assen, Netherlands; over to Silverstone in England; back across the channel to the Red Bull Ring in Austria and the Catalan GP; Barcelona, Spain; then a final push to Misano, Italy. There, it returned to Teccnomeccanica for loving care and storage.
Along the way, the Gurumobile became perhaps the most photographed Land Rover in Europe. The QR code on her sides served as a digital key to enter a competition to win a Gresini Racing Team Ducati. In Moto-mad Europe, enthusiasts covet a prize like this more than a heart transplant in the cardiac ward. She became a favorite in the paddocks; nobody believed we had pulled it off in an old Land Rover. When our co-workers would see us on the road, group WhatsApp’s appeared, reading “We saw you on the road — Go Gurumobile!”
We proved the doubters wrong. Had it not been for the concrete carnage of the transfer case, the only repairs required were changing fluids, brake pads and rotors, and finding a locksmith to replace a key when the old one broke. On a layover in Barcelona, I had the sagging headliner replaced and a new stereo fitted with CarPlay, which modernized the journey and made navigating the myriad of motorways and medieval towns a breeze.
As this issue goes to press, we will drive to the final race of the MotoGP season in Valencia and then the trusty Gurumobile will enter retirement at my house in Tuscany. There, its most strenuous work will consist of runs into Florence and up the hills to the hiking and biking trails of the Tuscan Mountains.
“Summer lovin’ had me a plan…..” – with apologies to Grease, it has a bit of a ring to it, don’t you think?
[For more information visit motogpguru.com –ed.]