April 2010: Zen and the Art of Land Rover Rebuilding
I'm not sure if there is anything 'Zen-like' about re-building a Series Land Rover... Perhaps it's more a fluctuating state between excitement and despair. I'm not sure that I've ever experienced that altered state of consciousness that could be described as Zen, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is rarely associated with the mechanical aspects of a Land Rover.
The yearning to convert that dilapidated pile of steel and Bermabrite seen in a field behind a barn with trees growing through the floor, is best described as a romantic dream of a life that most of us have never lived.
Memories of 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom' race through my mind when I first walk through the tall savanna-like grass to get a good look at the fabled beast of burden, somehow I see past the slightly sagging bodywork with its chalking coats of brush-applied paint and it's smashed windows and flat tires. I tend to avoid looking underneath, knowing full well that what I will see there will be more holes than solid metal, after all a new frame is almost a given for the happy ending to this dream. A look under the hood reveals a lump of cast iron and aluminum sporting a thick mixture of (protective) grease and dirt, usually no air filter and a maze of old wires mixed with what could possibly be... Baling wire? No matter, it's all within the realm of possibility in those early stages of love. I tend to look past all of the faults that glare out at me, most of which are probably responsible for relegating it to this field in the first place. But why?
I long for those times in my childhood, running through the orchards with my friends armed with our BB guns in search of the terrifying Cape Buffalo or Lion, lying in the tall grass with ears attuned to every little rustle and sound, eyes picking out any movement in the next row of cherry trees, only to jump in fright when the neighbor's cat comes into view. We were Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler, and all we were missing to complete the fantasy were the Land Rovers to chase them with. It's not that I'm going to drive around looking for wild animals, but I can sure look the part... A little.
So begins the adventure, making the deal with the present owner without letting him in on the secret vision of perfection that clouds your view whenever you look toward anything Land Rover, lest you pay way too much for it (although by this time your judgement is so skewed that you would pretty much pay anything for it if you had the money in your pocket). Then making arrangements to drag it out of the field by brute force... Winch, tractor, manpower... Whatever. Now you load it onto a trailer and strap it down really well so that nothing falls off while going down the highway, (duct tape is perfect for temporary hood and door latch security), make sure the roof is actually fastened to the vehicle and not just sitting on there (don't ask me how I know this step).
Making sure all is well with the better half before plunking your new pride and joy beside her vehicle in the driveway... Or conversely, making sure she's not home when you shove it behind the garage. Then comes the requisite setting of the lawn chairs at optimum viewing angles, a few cold beers and perhaps a fine Cuban cigar, followed by a few hours of staring at the new acquisition and the slow methodical mental list-making of parts and work required. The list, however, soon becomes so long that you abandon it altogether and just settle for a good vacuum to rid the interior of years of 'work sediment', for after all most of these vehicles were intended and used for just that... Work.
And so it begins...