Land Rover, the prince of vehicles
20 April 2021
TUMBY BAY - When Prince Philip married Elizabeth, the future British queen, in November 1947 my mother was two months pregnant with me.
Like a lot of English women besotted with the handsome prince she decided to name me after him. My Irish father had little say in the matter.
Apart from that tenuous and rather embarrassing connection, Prince Philip has otherwise been entirely irrelevant in my life, as no doubt I have in his.
That is until I read about his funeral. I say ‘read’ because by then I was entirely sick of the nonstop media blather and twaddle about him on television.
What interested me was the old Land Rover that had been modified to carry his coffin.
Apparently he was fond of Land Rovers and had a hand in designing it for the occasion.
I’ve always been fond of Land Rovers too, so not only did we share a name but also an interest of sorts.
Like a lot of things my interest began in Papua New Guinea.
When I arrived in the highlands as a Cadet Patrol Officer in 1967, the Australian Administration was in the process of transitioning its vehicle fleet from Land Rovers to Toyota Land Cruisers.
But there were still plenty of Land Rovers in service.
In those days they were Series Two Land Rovers, the best version of the marque ever built.
They were basic but would go anywhere and never stopped. There were a few diesel versions around but most were petrol.
The 2.25 liter petrol motor was simple and easy to work on, and the four-speed gearbox totally reliable. This was important on outstations where the closest thing to a mechanic was the local kiap.
Their only downside was a weak rear differential that was prone to snapped axles but that could be fixed by replacing it with a military grade Salisbury differential.
On the open road (and down the airstrip) you could get them up to about 80-90 kph.
And if you had to leave the machine somewhere, popping the rotor button out of the distributor and into your pocket prevented any chance of theft.
The new Toyota Land Cruisers were a lot like a tinny version of the Land Rover but with a three speed gearbox and a bigger motor.
There was no synchromesh on first gear and I have fond memories of government drivers jamming vibrating gearsticks down hard until they crunched into place.
You could almost hear bits of metal shearing and pinging off the walls of the casing.
After a year or so the steering would begin to collapse and it was common to see splay-footed Land Cruisers rattling along highland roads and bouncing off the verges. A Land Rover they were not.
When I returned to Australia and got a job at the South Australian Museum, I was given one of the new Leyland Series Three Land-Rovers to drive.
It was an absolute lemon of a vehicle and spent more time in the workshop than in the field.
Leyland, in their wisdom, built the Series Three on the cheap using inferior components. Even the aluminium alloy bodywork was inferior and tended to crack.
Some parts of the motor and running gear were made of bakelite. The starter motor was slung low down where it collected every bit of crud thrown up from the road.
You had to carry a heavy ballpeen hammer with which to belt it when it failed to kick over.
It was a sorry day for Land Rovers when British Leyland took over their manufacture.
I don’t know what poor Prince Philip did then. I guess he shed tears like the rest of us.
Fortunately Leyland went bust in 1978 and Rover took over again. Out of that came the 110 and then the Defender.
The Land Rover that carried Prince Philip’s coffin was a 2003 model Defender.
Production of the Defender finished in 2016, although a vehicle with the same name but no connection to the earlier model began production in 2020.
Land Rover had earlier produced a four wheel drive called the Discovery and, before that, its upmarket Range Rover, which the Prince liked until he pranged one and wasn’t allowed on the open road again.
The Discovery and the Range Rover were and are both prissy vehicles that no serious off-roader would drive and their current iterations look exactly like all the other Toorak tractors on the road today.
I’m hoping that when I eventually arrive at that patrol post in the sky I’ll be picked up by someone in a pale blue, white roofed, rag top Series Two Land Rover to be driven down the airstrip to the kunai roofed station office.
I wonder whether there was an old rag top to meet Prince Philip at the pearly gates.
Anyone change a clutch in the early Land Rovers, 14 hours conventionally removing the gearbox through the cab floor.
However, by removing the engine and gearbox as a unit through the engine bay several hours could be saved.
We blamed it on the English design.
Arthur tells us not so; a Welsh wizard had a hand in it. Begggoooora, the Irish are left out of it.
Posted by: William Dunlop | 22 April 2021 at 10:26 AM
Like USA presidents, one can always find an Irish or often a Welsh ancestor in their family lines. So it is with the Land Rover Defender.
