Ravings From The Bog

My Odyssey Of Desire…An Epic Journey

I’ve always had a yearning to own a Series III Land Rover in which I could perhaps demonstrate my need to “get back to nature” and have a little bit of fun too. Series III Land Rovers were produced from 1971 until 1985 and I believe are the prettiest in the series.

I’ve achieved my dream twice – I bought a 1981 LWB Series III for £500 ($1000) about twelve years ago and it sat in my driveway for about four months and I sold it again for what I paid for it. It had needed a little too much work for my inexperienced hands to make it road-legal, so it had to go.

I must explain firstly that my yearnings (for anything material) can be fairly obsessive. I must have bought Land Rover International, Land Rover World and a couple of other magazines for nine or ten months and scoured the Belfast Telegraph and the Autotrader looking for examples to view. And as any obsessive prospective buyer will tell you, once you focus on the object of your financial lust, you seem to see them everywhere, whereas before you wouldn’t have noticed them. Now, I know that I can get pretty obsessive when I want something, so every so often I would be telling myself that when I get this Land Rover or Mercedes Benz or iMac or whatever, the buzz usually wears off pretty quickly – but I just couldn’t help myself. My other source for visual fixes was Ebay. And that’s where it happened…

Last December, I was searching Ebay and came across the 1981 SWB Land Rover that is currently sitting in my driveway. It was love at first sight. I contacted the buyer who lives in Tonbridge, Kent. As it hadn’t sold on Ebay (it had been bid up as far as £750), I agreed a price of £1400 and started to make plans to collect it.

Unfortunately, as I live in Northern Ireland, this would be quite a trip. My cousin Chris, who lives in London, offered to help. He’s a car nut and empathised with my plight. He’s quite a car buff himself, with a Benz C270 CDI Estate, a 1973 Porsche 911 and a recently purchased Lotus Eglise. I was to fly to Heathrow, get the Tube to his home in Acton and the next morning, he would drive me to Tonbridge to collect the Land Rover. As we discussed the trip in the week beforehand, he advised me to join the AA (Automobile Association, not Alcoholics Anonymous) in case of a breakdown along the way. My plan was to arrive in Tonbridge around 1000hrs on the Sunday morning and drive the Land Rover the 371 miles to catch the 2200hrs Liverpool overnight car ferry to Belfast. I had booked the Monday as my day off, thankfully.

To cut a long and tedious story short, Chris, his son Michael (4) and I set off from Acton around 0915 and arrived uneventfully in Tonbridge around 1000. There she was, looking as lovely as I had hoped! Once I had a test-drive and the deal was done, I clambered back into the Landie and followed Chris who was going to stay with me until I got to the northern end of the M25.

We stopped for lunch at Clacket Lane motorway services and not long after this, Chris and Michael headed off back towards London.

Now, for readers that may not be familiar with the Land Rover Series models, I must explain a few things. Their heaters are completely useless, even when they intermittingly work. Door seals must have cost too much to fit to these models and the door tops are a separate fitting to the door bottoms – my door tops bent away from the upright windowsills and caught every draught and many of the raindrops. I’m a big guy, and the seats aren’t adjustable so the steering wheel after a few hours was practically indented into my stomach. The steering itself has a lot of slack and I found myself veering a few feet from the straight and narrow every now and then. The Land Rover is basically a farm vehicle, inspired by the WWII Willys Jeep and has virtually no sound proofing, so when bombing along at 50mph, it’s very difficult to tell if the engine is in trouble. I had brought my iPod along to catch up on some Podcasts but couldn’t hear a thing because of the engine noise.

Anyway, enough background! I had the foresight to borrow a friend’s Sat Nav for the trip and thankfully it was fully charged as there was no cigarette lighter socket in this beast either.

Not long after my next pit stop, it started to get dark and rain quite a lot. So picture this: I’m rattling along with three layers of clothing on my top half but only a pair of jeans below. The heater is useless and it is -1C°. It is absolutely Baltic! I am regularly having near misses with 40ft container trucks (ironically many of these are Tesco trucks) and swept halfway across a lane by their draught. With no internal lighting and the constant drone, I could be in a WWII bomber and be more comfortable! The worst part is the piddling little windscreen wiper, which is comical to watch. It was indescribably slow and feeble – I must post a video of it in “operation”.

By the time I reached the outskirts of Birmingham, it was 1700hrs. I was now driving on fuel vapours as my petrol tank read lower than empty. I saw an exit at Walsall and made for it. Only three or four hundred yards away, I could see a petrol station – I was having some real luck. I filled the tank and went inside to pay. When I returned, the engine wouldn’t even turn over. Conscious of my tight schedule, I ran inside the shop again to ask for help. A Muslim chap in full gear helped me push the Landie about twenty feet up the incline on the busy forecourt so that I could attempt a jump-start. No success, and now I was parked perpendicular to the pumps and in everyone’s way. I had no other option but to call the AA. After a few calls and texts, and only seventeen minutes, the AA arrived. I was really delighted with the quick service. He figured out pretty quickly and rigged up a quick electrical fix with a wire running from the alternator to just beside the battery which would entail me touching the battery terminal with this wire every time I started the engine so that the battery would charge – it would get me home!  Off I went “under my own steam” – thanks again AA!

Predictably, around 25 miles from Liverpool, my Sat Nav ran out of battery power. I had been nervously watching it flash up “Low Power” warnings for about 20 miles and had been willing it to last just a little longer – but it was gone. The last thing I read on its screen was take the Merseyside turn off at Junction 22. I hoped that I could find my own way from there.

I managed to navigate successfully and found myself at 2000hrs parked in a queue in the ferry compound. There was an hour to wait before boarding and I was too worried about the engine not starting again to turn it off. This was my coldest moment. The windows on all four sides were icing up and I had to keep my hands in my pockets just to keep them warm. Almost an hour later and we were on the move down towards the ferry. The scariest part now was the 45° drive up onto the deck of the ship. It was a very narrow ramp – with my steering play and my lack of experience with the engine, I wasn’t sure I could make it at all, but I had come this far…

I was really happy to climb out of the car and into the heat of the ship. It took about thirty minutes to stop shivering. I had a fantastic and very welcome hot meal and nodded off. I was still dubious about whether she would start the following morning, but my fears were unfounded, and at 0745, I rolled down the very steep ramp and into Belfast Harbour Estate. I was home.

I’ve had a few runs in the Land Rover since I got home but the road tax ran out in February and the clutch has now gone. I will have her towed to Newtownards in the next few weeks to get her fixed up for the MOT in October.

I plan after that to take the van section off and fit her with a truck cab/pick up-style arrangement – but I’ll need to find one first.

All in all, a great but nerve-racking experience. 

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