An Unlikely Trio.
Three early Dormobiles at home in Arizona.
Looking slightly incongruous amongst the glitzy 4x4 campers conversions displayed at the recent Overland Expo in Arizona were three delightfully simple Series 2/2a Dormobiles.
Where neighbours had chrome, gizmo’s galore and every conceivable extra to make life on the trail very similar to life at home, these stood out as representing the core values of all that is really needed to head out into the vast plains of the American outback and enjoy whatever the wilderness has to offer. A simple balance of accommodation and the ability to traverse trails that might challenge a 2WD camper.
The Martin-Walker built Dormobiles have always managed to address this requirement with style and practicality, be it the legendary VW Campers coveted by the surf crowd, or those early Bedford CA conversions sold in the UK to young families seeking a cheap holiday option. They have always been fairly basic in the use of materials with steel cupboards and a folding fibreglass and plastic roof but adequate in every respect ensuring an enthusiastic following around the Globe. In the early 1960’s they represented freedom to many amateur adventurers, even though seldom venturing further than UK campsites, but with the Land Rover version there was the opportunity to venture further afield.
With four wheel drive and the Land Rover's well established reputation amongst expedition organisers, the humble Dormobile became as much a feature of large and small scale expeditions as the Primus stove and the Ordnance Survey map.
The three examples featured here all belong to members of the Arizona Land Rover Club and although outwardly similar, each could not be more different under the all encompassing Land Rover Dormobile umbrella.
Ian Kelly bought his elegantly original 1962 model in Seattle to supplement an 88 inch Land Rover he already had. Ian is an Englishman through and through, but moved to California with his work as a Video Engineer 20 years ago. Early successes were working with the team who produced Back to the Future 2 and he is still much in demand. Those who watch TV over here may be familiar with Ian’s younger brother, the actor Matthew Kelly known for his presentation of Stars in their Eyes, but also an accomplished stage and screen actor.
The Land Rover was in good order when purchased, but Ian has rebuilt the interior with new plywood and brass hinges and more recently reupholstered the seats to bring the whole interior up to the standard it was when it left the Martin Walter factory in Folkestone fifty years ago. Far from a cosseted life, this Land Rover has been on many big trips, often in the company of the other two featured here and rarely without incident. Ian recalls a notable trip home from an adventure along the Old Mojave Road.
‘the rear front LHS spring hanger broke forcing me to leave the group and then carefully drive the 250 miles back to Malibu with the truck leaning to one side and the exhaust pipe banging on the spring at every bump in the road.’
Perhaps more successful was the 750 mile trip back from Flagstaff, Arizona to Malibu over Schnebly Hill - an old wagon road leading down into Sedona which was the original road from Flagstaff. It managed that with style and free of breakdowns.
The pastel green Dormobile is owned and used by James and Kelly Howard, though true ownership is the exclusive right of their daughter Grace, who at the tender age of 12 was running her own instruction class at Overland Expo in basic knot tying skills! The family bought the 1968 right hand drive Dormobile in 2005 and it is unusual in having the original Rover six cylinder engine. These engines were used in most of the Rover P4 variants; Rover 90, 100, 105 and 110 and were a popular option in both the Dormobile and Carawagon Land Rovers with their greater power and torque compared to the 2.25 engine. The family were already keen on the Solihull marque and knew the previous owner of their Dormobile so when he expressed an interest in selling they made an offer and ended up driving it the 800 miles back from California to Arizona. As Kelly puts it:
‘The Dormobile was in Davis, California, so we flew from Tucson to get it. We drove the car back to Flagstaff and it was the longest drive of my life. Hot, noisy, and very uncomfortable. Since then we have been working on making the vehicle more comfortable for us.’
James is an engineer and has improved the legendary six cylinder engines' thirst for fuel by fitting an electronic ignition. It is interesting to note, as a Brit, that they consider their petrol to be extortionate at 65p a litre (!) so any improvement is welcome. This is one of many personal touches from which this old Land Rover has benefitted during the families' eight year ownership when it has been used for many adventures and never been spared from even the most demanding of obstacles. Most weekends the family load it up and head off for a camping weekend and there is no way Grace will ever let them part with it. After all, it has been a major part of her life since she was just four years old.
Finally we come to the most documented of all Dormobiles. TerriAnn Wakeman’s much modified and very well used 1960 Series 2 Dormobile that TerriAnn bought way back in 1978.
'I originally purchased my Land Rover to work as a ranch vehicle but as wanderlust set in she spent more time travelling than working on the ranch. After a while I gave in andtransformed her into a long range expedition Land Rover'.
