It could not have been much worse. A big breakdown 1000 miles from home.
One of the less enjoyable aspects of Land Rover ownership, or any old car, is the inevitable breakdowns. These usually happen when least welcome; a wet January night miles from anywhere, the one day you left your mobile phone on the kitchen table, or when you are in a hurry. The one consolation is that they always make a cracking good yarn in the pub week’s later, when you can exaggerate the crisis and how you overcame all difficulties to get home.
I’ve been pretty lucky over 35 years of Land Rover ownership, but my few brushes with the recovery truck stick in my mind with crystal clear accuracy. The breakdown’s that have caused the most inconvenience were problems with my Carawagon on trips to and from Libya. The first was in January 2000, when I had booked myself on to the Genoa to Tunis ferry to allow me to pull in a couple of nights with my pals Leigh and Maura in Northern Italy on the way out. It was dark and snowing quite heavily - that slushy wet stuff that melts on contact with tarmac. I was hammering along the Autostrada and within two hours of their house, when the ignition light came on. By great fortune there was a Service area 2 km's further on and, with the water temperature rising, I pulled in engulfed in a cloud of steam.
By torch light I found that the water pump bearing had failed and the fan had gone straight through the radiator. Bugger! Leigh nobly drove out in his little Daihatsu Feroza 4x4 to collect me, but it wasn’t up to towing, so the following morning we arranged to meet a low loader there and haul the stricken Land Rover back to his place. As luck would have it Maura’s Mum knew a chap with a workshop and it was there that I was to spend the next two days sorting it out. He suggested a company that could re-core the radiator and Leigh and I set about finding a water pump. Despite the popularity of the 200 Tdi Defender with the Carabinieri, none of the official Dealerships in Northern Italy had a Pumpa di Aqua in stock. A call to my son Matt, back home, had one on a DHL flight later that day. It arrived the next day and was actually cheaper than the costs quoted for a local one. By the morning of the third day I was ready to roll, but had missed the Genoa ferry so had to head west to Marseilles and change my ticket. They had room on the ferry, which departed that afternoon so at last I was on my way to North Africa.
Two years later, on the same annual trip all had gone well. The run south from the U.K. to central Libya had been a dream, but once there a noise developed in the RT77 gearbox. Finding it was okay in fourth I reasoned it must be the lay shaft bearings. We had a lot of work to do, so the Land Rover had to be used. I tried to use fourth as much as possible in either high, or low ratio, but by the time we were due to return home the noise was really bad and I was very worried. In all but fourth gear my Carawagon sounded like a dustbin full of nails being rolled down a hill.
The Professor we all work for in Libya had arranged to give a talk at the British Ambassadors residence in Tripoli and was anxious to get there in time, so had booked a minibus for himself and a selection of others, assuming our Land Rover convoy was going to be slow. We hit the road north at 5.00 a.m. in total darkness, the Toyota minibus soon disappearing into the distance as we rumbled on, me restricted to fourth gear. An hour or so later, as the thin orange band of light on thehorison signals the start of a new day, we could smell the pungent smell of burning oil. My heart sank. What now? We stopped, lifted the bonnet, checked mine and the other Land Rover. All seemed well so we drove on and the smell got worse. Another mile saw the answer. It was the new Toyota Minibus! The occupants were all standing at the side of the road looking sheepish and it appeared to have blown the turbo and sprayed the engine with hot oil.
I couldn’t help but give a wry smile as I offered the driver a tow to Sebha, the next town. Risking the protests of first and second gear to get going we made it and dumped the minibus. The driver arranged a replacement and many hours later we all met up again in Tripoli, the Land Rover having the last laugh.
Leigh turned up with a 4x4, it was not big enough to tow the big Carawagon.
The fan had gone through the radiator and delayed Toby’s adventure for three days.
Always a sad sight. A Land Rover on a recovery truck.