Well, I went and did it again. Yes that’s right, the last car in this author’s Cars of a Lifetime is another Land Rover. A sickness you say? Well, yes it is, but it’s an enjoyable (most of the time) sickness, like sex addiction or excessive happiness. Oh sure, I could give you all sorts of logical reasons why I chose a LR to replace my van. Like; what other one hundred inch wheelbase vehicle can haul seven people, is excellent off road, well mannered on road, very comfortable, can pull a good sized trailer, etc. But none of those is the real reason.
Because I like it. Yes, I can admit it. That really is tough for me because I like to try and be imagine that I am as rational as possible. But that charade can only hold up so long after one has purchased a Land Rover. And I suspect that all Land Rover, nay, all British car owners need to come to this sort of cathartic nexus. To have the courage to admit that you bought something just because you liked it even though you knew it was irrational. If I had wanted to be rational there are other vehicles that fit the bill. I required a vehicle that was four-wheel-drive, seated seven or more, and could pull a trailer. Of course the obvious choice would be a Suburban, Expedition or Excursion. But where’s the fun in obvious?
If I was not in need of hauling around all of those people, I would really prefer a Range Rover. I have loved Range Rovers as long as I can remember. Most of my time is spent on-road not off, but when we do go off-road, it tends to be a bit more than the average All-Wheel-Drive car can cope with. As you may know we considered a Mercedes E320 4Matic wagon or a Volvo XC/VX. But both of us felt that we would be unable or at least unwilling to drive them down to some of our favorite off-road spots. For one thing, even if you do get stuck exactly the same amount in a truck/SUV as in an AWD car, it’s a lot easier to dig out a higher ground clearance truck-based rig. That’s why the first thing we did was to remove the running boards from the Land Rover.
Since I could not have a Range Rover, and I could not afford an LR3/4, a nicely equipped Discovery II was my next best thing. Yes, I know about Lexus, my good friend has a Lexus LX450. Somehow Japanese interior appointments just don’t cut it for me. Haven’t you ever heard the quote; “the Japanese spent years trying to make plastic look like wood. And the British spent years trying to make wood look like plastic”? Sure the seat controls on the Land Rover are in the most inane place imaginable, sure the cruise control switch is hidden behind the steering wheel. But for some reason the very things that would piss me off on a Japanese or American vehicle end up coming across as a bit endearing on an English one. Maybe its my bloodline. And of course the Land Cruiser/LX450 is not quite the machine off-road the the LR is. And somehow it manages to get even worse gas mileage.
But regarding this Land Rover in particular; as you may already know, I have owned a Discovery series 1 in the past. I found it to be a very enjoyable experience, on the whole. And after we sold it we did miss it. The Suburban it replaced did everything it did, but the Land Rover just did it better. That Disco, however, had a lot of issues. When we bought it, we really did not know enough about them to make an informed decision, but I felt that we did now.
The van was incapacitated (and it still is) so we needed something to replace it. One of the things I most wanted to avoid was another project vehicle. I really don’t mind quirky or higher maintenance type vehicles like LR or Jaguar but what I do mind is having to rebuild engines often (a la VW air cooled) or having to drop the transmission (700-R4), or some such big nasty job. I ain’t the grease monkey I used to be I guess. If it can be diagnosed with a computer and replaced without major disassembly, I am OK with that. You all may not know it, but I got pretty darn good with European engine management systems and computer diagnostics when I used to work on that sort of thing all of the time. So I guess I feel more comfortable than a lot of folks around things that I can interact with electronically. Up until very recently, and for the last five years or so, I was writing these posts from computers I built running a hacked version of Apple OS X. I can handle that sort of thing but I am tired of adjusting valves and rebuilding transmissions (went back to using a real Mac now).
So when I went looking for a rig, I kept all of that in mind. If it’s too boring (like a Suburban) I will get bored with the vehicle. If it’s too troublesome, I will get pissed off at it. So to find something just right…I looked into buying a VW Bus that had been converted to a Ford V6, but it was in Las Vegas and a trip like that is a recipe for adventure. I did not feel like having any big adventures. I seriously considered a stock Land Rover 109 Series IIa in Idaho. But ultimately I realized how impractical it was. And then I saw a VW Vanagon Synchro for sale in Portland. But when I started looking at mileage and repair costs, I stopped thinking about it. But it did get me thinking about Vanagons again. Maybe I had not given then a fair shake, since I had never owned a water cooled one except the ill fated diesel. After all, they are roomy, do good in mild off-road conditions, are comfortable, and get decent mileage, but can’t pull much of a trailer. So I began looking around for one.
I found a pretty promising looking one located in Portland for three-thousand dollars. But while looking at that, I also saw a Ford F150 extra cab 4×4 with a straight six and five speed for two-thousand dollars. And I saw a 2000 Land Rover Discovery II for four-thousand-five-hundred dollars that looked so nice I figured I would just take a peek at it on the way. Reginald and I drove up in the Lexus. On the way I started thinking about the Ford and I really did not like the conversation I had had with the “owner” who was not really the owner. I decided to skip it. When we got to the Vanagon it was sitting on the street. We parked behind it and immediately I noticed the tags were expired. I also noticed that it was dented up on all the corners and that it had been sitting there awhile. I drove away and called the owner to tell them I was going to pass on it. So that left the Land Rover. We drove up to the middle of Portland and found it parked in the driveway.
