Back From The Dead

Thanks to the quick think­ing of his friend, Miles Pod­more lived to tell the tale of a dev­as­tat­ing crash and bring his De­fender back from the brink of death

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story and pic­tures: Dave Philips

LRM catch up with the teenager whose epic African ad­ven­ture was cut short by a cat­a­strophic crash

Agleam­ing sil­ver De­fender makes its way slowly along a ver­dant green­lane; be­hind the wheel is a fresh-faced, blond-haired young driver, wear­ing a broad smile. It’s hard to be­lieve that less than a year ago both man and ma­chine were on the brink of obliv­ion.

cat­a­strophic crash on a re­mote track in Ethiopia not only ended Miles Pod­more’s dream ex­pe­di­tion to Cape Town, it al­most killed him. Only the quick think­ing of his trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, Max Farnsworth, saved his life.

Teenager Max was briefly knocked out in the ac­ci­dent, but came round to a scene of ut­ter dev­as­ta­tion. What re­mained of the Land Rover laid bent and bat­tered, strewn along 100 yards of bar­ren desert. And ten yards from the wreck­age was the mo­tion­less body of Miles.

Max rushed to his young friend’s side. He was badly in­jured and un­con­scious, but he was still breath­ing – just. Alone in the mid­dle of nowhere in a for­eign land, with no trans­port and a friend in a coma. What could he do?

“A lesser man than Max would have gone into shock and pan­icked, but he didn’t –his quick think­ing and his ac­tions over the next few hours saved my life,” says Miles.

Max stood by the re­mote road­side un­til, at last, an­other ve­hi­cle came along. He flagged it down, per­suaded the driver to help drag his un­con­scious friend into the back, and take them both to the near­est hospi­tal, in Gon­dar.

The hospi­tal was run-down and filthy. Max had to step over a stink­ing open sewer to en­ter the hospi­tal, where sick peo­ple were ly­ing on the floor be­cause there were not enough beds. Find­ing a ha­rassed lo­cal doc­tor, he per­suaded him to ex­am­ine Miles. He found four bro­ken ribs, a punc­tured lung and a se­vere head in­jury, but told Max: “I can­not treat your friend as I haven’t got the drugs I need.”

But Max wasn’t pre­pared to give up on his friend. He in­sisted the doc­tor gave him the list of drugs he re­quired, then got a lo­cal taxi to take him to all the small, sparsely­stocked phar­ma­cies in the town un­til he had bought all the medicines on the doc­tor’s list. He then re­turned to the hospi­tal and said to the doc­tor: “Here are the drugs you need, now treat my friend, please.”

Once he was sat­is­fied that Miles was get­ting the treat­ment he needed, Max called Miles’ par­ents who were in a restau­rant in their home town of Bices­ter, Ox­ford­shire.

“It must have been the most dif­fi­cult phone call of their

“What re­mained of the Land Rover laid bent and bat­tered, strewn across the desert”

lives,” says Miles. “But I knew noth­ing about it un­til I woke up in hospi­tal, four days later.”

While Miles was in a coma, his par­ents had con­tacted his med­i­cal in­sur­ers, who ar­ranged for him to be air­lifted to a bet­ter-equipped hospi­tal in Nairobi, in neigh­bour­ing Kenya. They had then taken the first avail­able flight to Nairobi, where his mother went straight to her son’s bed­side, while his fa­ther took an in­ter­nal flight to Ethiopia, to check out the wreck­age of the De­fender.

It wasn’t any old De­fender, of course. Reg­u­lar read­ers of LRM will re­call the Boy Wonder feature in the Oc­to­ber 2015 is­sue in which we in­tro­duced Miles Pod­more. The Land Rover-mad young­ster had started read­ing LRM when he was eight years-old. At 13 he bought his first Land Rover, a tatty ex-farm 200Tdi 90, which over the next five years he car­ried out a com­plete restora­tion, us­ing a scrapped 300Tdi Dis­cov­ery as donor ve­hi­cle.

Miles trans­formed his 90 into an ex­pe­di­tion-pre­pared Land Rover, which was ready for the road by the time he left school at 18. His aca­demic re­sults at Oun­dle School in Northamp­ton­shire had al­ready won him a place at War­wick Univer­sity to study au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer­ing, but first he planned to spend a gap year with his friend Max, driv­ing from Ox­ford to Cape Town.

