So the search for our first 4×4 began in earnest. First, research. I read pages and pages on the internet, at the time range rovers.net was the best resource and forum. I was away with the Army, so got Naomi to send me some books, the best being Range Rover – The First Generation by James Taylor & Nick Dimbleby. It is not hard to get swept up when researching these vehicles, they were pretty unique and a trailblazer for a category of vehicles that continues to thrive today. Anyway, that’s for another post. What about our Range Rover.
Well, at the time (2006) with a relatively meagre budget (of around $15,000 from memory, not saying that’s a meagre amount of money, but it is a meagre budget for a RRC these days!) I could afford any variation of the Range Rover Classic. Whilst the early 2 doors have proven the wisest investment, I wanted to use this vehicle, and I wanted Naomi to come with me, so a bit of luxury would be nice. So may as well go for all the bells and whistles then… I decided on the last of the classics, the Vogue LSE. The L standing for Long wheel base, finally giving the four door Rangie the chassis length it always should have had. Plus all the normal Vogue SE stuff, leather, wood, AC, posh stereo, etc, etc. Also, adjustable air suspension. Which replaced the conventional coil springs with air bags, that were then electronically controlled. The actual car I bought was a 1994 model, and so came with the later (Discovery 2 style) dash with airbags. I actually preferred the charm of the earlier dash, but of course buying used, you are going to compromise somewhere.
I found the car I wanted being sold in Melbourne, I was still away with the Army at the time, in remote Northern Territory. A friend of mine was over in Melbourne for work, and so went to look at for me. He gave it the thumbs up and so I wired them the money. Or at least I tried too…
The old boy selling the Rover had given me the wrong account number by one digit. So my $15k went nowhere, I’m asking if he’s received the funds yet? He keeps telling me no, we probably both think something dodgy is going on. Eventually the funds bounce back to my account. I work out the right account number with his PA. Then go to transfer the money again. Now the bank have put a stop on my account, due to all these strange large transactions going on (I was also buying an BMW M3 out of Japan at the time!) and the fact they can’t get hold of me (personal phone and personal email did not work where we were), so I call the bank to explain. Where they ask me why I am calling from a number that is not an Australian number, if I claim to be who I claim to be? Of course I’m calling on the Army phone system, which goes through a satellite! What, back in the UK, we might call a right palaver!
Anyway eventually managed to pay for the Rover (and the M3, those were the days!). The old chap who owned it had agreed to hold onto it till I got back from bush and we could fly down to pick it up. So this duly happened, and the three of us – whilst I was away all the time Naomi had had her own buying adventure and we now had our first dog, Alby the Chihuahua. That was the first and last time we flew him anywhere, it was all a bit traumatising for the little fella. On arriving at the home of the Range Rovers owner, a great big place in the posh part of Melbourne. He ushered me in through the entrance hall, complete with full size Dolphin statue, to his library. Which looked just as you would imagine, with books lining the walls floor to ceiling. He then wrote me out a receipt, funny how old people always do that. Then the whole family came out to wave the car goodbye! These people were in film, darling. Figures.
Over $200 in fuel and a blown exhaust manifold gasket later we arrived in Adelaide. Back then I still only had one speed, as I said I had spent the last 15 years pretty exclusively driving fast cars, fast. I would soon learn… This was to be a quick stop over to catch up with friends. It turned into a bit more of an affair whilst my mate and I replaced the blown exhaust manifold gasket – tightening the exhaust manifold studs would become one of the many pre-trip rituals on the Rangie.
So armed with the new 4×4 map book I had bought we set off for Brisbane, hoping to take some dirt roads on the way and do a bit of exploration in our new adventure machine. All went well, we drove a few hours north, to the town of Burra. Here I turned off onto the dirt, hoping to follow the dirt tracks through to Broken Hill, rather than take the main road. I was still new to off-road vehicle navigation but not navigation per-se. So after navigating successfully for a couple of hours to Lilydale Homestead, here we would take the minor track that would take us through to Broken Hill, except we wouldn’t, the track didn’t exist. I knew we were in the right place, the homestead had a bloody sign out the front! Somewhat crestfallen we had to detour back to the bitumen, now borderline on fuel, we luckily found a servo still open. Anyway, a couple of lessons learnt early on.
Those books were published by Hema, whom I contacted when we got to Brisbane. They informed me that the books were bought in and it wasn’t their mapping, and also they had received plenty of other complaints. They offered to send me out one of their 4×4 Road Atlases as compensation, which I duly took them up on. Especially as I had already checked my maps against one of these atlases at a servo on the way, to make sure I wasn’t going mad… I have been using Hema mapping ever since.
So that was our first adventure in the Rangie. We found plenty of dirt in the end, plus the other reliable companion of the outback, mosquitoes. We slept in my 1.5 man hiking tent, which Alby thought was great! I nearly lost him the first time I took him out for a pee at night, he was very much all black then, not the silver (mini) fox he is now. I also realised when we got to Brisbane that the standard Land Rover bottle jack we had been carrying, which I had, of course, checked did actually go up – went up to the axle like a trooper and then went no further… Could of been interesting had we had a puncture, but we didn’t. You can’t worry about absolutely everything, you just have to get out there, try not to do anything too stupid, and learn along the way.