The owners seemed like very nice and honest people. The Rover was owned by a customer at a local Rover garage. The current owner was the garage owner’s airplane mechanic. When the original owner of the Rover wanted to get a new one, the garage bought it from him for trade-in value. The garage owner drove it for awhile and then sold it to the current owner. Work on the garage owner’s airplane was traded for work on the Land Rover. But now the family had grown smaller and no longer needed the Rover. The clear coat was peeling in several large spots. Some of the leather was stained. And the title was branded. I looked at the Carfax report the owner provided. The title was branded because of an accident it had been in in 2001. It had been repaired at the dealer. The owner was able to provide most of the service records for the Rover which had 103,000 miles on the odometer. It had always been meticulously and professionally maintained. The owner also had the Land Rover accessory bicycle rack for the receiver which is quite a heavy duty affair. And surprisingly everything worked flawlessly on the vehicle.
This particular Rover was an SE model that had been optioned up as high as one could go for that model I believe. It included 18″ wheels, Active Cornering Enhancement, running boards, heated seats, windshield, mirrors, and rear window; fog lights, cd changer, leather seats, enhanced alarm package, Home Link transmitter, wood trim kit, Sport/Manual mode transmission selector, power everything, AC, dual sunroofs, etc. The only things that set it apart form an HSE model was the lack of in-car entertainment (which I despise), park reverse backup system, and navigation system (which is notoriously awful in those years). So we took it for a test drive. The first thing that struck me was how the A.C.E. worked. There had been no such thing on my old Rover. On this one, it caused the incredibly heavy SUV to handle like an incredibly heavy sports car. It really is a phenomenal piece of engineering. Of course the rest of the drive still felt like I was driving a full time four wheel drive SUV. High seating position, slow, numb steering, middling acceleration, and so on.
The owners had addressed the weak points of Discovery IIs when they got it, replacing the SLS air suspension with coils, and having a new front driveshaft installed. Also the cylinder heads had been replaced with rebuilt units after it overheated two years ago. A complete engine tear down and inspection was carried out and new composite gaskets installed along with all new hoses at a cost of four-thousand-five-hundred dollars. The one thing I did not like was the price. The branded title and the peeling clear coat were a problem. The owner was very open in his dealings as was I, so after a nice discussion over a coffee, we agreed on four thousand. Really, how could I pass it up? On the drive back I enjoyed the quietness of the interior. Even though the van has a very good stereo system, it has to fight over the interior noise levels. The Rover system is pretty good. The SE has the premium system, for whatever that’s worth. It sounded pretty good in the much quieter cabin and was certainly better than LR’s old system.
The first things I did to the new Rover were to remove the running boards, and to replace a broken headlamp washer jet. Next I planned to have all of the fluids replaced and the transmission filter changed. This job was quoted at three hundred and ninety dollars. So Michelle drove it up to the Rover garage and had them work on it. But I got a call telling me that it had come in with a leaking water pump. It had not been leaking before, but Michelle confirmed the coolant was low when she arrived. Luckily it had not overheated. But five hundred and sixty dollars later we had a new water pump, new engine oil, and the same transmission filter. There went the five hundred I had bargained for, oh well.
After that we took it cougar hunting in the Cascades. Our friend had gotten a new predator call and was itching to try it. So my oldest son, my friend and I threw the tire chains and recovery gear in the back and set off for an evening hunt. It was till very snowy in the mountains and we had to turn back from our intended road it because was so deep. But we forged on up the highway until we came to a road that went up into the hills a bit and had not been driven on. I took it slow because one could not see the actual road and it was rather steep to our side. The snow was about a foot deep with slush underneath. Our tires were more of the touring sort than the off-road sort so the traction control did have to work a bit. Eventually I came to a wide spot and turned it around. The sun was getting low and I wanted to be pointed the right way before nightfall. We got out and hunted up a snowy big hill until after sunset. My friend’s calling was not successful, though we did spot several cougar tracks. We made our way down the steep rocky hill in the dark with some difficulty, but eventually made it back to our waiting Rover.
The slush under the snow had started to freeze. I was still learning how to use Land Rover’s Hill Descent Control, a new feature to me. Luckily I had read the manual the night before. I ended up going down the hill in third and then second gear, manual, low range; with Hill Descent Control turned on, it was a godsend! When we got near the bottom I tried using the brakes. We nearly slid off the road. So I downshifted to second, and then to first, and let the HDC computer figure things out. It worked great and we were able to slow down enough to get stopped without sliding off the road. And then it was back into high range and unto the highway. Land Rovers are like that; “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead; when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad she was horrid.”
So this is the last COAL from this author. However there will be a final roundup in our next and absolutely last installment. I will collect less than impartial data from my twisted mind and spew it forth into HTML code to form a list of greatest, worst, most, least etc. And then you can bid a fond, or not so fond, adieu to COAL from me. I do have another project in the works, but I’ll talk about that next time.