And what a transformation! The list of modifications is meticulously detailed on TerriAnn’s web site, along with how and why she chose various components. TerriAnn grew up helping her step-father who was a tool and dye maker, so quality engineering ran in the family and as a young girl, TerriAnn took a hands-on interest in all things mechanical. Having found the old Land Rover in a semi-derelict state back in 1978 she set about restoring The Green Rover to be exactly the vehicle she wanted for overland adventures. Sensing a lack of power, the original engine was replaced by a 5 litre Ford Mustang V8. To handle all that power she fitted a Ford NP-435 gearbox shared with the Ford Bronco amongst others. An adapter plate took the power through the Land Rover transfer case fitted with Ashcroft high ratio gears and finally to Salisbury axles with ARB locking diffs. Quite a spec sheet! The drivers of ‘normal’ cars must get quite a shock when they see what appears to be a scruffy old Land Rover bearing down on them out on the freeway.
These three venerable expressions of individual Dormobile customisation illustrate that it is not just our home market who adapts, alters and converts their favourite truck. The same approach is shared by our American cousins who probably have far more long term enjoyment in their vehicles than the purchasers of many of the smarter trucks on offer at Overland Expo, adding to the old theory that simplicity is the most reliable traveling companion.
The Howard family run a blog documenting their Dormobile travels:
HYPERLINK "http://dormobile.blogspot.co.uk/" http://dormobile.blogspot.co.uk/
TerriAnn details her Dormobile life on her web site:
HYPERLINK "http://www.expeditionlandrover.info/" http://www.expeditionlandrover.info/
Ian Kelly keeps quiet!
IK LR pic-1.jpg. On the Mojave Road with the Howard family leading and TerriAnn’s Hot Rod in second place. Photo Ian Kelly.
IK LR pic-2.jpg Ian Kelly’s lovely original 1962 Dormobile on Schnebly Hill en route for Malibu. Photo Ian Kelly.
TAW LR pic-1.jpg Out in Monument Valley with the Howard family. Photo TerriAnn Wakemen
TAW LR pic-2.jpg The Howard Family take to the water hoping the 2.6 litre engine does not get too wet! Photo TerriAnn Wakemen
TAW LR pic-3.jpg All three doing what they do best in Monument Valley. Photo TerriAnn Wakemen
TAW LR pic-4.jpg TerriAnn’s Dormobile. A well conceived truck for a lady and her Irish Wolfhound ‘O’Rielly’ to travel the USA in. Photo TerriAnn Wakemen
Toby -1.jpg O’Rielly. Not so good on the navigating, but great company and a loyal friend.
Toby -2.jpg Squeezed into the engine bay of The Green Rover is a 5 litre Mustang V8. Like many enthusiast owned Land Rovers, the cab has evolved to suit the needs of the owner.
Toby -3.jpg The cab has taken on an appearance tailored to suit the comforts and conveniences of its owner.
Toby -4.jpg On the dashboard of The Green Rover the original Martin Walker plate with the number U 322887626 stamped on it way back in 1960 in Folkstone, England.
Toby -5.jpg Terri Ann relies on three petrol talks and one built in water tank to give a 1000 mile range.
Toby -6.jpg. The interior of The Green Rover still has many of the original features with the addition of a large fridge
Toby -7.jpg TerriAnn Wakeman’s Green Rover. Beneath the unassuming exterior lurks something of a Hot Rod with many small details that make this a very capable off road mobile home.
Toby -8.jpg A specially adapter front bumper improves off-road ability. A good idea whichever way you look at it.
Toby -9.jpg Military style sliding windows replaced the old rusty ones recently.
Toby -10.jpg This small improvised bracket allows a high lift jack to be used easily from the side, rather than the rear. Neat!
Toby -11.jpg The trio of Arizona Dormobiles lined up at Overland Expo.
Toby -12.jpg Ian Kelly relaxes in the very smart and original 1962 Dormobile. He rebuilt the intereior recently to original spec.
Toby -13.jpg No leaks from this roof.
Toby -14.jpg Now on California plates, this may well have spent it’s first years in the UK as it is RHD.
Toby -15.jpg Ian Kelly’s Dormobile is un-restored, but has been very well looked after for all of its 50 years.
Toby -16.jpg Kelly and James Howard spent most summer weekends out in their 6 cylinder Series 2A and have gradually made it more comfortable.
Toby -17.jpg Badges on the Howard Land Rover suggest an English life in the past.
Toby -18.jpg Badges on the Howard Land Rover suggest an English life in the past.
Toby -19.jpg Badges on the Howard Land Rover suggest an English life in the past.
Toby -20.jpg Additional side lights are from James’s Dad’s MG TF, which James has sitting at home in his garage.
Toby -21.jpg With no front number plate required in Arizona, two jerry cans sit comfortably on the front bumper.
Toby -22.jpg The original 6 cylinder engine has been upgraded with electronic ignition and an alternator.
Toby -23.jpg New roof ‘deckchair’ pattern plastic is next on the list. James has imported it from UK and hopes to fit it this summer.
Toby -24.jpg Kelly Howard has spent most summer weekends in the Dormobile since she was just 4 years old.
Toby Savage June 2013.
Copyright Toby Savage.
Reproduced by kind permission of Classic Land Rover.