We joined the Range Rover Club of Queensland – or to give it its proper title… Range Rover Club of Australia, Queensland Branch. I was aware I didn’t know much about off-road driving, and figured this was a good place to start, I mean we had a Range Rover. We did a couple of trips with them, which was a great way to start. They really showed me what the vehicle was capable of, and tracks that it would have taken us ages to work up to on our own were tackled straight away, plus a bonnet level water crossing on the first day! However, we aren’t really club people, and the frustrations of travelling in a large group for us outweighed the social aspects. Which is a nice way of saying I am an unsociable git! Anyway, as I said it was a great introduction, and I would recommend a similar path for beginners.
I was a shift cook in the Army at this point, so I regularly had days off during the working week, as we had to work some weekend shifts. I used these days to take the Rangie out into the hinterland north-east of Brisbane. This is sub-tropical rainforest, very steep and hilly terrain. No realistic mapping of the area, but a huge amount of tracks on the ground. I learned a lot on those days, often out there all day, sometimes after dark if I got properly lost.
So it not only honed my driving skills, but also helped me prioritise my equipment purchases. You soon work out what you need first and foremost when you are actually out on the trails, on your own, rather than just in a showroom talking to a salesman! So first up was a GPS, then at least when I did get lost I could just hit ‘go home’ and at least know I wasn’t driving an hour in the wrong direction!
I had hills I couldn’t get all the way up and had to reverse down the 90% I had already conquered, that was tricky enough going forwards let alone backwards. Let my tyres down by eye, then just drive slowly till I got to a servo. Drive down a track for three quarters of an hour only to find a raging river at the bottom with steep mud banks either side. Anyway, I guess it all goes into the bank we call experience learning when to risk pushing through, more importantly learning when to turn around. Walking ahead, a LONG way if required.
You are always going to make mistakes. I got to the bottom of one long and steep, although not difficult hill. Taking some visiting family out for a tour, climbed out to open the gate and noticed smoke pouring off the front brakes! No one else noticed so I just drove along the flat section, gently easing off and on the brake till I could feel the pedal come back. After rebuilding the entire brake system and replacing all the now mozzarella like dust seals, that’s not one I was going to forget in a hurry…
We started doing our own trips, Acquiring camping, recovery gear, etc. We still have and use a lot of that gear now. It also taught me the old adage when buying gear – ‘cry once’ – meaning buy good gear, spend the money. If it’s important, then just cry once, rather than buy something inferior, then come back and buy the good one a year later when the cheap version didn’t do the job. Of course this takes time, do what you have to do to get out there. However if it is an important bit of gear, ask yourself how long you want it to last you? By all means wait until it comes on sale, I’ve done that many times. However you’ll notice the really good stuff doesn’t go on sale much and when it does, you don’t get much off. If something can be discounted by 30, 40 or 50% and still make the seller money, then what does that say about the original price and quality of the product?
Anyway, our crowning trip before leaving Brisbane to move back to Adelaide was a grand tour up through Queensland to Cairns. My brother was visiting from the UK, so it was the three of us plus two dogs, as Rollo had joined our little family by this stage. Here are a couple of snaps from that adventure.
Next was the move back to Adelaide. While our household goods went by road, we went overland. This straightforward dirt road excursion was complicated by a large storm following us. Stopping a small community in the middle of nowhere, the local urged us to either hurry or commit to staying for the next week or so, only the storm came the roads would be impassable for some time. We bolted, the week MIA might have been tricky to explain to the Army… The deeply rutted roads on the way out, that tossed around well over 2 ton of Range Rover like a slot car, showed just what the locals were talking about.
We hit the tarmac just before the rain hit.
We tried in vain in a few small outback towns to find accommodation, but it was too late in the day really. In the end I just pulled up. Took everything out of the car that could handle getting wet and we slept in the back, times like this I was glad I had a long wheel base! Lying in the back trying to sleep as the rain lashes down and fork lightning lights up the sky, I tried not to think of Wolf Creek.
Once settled back in South Australia. We took trips to Yorke Peninsula.
Also to the Flinders Ranges. My mate Ravi, who had originally checked out my Range Rover in Melbourne, had caught the disease and bought himself a P38, the Range Rover that came after the Classic. Ravi continues to be afflicted with the Range Rover disease to this day, the shiny black L322 you see elsewhere in these pages is his also.
Many other trips around South Australia. After much internal debate it was time to move on, having four others cars in my life at that time, three of which could be termed classics. There came a time I needed to have something a bit newer, and something I could just stay on top of the maintenance rather than an ongoing project, which Land Rovers tend to be. Having said that, The Rover was a fantastic first 4×4, brilliantly capable off road. It’s, errrr, ‘demanding’ nature forced you to learn how it worked and what you needed to do or change to keep it reliable for off pavement exploration.
It also made you feel like Lord of the Manor going to the shops, and just had real character. Anywhere you went people were pleasantly surprised by your choice of vehicle, and it would always create conversation. Even going through an RBT one day, the officer breathalysing me felt compelled to comment “nice vehicle sir” it was just that type of truck.
I would have another Rangie in a heartbeat. Not for outback touring, just for a great way to get around town. No wonder values have gone the way they have, there is just something about them.The Range Rover wasn’t perfect, but I still miss that truck.
So it was time for something newer and less maintenance intensive. So next came the Pajero, which, well, didn’t go well…