Miles had sent us reg­u­lar up­dates of the pair’s ad­ven­tures, which we pub­lished in LRM in last year, un­til four months into the ex­pe­di­tion when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened.

“Max was driv­ing at the time, but it could have been ei­ther of us,” says Miles. “I can’t re­mem­ber any­thing about the ac­ci­dent, but ap­par­ently he lost con­cen­tra­tion for a split sec­ond, a wheel dropped over the steep gravel bank at the side of the road and it went out of con­trol, rolling four times be­fore com­ing to a halt.

“Nei­ther of us were wear­ing seat belts, be­cause they weren’t manda­tory in Ethiopia and we were get­ting in and out of the ve­hi­cle so much. In fact, I think not wear­ing a seat belt prob­a­bly saved my life, be­cause I was thrown through a side win­dow. If I had been strapped in, I would prob­a­bly have been crushed in the wreck­age.

“I stress that I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing not wear­ing a seat belt. They save thou­sands of lives and ev­ery­body should wear them. But in this freak ac­ci­dent I’m glad that I wasn’t.”

The af­ter­math of that ac­ci­dent was a scene of twisted metal, as Miles’s dad Bruce dis­cov­ered when he fi­nally ar­rived on the scene. In the real world it would have been a to­tal write-off, but Bruce – him­self a huge Land Rover fan – noted that the chas­sis still looked straight and the en­gine bay was more or less un­dam­aged. He also knew how much that Land Rover meant to his son, fight­ing for his life in a Nairobi hospi­tal.

“He knew I’d never for­give him if I came round and found out he’d scrapped my Land Rover,” says Miles. “In­stead he ar­ranged to have the wreck re­moved to a se­cure com­pound and have it shipped back to the UK – for which I’ll never be able to thank him enough.”

When Miles did come round, it wasn’t an in­stant re­cov­ery. Af­ter suf­fer­ing a mas­sive brain trauma, he drifted in and out of con­scious­ness. At one stage he thought he had been trav­el­ling in a Toy­ota and, af­ter see­ing his par­ents for the first time in the morn­ing, by the af­ter­noon he’d for­got­ten they’d been. He was in the Nairobi hospi­tal for a month be­fore fly­ing back to Eng­land where, in­cred­i­bly, it was dis­cov­ered that he had also bro­ken his col­lar­bone – some­thing that had gone un­di­ag­nosed in Africa.

The con­tainer con­tain­ing the wreck­age of his De­fender ar­rived back in the UK in Novem­ber last year and was trans­ported by lorry to his fa­ther’s fac­tory, where it was left in a con­crete yard for Miles to be­gin the task of strip­ping it down and as­sess­ing the dam­age.

“By then it was more than six months since the ac­ci­dent and I was phys­i­cally fine, but I was still suf­fer­ing from low con­cen­tra­tion and lack of en­ergy,” re­calls Miles. “I was eager to get crack­ing, but I was get­ting tired so quickly. It was very frus­trat­ing.

“As I pulled it apart, I started ac­cu­mu­lat­ing the parts I’d need to re­place, by buy­ing them on ebay. Un­for­tu­nately I couldn’t drive, be­cause of my low con­cen­tra­tion lev­els, so it meant my mum was driv­ing all over the coun­try with a trailer, pick­ing up the stuff I’d bought. The wings came from a farm in Hull, the roof and side pan­els from Hal­i­fax, the bulkhead from some­where deep in East Anglia.

“The body­work of my car would be from ev­ery cor­ner of the coun­try, as well as rep­re­sent ev­ery era of De­fender pro­duc­tion. In fact the wings were pre-de­fender, as they came from the 1980s, while the bulkhead was from the 2000s (a Td5) and the roof even more re­cent (TDCI). The dash panel was from a TDCI, too.”

With the orig­i­nal car be­ing a 200Tdi 90 and the en­gine and gear­box from a later 300Tdi Disco, that’s the 1990s pretty well cov­ered, too.

Other orig­i­nal bits Miles was able to re-use in­cluded the rear door, seat box and seats. The rear tub was badly twisted, but Miles straight­ened it, re­plac­ing the spot welds as nec­es­sary. The en­gine and gear­box were vir­tu­ally un­dam­aged, al­though when he re­moved the tim­ing cover he found the ra­di­a­tor had a fan-shaped im­print in it. The axles were okay, apart from the rear diff, where the 7 mm thick cast iron cas­ing had been punc­tured by a rock.

