One best forgotten.
An old Landy lies forgotten in a far off country.
Knowing a bit about Land Rovers can land us in all sorts of bizarre situations, from going with a friend to look at some rust bucket, to driving the latest Range Rover Sport. It is the dubious attribute that has taken me to North Africa most winters for the last ten years to work with academics. I first stumbled into ‘The Professor’ (We shall stick to pseudonyms for reasons that will become clear later!) at a party in 1998. I was introduced as someone who knew a bit about Land Rovers and then listened in amazement as the Prof. regaled a tale of getting stuck in the Sahara, burning out a clutch, hurting his back and having to be rescued. The Land Rover concerned was a 1980, 109 Station wagon and by his own admission they had ventured into the Sand Sea totally unprepared.
Harbouring a desire to visit the Sahara myself I offered my services and exaggerated my mechanical skills, safe in the knowledge that they were better than his. The following winter I was invited, in the hope that I would be able to get the Land Rover going again. Following it’s recovery from that fateful trip, it had limped back to the Roman City of Sabratha on the Libyan coast and been parked up in a shed. I had a lengthy chat with the last man to drive it, Dr. Laidback, at the University of Hard Knocks in the north of England to whom the Land Rover was registered. From his description and exceptional sound effects using all his vocal skills, I thought it probably had a few burnt out exhaust valves as well as a knackered clutch.
We went out there the following January with a box of parts, tools and 10 academics who I mobilised into a crack team of mechanics. We hoisted the engine out, using a length of wood as a hoist, removed the head and I got them grinding in the new valves. The clutch replacement was straightforward and with a new head gasket the whole thing was re assembled. I didn’t have a torque wrench, so took an inspired guess. We worked outside in perfect weather with the Mediterranean glistening in the sun just a few metres away. Late than night we fired it up and all seemed well.
It wasn’t until we were a hundred miles into our journey south that things started to go wrong. The engine was getting hot and checking both the oil and water it was obvious that the head gasket had blown. A legacy of not being able to get it skimmed and guessing the torque settings. We reached our destination of Germa very late that night having to top up oil and water often. The next morning I whipped the head off again, and did an even bigger botch, using another new gasket and loads of red hermatite. As we only had to use it locally I got away with it and it lasted for the months work. Throughout that month though, pools of oil were appearing under the clutch. These got worse and on the way back up to Sabratha the clutch started slipping. We dumped it in it’s shed and flew home hoping the problem would cure itself.
The following year, after consulting some real mechanics, we took out a rear crankshaft oil seal and yet another clutch. We did not have time to repair it at Sabratha, so drove it down to Germa with a slipping clutch. Out came the engine again and I tried to replace the rear crankshaft oil seal, skinning most knuckles in the process. Eventually it seemed to be done, so we put the engine back in again and used it for a few days before the tell tale pool of oil appeared again. The repair had failed. Cursing the wretched thing we decided we could live with a slipping clutch so left it. It did, again, make the journey back to Sabratha to resume it’s resting place in the shed.
Each time we resurrected it from it’s Sabrathan resting place, it was costing about $1000 to register it for road use and pay fines, as strictly speaking, it should have been driven out of the country and back to the University of Hard Knocks each year. The equation of value over expense was starting to be realised and after it limped through another season in 2001 it was decided to forget it and leave it in the shed in Sabratha, forever! The Professor, Dr. Laidback and I mention it occasionally, but the conversation is always hushed up for fear of someone tapping on the Prof’s shoulder. Passing through Sabratha this January I couldn’t resist revisiting and strolling around the ruins of this once great city feeling a natural draw to the shed. Squashing my face up against the small crack between the doors, there was the familiar blue wing peeping out from behind some other junk. It sat high and proud and is just waiting for some keen enthusiast to restore it. Not me!
Pushing the old 109 out of it’s shed ready to be worked on.
Using a length of wood as an engine hoist.
Trying, in vain, to replace the crankshaft oil seal.