Series II, Part 1: Blinded By The Light
“C’mon, you know it’s cool,” I told my wife as we sat down to dinner after looking at a 1965 Series IIa just two miles from our home. She suppressed a smile but gave me that look: “You’re right, and we both know it, but I’m not going to admit it, at least not this quickly.” I knew right then and there that it was no longer a question of if we’d get a Land Rover, just a matter of when.
My search for a Series Land Rover started a few months earlier as a search for, of all things, a 1950’s Ford F100 pickup. I’d never really been interested in trucks, especially American ones. But after seeing an original F100 in a friend’s garage, I realized it would be the perfect vehicle for hauling firewood, making trips to Home Depot, and having a general good time with my two sons (once they’ve both outgrown their car seats).
Obsessed, I spent several nights searching Craigslist for a Ford F100 within 1,000 miles and my meager budget. Out of nowhere, this cheeky little Land Rover popped up in a search. Sure, it was three different shades of green moss on top of rust on top of what looked like red paint. And sure, it probably didn’t run. But dear Lord, it was so cool, and it was right down the road! How could I not at least take a look?
Despite a painfully seductive asking price, my wife’s less clouded judgement of the situation helped me to realize this was neither the right time nor the right Land Rover. The truck itself was beyond rough. It had been sitting in a field in northern New Jersey for the last 25 years, fully exposed to the elements. While it was more or less complete, the frame had rotted away underneath it, the seller couldn’t confirm whether or not the engine was seized, and the body panels looked like they had been used to teach kids how to swing a bat.
And then there was the small matter of the tree…
What was merely a sapling at the time the truck was parked had grown into a healthy oak tree over the past two decades, unaffected by the presence of the passenger-side door and front fender. The seller had used a chainsaw to cut the tree away from the truck but left attached a chunk of timber roughly 30 inches tall and almost a foot in diameter, now integral to the door and fender.
To convince myself this truly was a bad idea, I called around to a few shops that specialize in Series Rovers. Not being terribly handy myself, I learned that paying for a frame swap could cost me nearly $10,000. With ten thousand nails in the coffin, I decided to let this one go.
Getting up close to that first Series Land Rover in person had ignited a new flame inside of me, and now I was determined to have one. I revised my Craigslist search criteria (goodbye, F100) and expanded it to the entire country for good measure. I found some great options, but they were just too far beyond my budget.
A few weeks later, I was having dinner with a friend, the same one who owned the Ford F100. I told him about how his truck had led me down the rabbit hole to my current infatuation with old Land Rovers. “Really? I actually know a guy who has one of those. I bet he’d sell it to you.” My ears perked up, and I asked what else he knew about this truck. Not much it turned out, but after pulling up some reference photos on my phone, Joe was able to confirm his friend’s Land Rover was either a Series II or III.
The next day I got in touch with his friend, and after looking at the truck with a mechanic, I was able to purchase the lovely timber-free vehicle you see here. She has a solid frame, ten boxes of spare parts, a soft top, and an engine that, while not running at the moment, does indeed turn over.
And so the project begins. First up will be enlisting my fellow Alloy+Grit teammates, who promise to share their mechanical wisdom to diagnose the primary problems with the truck, most of which focus around the three pedals under the steering wheel, not one of which is functional. I already know the entire brake system will likely need an overhaul to pass the state safety inspection. From there, I’ll give her a tune-up and get the engine running well enough for local drives, and once we actually get her on the road, we’ll see if she has enough horsepower to keep up with modern New Jersey traffic.
The frame and bulkhead actually look to be fairly solid, so once the mechanical bits have been sorted, I’d like to address some cosmetic issues, including adding benches in the rear for those kids who are still too young to even ride in the back. Finally, I may give her a paint job in my garage with some spray paint and a roller.
My goal is to have the truck finished in time to take her to the Vermont Overland Rally in 2018. If all goes right (and what could possibly go wrong?), I hope to see you there!