My connection with the Land Rover marque goes back to the time before I could even walk. I was born in Blackwater, near Camberley in the UK, in 1961. The area was basically one big military training ground—no one was surprised to see tanks parked between the shrubs on large expanses of what could easily be deemed common land. Even less surprising were the numbers of different bodied Land Rovers that trundled around the roads, so it’s safe to say I was confronted with the unmistakably box-shaped brand even before getting my first set of Lego. These were first impressions that would stick with me until now.
The next level of grooming came just after the first Range Rover was introduced in 1970, my father purchased one as a workhorse. This, with its tremendous V8, was the first car I ever drove—albeit only around the fields as I still had to wait a while before getting my license.
Having passed my driving test shortly after my 17th birthday, my top priority was to buy a car. I was still a student in London so I needed something inexpensive and uncomplicated which I could service and repair anywhere—a trait that bears my name in bold letters. The obvious choices were a VW Beetle or a Land Rover. Unfortunately, an uncle was of the opinion a Land Rover was too slow and I would probably get bored faster than it would get me to the next petrol station, so a Beetle it was. 40 years later I have to admit Beetles (of just about every guise imaginable) have accompanied me most of the way. On hindsight I think a Land Rover wouldn’t have been the source of boredom but would have taken me off the asphalt in favour of exploring Britain’s wealth of green lanes (and country pubs). Yes, I probably missed out on some early overlanding there (I still managed to find the pubs though)…
Throughout the decades, Series, Stage One, 2-door Range Rover, Defender, and a P38 4.6 HSE have played their roles in my life. They came and went without much ado and I never really felt particularly attached to any of them.
Just over four years ago, a few life-changing events occurred. As a result, I turned everything upside-down and embarked on a new venture together with my family based upon a recipe whose ingredients are a composition of mutual interests: we’ve always been travellers with a hankering toward vehicle-supported adventures; my wife, Elisabeth, and I are both bi-lingual and have translated some of the most diverse texts in our time; I embrace the challenges of research behind a good story and I have worked as a photographer in the past; our son, Tristan, is a talented photographer, nuts about Land Rovers, and speaks two languages as well. So why not work together and combine our skills whilst working with magazines related to our interests? Why the hell didn’t I choose this path earlier in my career? It’s the second best decision I ever made. The first? Asking Elisabeth if she would marry me and start a family.
Journalism quickly led me back to Land Rovers and a lot of opportunities came to the surface, so it wasn’t long before I started combing the Internet in search of an ideal vehicle to carry me from one assignment to another and beyond the horizon in search of new adventures. I had a clear idea of what I wanted: a classic car, preferably equipped for travel—ideally a Land Rover Series 2 109 Station Wagon. I searched for months and inspected countless vehicles which were over-priced and far the worse for wear than their posted descriptions made allowances for. I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to find anything in Germany for a sensible price and redirected my attention to the UK market.
As is often the case, things happen when you least expect it: I received a message about a vehicle which ticked several of the boxes on my wish list, in Stuttgart. I called the number, photos arrived by e-mail and within the hour Tristan and I were driving down the autobahn for a viewing with the right to first refusal.
I wasn’t overly enthusiastic because I had already seen so much junk, but the photographs showed a vehicle equipped for overlanding and it had recently received a clear bill of health in regard to its roadworthiness. We spent an hour or so crawling inside, on top and underneath the car. Everything seemed in order and a handshake later, I was the owner of a right-hand-drive 1963 Land Rover Series 2A 109 Station Wagon complete with a roof rack, roof tent, storage cases, sand planks, and enough new and used spare parts to completely fill the interior.
There is nothing like a 360 km maiden journey to bring out the gremlins in a car, especially when you consider we were travelling at between 70 and 80 kmh—plenty of time to try everything out and listen to the engine and gearbox too. Larry (as he is now known) was basically sound. Sure, the brakes left a bit to be desired and the steering was very nautical and called upon my full concentration if we were to stay within one lane of the highway. But those issues are the result of mechanical wear, requiring a strip-down and overhaul, i.e., not a problem. The item causing me the most concern was the hideous dashboard, a homemade wooden affair filled with more dials and lights than Apollo 13 and yes, Houston, we had a problem: most dials were either inaccurate or didn’t work at all (such as the fuel gauge). Sorting this was going to be my first major task after attending to the tiller and anchor.
Apparently the previous owner (PO) before last wanted to upgrade the vehicle and have more information about the goings-on beneath the bonnet. He also seemed to have had a relationship with Opel as various dials and components were branded accordingly. Sadly, he had also installed a lot of electronic gadgetry including a digital speedometer. It was all out of place, unprofessional and (as I said before) most wasn’t even working.
Refurbishing the brakes and steering are important so I’ll cover them individually in separate posts and continue here with said dashboard. The first step was to unscrew the wooden fascia and check the electrical connections. This turned out to be a real disappointment. Considering a 1963 vehicle left the factory with a bare minimum of wiring and fuses, you can probably imagine my despair when I found hundreds of cables without any coding or indication as to where they led. A quick call to Sabine T., who sold me Larry, confirmed my worst fears that a circuit diagram did not exist. I went back for another look at the electrical chaos and asked Tristan to pass me some wire cutters. Two hours later, the bulkhead was relieved of its wooden boards, the dials, switches and lights were gone, and with them the wiring loom in its entirety from the headlamps to the brake lights and everything in between.
After sourcing an original dash panel and a set of dials from some sympathetic folk on the Series 2 Club forum, I placed an order with Auto Electrical Supplies in England for everything I needed to put life back into Larry. Once the box arrived, it took Tristan and I two days to make a new colour-coded loom and connect everything up. Yes, I was a little tentative when I turned the ignition key, but the smile on Tristan’s face when the engine burst into life was priceless.
A full service and one week later, we were driving through Italy on the way to Sicily for Larry’s first adventure. All in all we covered more than 5,000 km in 14 days without a hitch…except for losing a nut on the throttle linkage on a motorway in the middle of nowhere. A little improvisation and a replacement was found on a rear door strap. Within minutes we were on our way again. But that’s another story.
Larry was originally marine blue having since been painted a beige tone. The exterior is otherwise stock with some useful accessories including a capstan winch, full length roof rack accommodating some custom-made storage boxes and a period roof tent; the body panels have scars, each of which almost certainly have a story to tell. The bulkhead will be due for some repair soon and the near side rear passenger door will need replacing due to the typical rot along its lower edge.
The interior was fairly tatty to say the least, without a headlining or a second row of seats. The latter has since been sourced and refurbished in order to keep the patina. Larry came with some gas installations which were probably used for cooking. There wasn’t a cooker included in the sale and I don’t foresee the necessity for one in future, so out came the plumbing. Not such a bad idea because the gas bottle was stored right beneath the driver’s bum next to the chassis rail but without any protection against hard and sharp objects that may be encountered in rough terrain. The passenger certainly has the better deal with a custom stainless steel water tank under the seat.
Larry is by no means perfect, but he’s got plenty of character. Like me he’s just raring to go on that next adventure, to stop in unknown places for the night with the roof tent up and a campfire crackling near by.
There are plenty of instalments to follow this. Not only about my journeys with Larry and his ongoing maintenance, but about all things related to overlanding—historical, modern, gear, food, clothes, navigation, and if you (the reader) have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.