My first car: 1971 Land Rover
Part madness, part passion. But mostly madness.
Before I explain the car, I think it’s important I explain the circumstances.
I come from a Land Rover family, where still to this day, the box-shaped lineage of Land Rover Series and Defender vehicles are revered as the absolute ultimate in motoring; the undefeated pinnacle of anything automotive.
It’s a multi-generational affliction, going all the way back to a grandfather who spent time fishing, surfing and delivering beer kegs in Series I and II Land Rovers.
So when it came time to find a car of my own, the decision was easy: get myself an old Land Rover. And with a humble budget (and a couple of false starts), I found one in the New South Wales town of Cooma, surrounded by the lore of the Snowy Hydro.
While I had a couple of hand-me-down family cars beforehand (a 1964 EH Holden Special and 1977 Land Rover Series III), my true ‘first’ car came a little later.
It was a 1971 Series IIA short-wheelbase Land Rover, and the price was $1500. It was rust-free (mostly), unmodified (mostly) and ran (mostly). The green paint was weathered and worn, and a somewhat rare PTO winch was still nestled below that steel grille. I was in love.
There was plenty of long-serving original mechanicals and equipment throughout the vehicle, which turned out to be one of the very last of it’s kind to roll off the production line in Enfield, western Sydney.
Yes, that’s right. Produced in Blighty, but assembled in the Big Smoke of Sydney some 17,000 kilometres away. This is because of the CKD (complete knock-down) programme at the time, which avoided some taxes and was supported by the government.
Straight away,it was clear we’d need to look at things like the radiator, water pump and brakes to get things up to scratch. And while the motor ran reasonably well, there was a foreboding noise coming from within.
Once we pulled the head off we saw oval-shaped cylinder walls, and a clear case of good old fashioned piston slap.
We got in touch with a lovely bloke by the name of Bob Boggis, who took on the job of an engine rebuild in his back shed. Bob was no stranger to Land Rover motors, and did a wonderful job of freshening up the old donk. Bored out for oversized pistons and fresh everything else, it came out purring. Actually it’s a surprisingly smooth a quiet motor when in good condition.
With that done, it was ready for a life of daily driver duties for the next five years. It was slow, ponderous, outrageously dangerous by modern standards. It was noisy, rough and rattling, and I absolutely loved it.
But I reckon there’s something to be said for drive a deathtrap in your formative years. I learned quickly to read the road ahead, anticipate things around me and always keep a gap to the car in front. My brakes were in good condition, but that doesn’t mean they were good.
It was through this car that I really discovered a love for random bush tracks and quiet little campsites. My long-suffering wife and I did lots of camping trips together over the years, and I did a fair chunk of poor man’s motorsport (four-wheel driving) in this old thing, whose good clearance and relatively lightweight nature could surprise many newer and fancier rigs.
All I did was replace the tyres with some more aggressive and grippy mud-terrain tyres, mounted on wider steel wheels from a Discovery I. With no fancy locking differentials or traction control, I was forced choose lines across rough terrain as strategically as possible.
Plus, it helped me snag a job (if you can call it that) to talk and write about cars, after circumstances got me in touch with two big names in the four-wheel drive media space: Pat Callinan and the late, great Ian Glover. And for that reason, this old thing holds a special place for me.
Once it was finally deemed too dangerous for the road, I have been slowly plugging away at getting it back into a driving and registrable state. I’m almost at the end, as well. And if I pull my finger out, I might be done by the end of the decade.