Sunday, 22 September 2013

I've found the 4x4 I want to buy. However . . .

It's been an uncomfortable, unfamiliar feeling, having had a 4x4, and sometimes two at my disposal, without interruption for 31 years, and now nothing. My Cruiser still sits on display in a showroom in Johannesburg, while I'm in England. I have some plans to shoot some new shows, so I need a 4x4 for that, and to keep from dropping into a deep, dark depression and feeling of abandonment, and . . .

I've been toying with a number of vehicle choices. My conclusions are:

Land Rover Defender. An exciting thought, but my budget doesn't reach to a new one. And used Defenders hold there value quite well. And as my main use for the vehicle is overland expeditions, I'm not convinced the Defender is the best option. If I was going pure off-roading, then it would be at or near the top of the list. And rust is a problem. Land Rover owners who reckon that they don't rust need to come to England. The body may survive a little longer but the chassis, floor pan and firewall are prone to rust in a big way. I looked over a five year old Defender last week and was shocked.

Toyota Land Cruiser-80. They are all old, and to find a good one, with mileage under 100K, is a real challenge. And rust is a huge issue. Unless the owner has had a love affair with the vehicle and maintained it exceptionally well, it will likely have serious rust. And if I miss rust in a vital place, it being covered up by the seller, I could easily have myself a very bad purchase, only good for scrap. But if I get a good one - they are cheap.

Toyota Land Cruiser-100. The Td 4,2 VX, called the Amazon, are here in large numbers and prices are very keen. The most expensive would be a 2007 model (the last year they made them), with all the luxury stuff, with 60 000 miles (100 000 kms) would sell for around R370 000, about R100 000 less than in SA. The trouble is, they are heavy, not particularly good off road, although not bad by any standards, and are tricky to modify for overland use. The air suspension has to be removed, and replaced with coils. This is expensive, and the lift cannot be more that about 40mm without risking CV joint damage. But I have travelled with these on expeditions and they have always been absolutely trouble free. And of all on my list, they are by far the most luxurious, and better in so many ways than the 200 series. But England is crowded and such a large vehicle as my everyday transport is not idea.

The Nissan Patrol is another thought. As an overlander, it is brilliant in so many ways. But the standard ride is horrible, the petrol engines are too thirsty and the diesel engines too sluggish. I've never been a big fan of Nissans, and so I have not taken this option too seriously.

Mercedes G-wagen. There are quite a few available here, and they hold their value exceptionally well. There are a few G500s, about ten years old, and the price is in the ballpark, but a G500 would be useless for expedition use. Most others are too old, and while the G is one of the most rust-resistant vehicles on the planet, they do rust. So while I can buy older than a Defender or Land Cruiser, they are expensive, and anything pre-2000 or with a manual gearbox, I would not consider it.

But the good news is, I've found what I would like to buy! I'm not saying what it is right now, because I may not get it as I must sell the cruiser to pay for it. All I am saying is, it's ten years old, only has 25 000 miles on the odo, is in exceptional condition and it's dark grey. So forgive me if I ask you to share this link:

My best as always

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Thing. Is it enough for me to buy another Defender?

I was watching an interview with Jeremy Clarkson on YouTube the other day, and he said something that peaked my interest. He spoke of the new Audi R8, saying all kinds of good things about it. I’m paraphrasing, but he said,
“It’s perfect, the ride is brilliant, power and handling outstanding, the seats, the controls, the feel. It could be the best car in the world. But I would not buy one. Now the Lamborghini Gallardo; it’s not as good in so many ways, and will probably break down, but I would buy one in a heart beat. Because the Audi is missing something, that the Lambo has buckets of”. ‘The Thing’.

I would like to take this theory at put it at the door of the 4x4, and specifically Land Rover. I believe it explains why Land Rover is what it is, and why it is still such a great car-maker and why it is one of the world’s leaders in automotive design.

The Thing is not obvious; you can’t see it, touch it, or even feel it. It can exist for one person and be utterly absent for another.

To me, some 4x4s have The Thing and others have none or little. I doubt if I am too different from most 4x4 lovers in seeing it this way. But because The Thing, to some means everything, and to others, nothing, people buy a Land Rover for the exactly the same reason that they buy a Land Cruiser, or an X5 for that matter.

I’ve lost count of how many 4x4s I’ve owned. I think it’s nine. My first was a Range Rover. Range Rovers, even the relatively boring P38 version, have The Thing. The early ones, I think it is safe to say, have far more than the newer ones, but they all have it. For me, almost all of the Range Rover’s competitors have very little of it, if any. Take the Q7, X5 or the Land Cruiser-200. The Thing is conspicuous by its absence. In my book, Range Rover Classics drip with it.

