Cars Of A Lifetime: 1964 Land Rover Series IIa 109″ Wagon – Dreams are Made of Rust

One of my longest, most enduring fantasies (other than a personal harem) has always been to own a classic Land Rover. I have looked and looked at them, I have even worked on them for others, but they were always just out of my price range. Until this deal came along.

I was looking through Craigslist one day when I saw an ad for free Land Rover parts. Most of them were Series parts so I wondered if he had a whole Series vehicle or two for sale. I called him up and asked and it turns out he had several project trucks sitting around. At the time, I was driving my 1948 Jeep but I got to thinking. Maybe he would take it in trade for a project Rover. After all, a running classic Jeep should be about worth a non-running classic Rover shouldn’t it? So I called him again and made him an offer. He said he had a good friend who wanted a Jeep and might be willing to work something out.

(The Jeep)

Well he worked something out with his friend to trade one of his project (parts) trucks away. We exchanged pictures (he lived in Eugene) and liked what we saw. I eventually took a trip down there and checked out the Rover. It was pretty beat, but it was a good candidate for restoration. So we set up a time where he would bring the Rover up on a trailer and do our business. The friend came along to test out the Jeep as well.

When they arrived, the Rover was just as he described and pictured it. But it was missing the sill panels and the side steps. I could not remember if it was when I had looked at it though, so I let it pass. The Jeep was running a little rough and needed a few things too but the friend liked it. So we swapped. The Rover did not have a title, instead it had paid importation papers from Canada and a bill of sale from the former owner to the guy I was trading with. The numbers on the importation papers matched the body VIN plate, which was loose, and maybe not even to it, and the frame numbers were different. The man promised that it was all legal and registrable and that if we needed anther VIN plate he could just make one on his CAD laser engraver.  I wanted a Rover so bad that I let all this sound OK to me.

The Rover had been a Canadian spec version so it had originally been left hand drive and had the 2.25 liter four cylinder engine. But somewhere along the line someone had put in a Ford 302 V8 using a two inch thick, torch cut, solid steel, homemade adapter plate. I later learned that one of the axle shafts was broken as well, but spares had been included. An original engine had been included as well but without a cylinder head. The man told me he was going to find one as soon as possible (he never did).

One problem was that the bulkhead had been cut for the Ford engine and a crude tunnel cover made. It might sound like a good idea to the uninitiated, but keeping the Ford engine was out of the question. The extra power was way to much for a Rover drive train. Land Rover Series vehicles were built as a carefully balanced ecosystem. The weak transmission and axles were OK because it had a weak engine. Contrary to American driving practices, such a system works just fine for the ruggedest commercial driving. It’s all about the driver.

The more I got under the skin (literally) of the Rover, the more I found it needed. While the frame and body panels were straight and clean, the steel H beams that support the doors were pretty rusty. The door frames were very rusty as well. The wiring was a complete loss, the interior was a basket case, etc.

Since I didn’t have the money to fix everything at once (about ten to twelve thousand as I figured it) I was just going to take it one thing at a time over a long period. So I started with what would benefit my neighbors the most, the paint. I began to sand down the bodywork and prime it with self etching primer.

I didn’t get that far before the neighbors started to complain to the city about my non-running, non-licensed car. The city came out and told me that they could legally tow it out of my driveway etc. So I was forced to cover it with a big ugly tarpaulin. To me, this looked worse than the car, but whatever.

It took about a year for me to figure out that I was never going to complete this project. I knew that it was an unrealistic dream but it was hard to let go of. I knew it was far more realistic to just save up enough money to buy a better example, but it was hard. The man who had the Jeep sent me some nice photos of all the nice thing he had done to it. It looked great, but the Rover still sat there, looking virtually the same as the day I had received it.

I already owned a Discovery I and it did all of the stuff I really needed it to do. So I came to grips with the death of my dream. I called up a Land Rover restoration shop that was not too far away and asked them if they needed a parts truck.  I ended up selling it to them for about half what I had paid for the Jeep. Oh well, you win some, you lose some I guess.  The dream is not really dead though. I have a vehicle that can do most of what the Series truck could do right now. But it’s just not a classic Land Rover. In fact, I came very close to getting another Series IIa 109 in better shape just a few months ago instead of what I got. But it is just not practical at this juncture in life. One of these days though, it will be, I will find a way to make it be. Maybe with a 300 tdi engine…..

Authors note: as stated before this series is winding down. However I realized I had forgotten completely to include this vehicle. So for anyone keeping track, this one is a bit out of chronological order. Which means there are still three more cars left.