Old automotive loves sometimes resurface after decades have passed.
I was 19 when I first fell for the unattractive English Land Rover utility four-wheel-drive vehicle. A number of folks who owned them were regular customers at the gas station where I worked. Everything about them was odd. They were tinny sounding, angular, simple looking devices that were held together with rivets like an airplane. They had huge steering wheels, lots of perfectly flat glass, steel roof racks, utility lights and a huge fuel filler neck. The big gas cap had a hasp so that you could put a padlock on it. The windshield wiper tips worked from the center of the split windscreen outward, the bumpers were made of rather plain, galvanized steel, as were all the window frames.They were odd looking vehicles, generally seen on TV in National Geographic or Wild Kingdom shows that were shot in the wilds of sub-Saharan Africa. Yes, oddly attractive in a utility sort of way, and I wanted one.
It was a good 25 years of hard sledding before I purchased my very first four-wheel-drive vehicle, a heavily used Jeep Cherokee. I loved that thing and miss it to this very day. Fast forward another 16 years or so and I found myself constantly checking online sources for used Land Rovers. A couple of weeks ago I found the right one ... the right age, the right price, and the right timing, so I bid on it. The online auction ended with no sale because the reserve price had not been met, but I had been the high bidder to the end.
Bennington was the delivery point, halfway between my home and the seller’s home in Stockbridge, Mass. Being a Land Rover mechanic, the owner just happened to have a tilt-bed truck, so he brought the car on the flatbed. After the formalities were taken care of, I headed out onto the open road in my new prize, accompanied by my grandson, Henry. Did I mention the fact that it is a right-hand drive vehicle, or that it is manual shift with no power steering? The first mile was a bit of a challenge due to the shifting and the front brakes that pulled to one side, but right-hand steering is a skill I mastered a few years ago. We headed north on Route 7 with the huge under-windshield vents wide open, causing Henry to ask me to close his because he was getting chilly. With a top speed of 65 downhill and 50 uphill, it took us a while to get the Land Rover home.
My initial reaction to this rather strange vehicle was "Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?"
As I have grown accustomed to its’ quirks, I am enjoying it more with each outing. Come to find out, it is quite the rare model. The first models were called the Series I, followed by Series II, IIA, and III. Then Land Rover decided to call the classic vehicle that had started it all for them the Defender. Little did I know that there was a transitional model between the Series III and Defender called the Stage One, and that’s what I got. With a Buick-derived V8, four-speed manual transmission and full-time four wheel drive with a locker and high and low range, the Stage One is a gussied up Series III. That’s if you consider a thirsty V8 being gussied up.
Several people have asked me, "What are you going to do with it?" Well, I’m going to use it and enjoy the experience. The pace is slow, it seems to really like dirt roads, and it just bristles with possibilities. It reminds me of rides taken on back roads with my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Bill in their Willys Jeep wagon from the Northeast Kingdom to Windham County, and up the winding track to the family camp in Plymouth. Creating new memories that fit comfortably with the old is what this journey is all about.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.