Zen and the art of Land Rover maintenance

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

I think that it's about time that I explain myself.

Driving a 40 year-old, fairly knackered Series 3 Land Rover isn't just unusual, it's bordering on the insane.

I can't even console myself by proclaiming that I'm saving money - which I'm certainly not. Not only does it only go 16 miles on a gallon of jungle juice, it has needed almost every part and job imaginable in my 2 years of ownership. As far as I can recall, the only mechanism I haven't had to dismantle and repair has been the wiper motor. (No doubt it will bite me in the arse some day...)

Performance isn't much better either. Under the constantly rattling bonnet, throbs a wheezy 2286cc diesel, naturally-aspirated lump, delivering an underwhelming 60 horsepower. If you really spank it and have the wind behind you, she boasts a top speed of about 55 mph. A braver man than I may get her to 60, but we are straying dangerously close to missing the point here.

"I am no suede moccasin wearing wheelman when it comes to driving. In fact I often wear wellington boots..."

Owning a classic car has most definitely improved me as a human being. Obviously it has taught me a number of skills. I am no mechanic, but with my trusty service manual I'm fairly happy to delve into an engine, rebuild axles, or even have a go at body work and paint. This weekend I've been trying to bring my mig welding up to some kind of standard. I certainly haven't perfected seamless concave beading, but I'm glad to report that my efforts no longer resemble pigeon shit.

Besides practical skills, I've learnt to be patient. Lucas electrical systems are brilliant for this. Bring me the best sparky in the kingdom and I defy them to explain some of the gremlins that I have encountered.

Another quality that classic car ownership bestows upon you, is not to take anything for granted. To the uninitiated, the visible joy on my face when something so trivial as the windscreen washers work, (without me encouraging the pump first with a mallet), must be a strange sight. Indeed, even to the most causal car enthusiast, an insight into how such mundane systems operate only serves to further bolster one's interest in all things automotive.

A strange personal change that has come about during classic car ownership is how it has made me so incredibly obsessed with the minutia of detail. It is sad I know, but I can confidently say that I can look at just about any Series Land Rover, be that for sale online or in the wild, and I can comprehensively compose a list of any nut, bolt, washer or electrical connector that isn't quite right. Perhaps its a strange form of schadenfreude, as I confess that I now take great pleasure in pointing out an incorrect rivet, or a misplaced year-specific accessory. Therefore, unsurprisingly I do not take kindly to modified examples. A particular atrocity is tread plate, but that's a topic for another day...

In truth, where I find the most satisfaction in owning my Land Rover is when I am ambling along a country lane. I'm fortunate enough to live in the Buckinghamshire countryside and so it fits the vista as aptly as a hay wain in Constable's landscapes. Driving the thing never fails to put a smile on my face, despite the intense concentration required merely to keep all four wheels on the road. Double de-clutching is a must in order to be in a chance of successfully locating a gear. This can be laborious in traffic, but is immensely satisfying when you get it right. perhaps this explains why the Land Rover is so deeply imbedded in the British frame of mind. One can't help but feeling like Lawrence of Arabia as you wistfully survey the road ahead from the elevated and very upright driving position. The steering via a drag link system, is more akin to helming the Queen Mary than driving a car. A white-knuckle grip will only have you zig-zagging down the road and eventually becoming intimately aquatinted with a ditch. But if you keep your hands light and let it find its own way down the road, it manages just fine.

Looking to the future, I couldn't imagine selling my Land Rover, it has too much of my blood, sweat and bank balance invested in it. To anybody thinking about buying one, I would say that they offer a comprehensively vintage experience. Despite mine being a late example, registered in 1983, it drives with vagueness and cacophony of transmission whine of a car twice its age. If you want a fast car or want to do motorway driving, it isn't for you. However I would urge those who really love driving not to discount it based on the lack of performance. I am no suede moccasin wearing wheelman when it comes to driving. In fact I often wear wellington boots; but even I can exploit the limits of a Land Rover and have had the back end out on a couple of occasions... To drive one every day, is sheer madness and I heartily applaud those who do.

This winter, an MOT test revealed a long list of jobs which will no doubt test my newfound patience and limited mechanical abilities. Yet I am looking forward to sharing a number of adventures next year, maybe with some gentle off-roading?


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