'Welsh design classic the Land Rover Defender ends production after 68 years' by Maurice Wilks (2016/12/6 at www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-design-classic-land-rover-10789821)
"The famous vehicle was born on Red Wharf Beach, Anglesy and made in Solihull but after nearly seven decades its rich story is coming to an end It owes its existence to designs drawn in the wet sand of a Welsh beach in the summer of 1947."
Worth a read.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 21 April 2021 at 10:19 PM
My mate Dave C and I used to try and avoid the traps of the Paga, Aviat and Yacht clubs by exploring Central District in the early 1970’s.
Our Landie task one weekend was to act as recovery vehicle for the Papuan Safari, pulling unsuitable cars through the jungle swamp tracks of Rigo and Kwikila.
The legendary Evan Green driving a Morris 1100 was one.
We swatted mosquitoes and drank Rhum Negrita until midnight, as we pulled cars through. Dave C reminisced to me after reading the article:
"My favourite LR was the ex-Army Series 2 that I had in Moresby that you would well remember. The Series 3 I later bought new in PNG was a disappointment with its dreadful padded dash and other 'refinements'!
"I went through quite a few axles and used to carry a spare behind the front seats. You could normally keep mobile with front wheel drive but had to get out and engage the freewheeling front hubs.
"As the handbrake was on the rear drive shaft it no longer worked so if it happened on a hill and you were by yourself you had a problem.
"This happened to me [after leaving PNG] at a set of traffic lights in Canberra in heavy traffic....everyone was blowing their horns and I had no choice but to ease the Landie slowly downhill on the brakes and allow it to gently lean on the front of the car behind while I jumped out and engaged the hubs.
"I thanked him for his help but he was not impressed and threatened me with everything short of murder....It was obviously not the time or place to try and explain the intricacies of the Landie transmission so I politely told him to get fucked and moved on."
Posted by: John Greenshields | 21 April 2021 at 08:02 AM
Like many kiaps, I acquired my four wheel driving skills in PNG. The first vehicle I drove was a decrepit Land Rover which had suffered a twisted chassis in a roll over.
As a consequence, it proceeded along the road in a crab wise manner, adding an extra dimension to its already idiosyncratic handling characteristics. Despite this, it could churn through the muddy, slippery, rutted tracks that then passed as roads in Kerema.
Later, when I arrived at Baimuru Patrol Post, I was able to drive a short wheel base Land Cruiser along the station's 1.6 kilometres of road, which stretched from the station office to the Gulf Hotel, via the airstrip.
As I found when stationed at Kokoda, the early Land Cruisers were conspicuously lacking in any creature comfort. They boasted vinyl bench seats, hard metal surfaces everywhere and primitive instrumentation.
The driving force in them was a 4.0 litre, 6 cylinder, normally aspirated petrol engine, which would roar like an deranged animal when the accelerator was pressed. The noise, harshness and vibration characteristics were so severe that an hour or so driving left you feeling like you had been trampled by a team of Clydesdales.
Still, the cruisers would go almost anywhere and were simple to maintain. If the fuel filter clogged up you simply removed it from the fuel line, banged a four inch nail through the centre of the filter, reconnected it and went on your way. Bush mechanic "repairs" like this kept us mobile.
Now, the modern Land Cruiser is a thing of sophistication and beauty. It is equipped with all the latest gizmo's yet still has its traditional go anywhere capability.
My much beloved 100 series turbo diesel cruiser has carried me and my family safely across some of Australia's most remote and inaccessible tracks. Now, alas, it has gone to live with my son who, quite rightly, cherishes it for its fabulous reliability and capability.
Not so the Land Rover, which now boasts more than 80 separate computers to control its progress. When they are all working, it is a fine thing indeed. The trouble is that failure of one of its sophisticated components now often leads to a "failure to progress".
It instantly becomes $100,000 worth of beautiful but utterly immobile machinery and this is not a good thing if you are mid way across the Simpson Desert or Gibb River Road.
This helps explain why ex-Army Perentie versions of the Land Rover Defender are the vehicle of choice for the true Land Rover devotee.
While nearly as primitive as their noble ancestors, at least if they break down you can bodge up a repair and keep going.
So, while Phil's nostalgia for the ancient Land Rover that once prowled this planet is understandable, time and a misplaced belief in complex technology, mean that their successors are mere beautiful facsimiles, devoid of the characteristics that once made them a tough and reliable vehicle.
In committing his body to a Land Rover, Prince Phillip demonstrated the irrational faith of most Land Rover owners that nothing could possibly go wrong. Fortunately, it didn't.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 20 April 2021 at 10:47 AM