Dun Rovin’

New Zealand Classic Car - - Editorial -

Land Rovers are a lit­tle like Minis — ev­ery­one has a mem­ory that in­volves their own, their par­ents’, a rel­a­tive’s ex­am­ple, or maybe they just re­call an in­ci­dent from their past that, in some way, in­cluded one of th­ese iconic Bri­tish clas­sics.

And, as it hap­pens, a Land Rover and a Mini played im­por­tant parts in my own mo­tor­ing past. I’ve men­tioned the driv­ing lessons I re­ceived from my grand­fa­ther in his ma­roon Mini Coun­try­man pre­vi­ously, but un­til now I haven’t touched on the Land Rovers in my his­tory.

Check­ing out this month’s cover car as it rolled into our photo stu­dio, I was re­minded of some fairly per­ilous jour­neys taken in Land Rovers dur­ing the early ’70s. Back then, as a mem­ber of Her Majesty’s armed forces, I cov­ered an aw­ful lot of miles rat­tling around in the back of an Raf-liv­er­ied 80-inch Landy — usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by bags and boxes of sup­plies. I also re­call speed­ing up and down the run­ways in a Land Rover at one of the RAF bases I was sta­tioned at. Back then I didn’t have a driv­ing li­cence, but it didn’t re­ally mat­ter as, to­gether with a bunch of equally mad mates, we ham­mered around the con­crete aprons and de­serted run­ways. Of course, we only got up to th­ese tricks when there were no NCOS around. It was dur­ing those im­promptu mo­tor­ing ses­sions that I learned how to dou­ble de­clutch, a nec­es­sary skill when driv­ing an early Landy with its, well, let’s say rugged, non-syn­chro gear­box.

Af­ter experiencing at first hand a more dra­matic Land Rover en­counter, I can con­firm that if un­in­ten­tion­ally dropped from be­neath a freight-car­ry­ing he­li­copter at a height of around 100 me­tres, an 80-incher will bounce at least 10 to 12 me­tres be­fore im­pres­sively dis­sem­bling it­self. Very spec­tac­u­lar — shame they didn’t have cam­era phones and Youtube in 1972!

I also re­mem­ber a par­tic­u­larly fraught jour­ney while sta­tioned in North­ern Ire­land. I was only get­ting a lift to the RAF base at Alder­grove, but in­ex­pli­ca­bly I ended up in the back of a Land Rover car­ry­ing a small group of Spe­cial Air Ser­vice sol­diers, all of them armed to the teeth. Talk about lethal weapons! I just kept my mouth shut, and avoided eye con­tact un­til it came time for me to be dropped off.

Back as a civil­ian in the mid ’70s, my path wouldn’t con­verge with a Land Rover again un­til al­most 20 years later — by then I was res­i­dent in New Zealand.

At that time I was get­ting around in an ev­ery­day clas­sic, a fast­back Sun­beam Rapier. Alas, one day the Rapier’s 1725cc en­gine de­cided to call it quits, and ex­pired in a cloud of white smoke. I duly took it along to a friend’s work­shop for re­pair — noth­ing too ma­jor, although I still use the knack­ered pis­ton we re­moved as a pa­per­weight. As I was a work­ing stiff back in those days, I needed al­ter­na­tive trans­port, and that turned out to be the work­shop’s hack: you guessed it, a Se­ries 1 Land Rover.

Driv­ing the un­re­stored Landy on Auck­land’s South­ern Mo­tor­way was a real eye-opener, I’d forgotten just how util­i­tar­ian th­ese go-any­where beast­ies were as I honed my — ad­mit­tedly rather rusty — dou­ble-de­clutch­ing skills. One odd thing though, when it came time to re­turn the Land Rover af­ter a week trav­el­ling back and forth in it, I was rather sad to see it go. Landys get to you like that — they may be as rough as guts, but you can’t help lov­ing them just a lit­tle bit!



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