Just as Bruce had thought, the chas­sis was straight. It was

“De­spite his bad ex­pe­ri­ence, Miles is de­ter­mined to con­tinue his epic jour­ney”

the ve­hi­cle’s orig­i­nal chas­sis, which Miles had gal­vanised dur­ing the first re­build. All that was miss­ing were the en­gine and tub mounts and the off­side rear spring hanger, which had sheared off. Miles welded on re­place­ments.

Soon Miles had a rolling chas­sis. “To my re­lief the en­gine started up straight away,” he says. “There was a bit of smoke at first, but it soon cleared.”

The 90’s hy­brid diesel/lpg sys­tem, which Miles had de­signed him­self to boost the per­for­mance of the 300Tdi en­gine, was un­dam­aged, as was his own de­sign of pneu­matic-op­er­ated spare wheel car­rier.

From then on, it was a case of re­assem­bling all the bits. “It was only a year and a half since my orig­i­nal re­build, so I knew what to do. First time around it took me a few years, but this time it only took me two months.”

As the re­build pro­gressed, so did Miles’ health. Ev­ery day saw a grad­ual im­prove­ment in his mem­ory and stamina as the head in­jury slowly healed.

The re­build also in­cluded some new el­e­ments, which Miles in­tro­duced af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ences of his African trip. These in­cluded a sec­ond­hand Man­tec snorkel (the orig­i­nal metal ver­sion) which would bet­ter cope with the dusty con­di­tions en­coun­tered on the African un­metalled roads.

The steel wheels were dam­aged be­yond re­pair and Miles de­cided to re­place them with stan­dard al­loys from a TDCI De­fender. He fit­ted new doors, but in­stead of look­ing for sec­ond­hand De­fender doors, he opted for Series-style split doors, with Rocky Moun­tain tops and slid­ing win­dows, which are a big im­prove­ment on the orig­i­nal wind-up ones.

Soon it was time to re­spray the re­built De­fender. Again Miles opted for a sil­ver fin­ish, with a matt top coat. He bought a sec­ond­hand spray gun from a lo­cal body shop and erected a gazebo in­side an empty stor­age area at his dad’s fac­tory to act as a tem­po­rary spray booth. “I got it badly wrong at first. I had the air pres­sure too high and there wasn’t enough paint com­ing through. The re­sult was dry and patchy, but I soon got the hang of it and was quite pleased with the end re­sult.”

Sur­pris­ingly, given what hap­pened, Miles did not fit a roll cage. “I was re­ally ter­ri­fied to fit one, be­cause I was scared of the num­ber of holes I would have to cut in the body­work to fit an in­ter­nal cage. It was stupid, be­cause I know it could save my life and I know my par­ents feel the same way. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fit­ting one be­fore long – per­haps an ex­ter­nal roll cage as that would leave more room in­side – and def­i­nitely be­fore I go back to Africa.”

Yes, de­spite his bad ex­pe­ri­ence, Miles is de­ter­mined to con­tinue his epic jour­ney, pick­ing up from where he left off, in Ethiopia, and con­tin­u­ing to Cape Town, al­beit at a slower pace. “In hind­sight, we were try­ing too hard to push on and should have taken our time and en­joyed the places we were trav­el­ling through. I will re­mem­ber that next time.

But that will have to wait two or three years. This Oc­to­ber Miles be­gins his de­gree course in au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer­ing at War­wick Univer­sity. It won’t be un­til af­ter that that he re­turns to Africa, and then a ca­reer in the car in­dus­try beck­ons. Miles – and LRM – hopes that is with Land Rover.

In the mean­time, Miles’s re­built De­fender 90 passed its MOT with fly­ing colours and he’s now fully re­cov­ered and able to drive again, ex­plor­ing the lo­cal green­lanes at a gen­tle pace. He’s just turned 20 now and thrilled that both he and his Land Rover are here to tell the tale.

“I re­alise that I’m in­cred­i­bly lucky to be here. De­spite my se­vere head in­juries, I didn’t have a mark on my face. And if it wasn’t for Max’s ac­tions that day, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. I can never thank him enough.”

This page: The wrecked 90 was shipped back to the UK and then re­built by Miles us­ing parts from ev­ery cor­ner of the UK and ev­ery era of De­fender, too

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