Epic adventures in old Land Rovers.
Incredulous disbelief and some kind of Italian expletive was the response I received in Northern Italy, as I stocked up with Foccacia and mineral water for the 1000 mile return trip to Leicester in my 1948 80 inch. Maybe the old boy had a point. After all the Land Rover was 56 years old back then and had the look of a car just driven from it’s resting place in a field. But, as you have read in this issue of LRW, long trips in 80 inch Land Rovers are nothing new.
George and Joy Adamson take a break somewhere in The Sahara on their epic trip from Nairobi to Europe in 1953.
The Beak family’s epic adventure probably takes the gold award, but close behind them must come George and Joy Adamson (of Lion fame) who were hacking their way north through Africa at about the same time and six years later, Ken Campbell and a pal drove much the same route in Ken’s 80 inch, - by then 7 years old - enjoying the trip so much they lowered the screen in Uganda and left it down until Dover!
Ken Campbell outside Land Rover HQ in 1960 having driven 11,70 miles from Rhodesia in 1960 - much of it with the screen down!
Of course, in the fifties the Land Rover was relatively new and represented a more versatile alternative to, say, a Morris Minor, but today there are still advantages to taking something old on an adventure. As touched upon by fellow columnists, it is the simplicity of design that gives any older Land Rover a big advantage when travelling unsupported. Those intrepid adventurers of the fifties departed in the knowledge that if something broke, they could roll their sleeves up and fix it with a little ingenuity and their Granddad’s old penknife.
Setting out in my own Land Rover back in November 2004 I knew I would have the odd breakdown, yet carried minimal spares, just things to repair stuff - tools, wire, cable ties, nuts and bolts, the inevitable gaffer tape and WD40! The Land Rover was in pretty good condition, but by no means perfect. The engine smoked and used quite a lot of oil and the gearbox left its tell tale marks on the tarmac every morning, but it was quite happy to bumble along at 48 mph, as long as I kept topping it up.
On my way to Italy the only breakdown I had was a problem with the S.U. fuel pump on the North Circular Rd. at rush hour and I dismantled to electric components of the pump, cleaned the contact breaker points and was up and running again within half an hour. Nothing else caused a problem and three days later I was in Italy. My only back up was a flight ticket home from Genoa if I couldn’t face the return journey. This was the case and I dumped the Land Rover in my pal’s garden for the winter. He kept me amused by sending photographs of it under a metre of snow!
I flew out the following spring, certain in the certain knowledge that some repairs would be necessary. We had to charge the battery, but once charged the engine burst into life. The worst thing was a leaking radiator, from many sub zero nights in the open, but the damage was not too big, so I effected a temporary repair (still going strong today) using gaffer tape and body filler!
One other worrying thing was that the ignition light was gently glowing at all speeds. I reasoned that if I travelled in daylight, the battery would only be supplying power to the fuel pump and the ignition system, with the odd dab of brake lights. On that basis surely 350 miles a day would be achievable and, with luck, I could find a garage wherever I stayed the night, who would be willing to charge my battery. Without much difficulty this is what happened, though I did have to buy a second battery in France as a back up. Lady luck was on my side that day as I spluttered to a standstill outside a Motor Factors. €50 later I had a new battery and was on my way.
Toby, loaded up and ready to leave Italy for a relatively small hop of 1000 miles back to Leicester in 2005.
The fuel pump gave more problems up near Dieppe, but responded to the same treatment and by early evening I was putting the tilt back on for the first time in 700 miles ready to be spat out into the Newhaven traffic 5 hours later. It could be argued that if I had done the same trip in a modern Land Rover it would have been done in half the time with no breakdowns, but I would never have raised smiles and waves from all the people I passed and would not have shared the occasional beer with the proprietors of small garages. If I had suffered a similar breakdown it would be no good lifting the bonnet and threatening the fuel system with a penknife and some old sandpaper.
Epic African trip info and photos courtesy of http://overland-live.blogspot.com
Adamson picture from 'Bwana Game' by George Adamson