Then came my Land Rover 110, later called the Defender, that I called ‘Darien’. This has become the most unchanged, familiar design, maybe in the world, unchanged externally, other than a bulge in the bonnet, since 1985. How can anyone still be interested in this car? I know why. Because few vehicles ever produced anywhere have as much of The Thing as a Defender. Every time I pass one, I always give it a second look.  Once a Defender lover - always a Defender lover.

My next 4x4 was a Mercedes-G. I chose it because of The Thing factor. I loved the looks. But I knew nothing of its performance, and at the time I didn’t really care.  For me, the G is one of few vehicles that approach the Defender when it comes to The Thing. But sadly the pimped versions like the G500 have taken The Thing, and turned it into The Bling. I don’t like them at all, although they do attract my gaze. My G turned out to be a revelation performance-wise and they are my first love!

Next was a Discovery. Nothing. Not one ounce of Thing. But something unusual has happened. Now with the passing of Discovery-2 (even less Thing than Disco-1’s, if possible) and Discovery-3/4, old Disco-1’s, especially those taken from the scrap heap and given a new lease with some big wheels, glow with Thing. I think they are great, and I can’t think of a better, cheaper way to have endless fun off-road.

My first Land Cruiser: Nudda. Nothing. Zitch. No trace of Thing anywhere to be found. This was a 79-series pick-up that I converted to a double-cab; and still, with all that work, I could not squeeze a drop of Thing out of it, no matter how hard I tried. And it wasn’t a great performer, so there was nothing between us. So I sold it.

Skipping a few vehicles, back to Land Cruiser, this time a 105 series. Now this is not a pretty car. When I took delivery, I thought there was a hope of good Things to come, and I was right. As I got to own it, it grew on me, and for me, it started to develop its own personality. The trouble is with Land Cruisers, most of them anyway, is that they are boring. They are like the student that gets high marks, never misbehaves, is not tardy and never dresses inappropriately. But are they ever remembered? Not often. They are dull. When you put the key in, they start; and when you take it out, they stop. And they do it year, after year, after year. They have little character, and because of this, The Thing has to be generated by experiencing it. When I eventually sold mine, I was sad, not because of a loss of a friend, but because it was so damn bloody good at everything. And never the slightest hint of mechanical trouble ever. It grew The Thing, and the 105 for me always will have it, but it had to earn it.

I sold the 105 to build what I called the Ultimate World Cruiser, with a camper conversion of a 78-series Troopy. As I began building this vehicle, I realized that this was the very first Land Cruiser that had The Thing, even in its very plain, rock-hard suspension, drab, plain, uninspired self. It was because of the promise of what it could become. I fell in love with this vehicle.

How do you tell if the vehicle you drive possesses The Thing? To answer this honestly, you need to ask yourself, “Would you take it for a run, for the sole purpose of taking it for run – for no other reason than to be with it? If the answer is yes, then it has The Thing. I would run the Land Cruiser up to the shops because it was there, go down to the beach and sit in it with an ice cream, watching the passers by checking it out. There were times, I admit, that I considered going outside into the garden and sleeping in it, just because I could. I really miss that car.

I am currently in the UK with a dilemma: What 4x4 to buy? I won’t buy new, and to be truthful, I think the only new 4x4 available here that interests me is a Defender. It has plenty of Thing for me, but I am not sure if it has everything else that would make me spend that much. 105-series Land Cruisers were never sold here, so they’re out. 100-VX Land Cruiser are a serious thought. They have for me, a small dollop of Thing, but not much. But a low mileage 80-series is a serious option, and although they have limited Thing, ugly things that they are, they have within them the promise of a long, reliable and rewarding life. The 80-series is, for those who don’t know, considered by most Land Cruiser lovers to be made in, “Toyota’s finest hour”. They are truly brilliant machines – but like the good student – a bit dull. For the same price as one of these, I can buy a tired Defender. Now a tired Defender might mean me spending my Saturdays under it, keeping it running. I did this throughout the ‘80s, with my Range Rover, and the thought if it now doesn’t excite me one bit. The other part is, what I am doing in the UK. Followers of my work, most of them here anyway, would love me to return to the fold. So now, the big question is, is The Thing that the Defender possesses, enough for me to truly enjoy the vehicle as once I did, having now tasted the other, albeit less interesting, alternative?

Check out my latest video on YouTube. It's on the homepage, near the bottom.