Hardtop or Soft Top?

Today I learned my truck is being restored as a soft top, even though it started life as a hardtop. This might be a California thing since it’s being restored in San Diego. Nice and warm out there year round, why wouldn’t you want a ragtop? And I’ll be fine with that, Missouri winters be damned (and I’ll rarely be on the road more than half an hour). And it was soft tops that got me started down this (off) road. Every Land Rover that got me tingly (see below) had a soft top.

I included the hardtop for comparison. And the more I see the hardtops, the more I like them. I’m hoping there’s a way I can have both. These trucks seem pretty modular and a guy with the right set of wrenches could probably switch ’em out a couple of times a year. This guy seems to be having a great time without a top.

1979 Series 3 Land Rover

Before I tell you about my new Land Rover, let’s recap how we got here. I’ve been admiring vintage Land Rovers for years but the idea of owning one never occurred to me. In May I spotted another one on the Cool & Vintage website. A beautiful frame-off restoration of a Defender 90 Land Rover. I clicked the “more information” link and, following a brief email exchange, learned I could buy the vehicle for about $60,000. I decided I had to have it and spent a week or two begging the folks in Lisbon, Portugal (where the company is located) to take my money. They were too busy with their latest photo shoot.

A friend of a friend told me about a UK company called Arkonik that specializes in frame-off restorations of Land Rovers. I called and learned they’d be happy to build me one for $100,000 but there was a 13 month waiting list. I strongly considered it.

At this point a friend put me in touch with a “concierge buyer” in the Bay Area. I call him Mr. Wolf and he’s an expert in vintage Land Rovers. For a finder’s fee of 10%, he agreed to find the Land Rover of my dreams. And he did. It took him a bit more than a month.

We started searching for a Defender 90 but along the way Mr. Wolf suggested I consider a Land Rover Series (I,II,III) model. These are more truck-like (loud and slow). I loved the look so we expanded the search. Last week Mr. Wolf located a 1979 Series 3 Land Rover in San Diego. The restoration was still underway and the vehicle hadn’t been spoken for.

Mr. Wolf looked several hundred photos and talked at length with Luke Richards, the man in charge of the restoration. He was impressed. This was it. I wired the deposit and the Land Rover was mine.

When the restoration is complete, probably by August, Mr. Wolf will take it back to his facility in the Bay Area and drive it for 1,000 miles to find and fix any problems (that can occur with the most perfect restoration). Then he’ll put it on a truck and send it to me. I plan to visit Mr. Wolf during the shakeout period.

I love the idea of frame-off restoration. I love the look and charm of the older Land Rover… but I want it to be “new.” In the absence of time travel, that means taking the old car apart and rebuilding it bolt-by-bolt, nut-by-nut. I find it amazing anyone can do this, for any amount of money. Clearly a labor of love.

I don’t know the full story behind Luke Richards but at one time (perhaps still) he designed and built high-performance cars. Watch the video on his website. Somewhere along the way he and his team started restoring vintage Land Rovers. Again, check out the photo slide show on the website.

I assume I’ll have more photos of my Land Rover as it nears completion and I’ll share them here. The color (Stone Gray) is not a Land Rover color, it’s by Mercedes. I love it.

If you had asked me yesterday how long I’ve been working on this I would have said six months. It’s been less than two. Some serious time distortion at work. I’m eager to climb in this rascal and chug up my hill but I’m enjoying the anticipation, too. Watch this space for updates.

Fez pics from Gnomedex 2008

The Order of the Fez was in full blossom in 2008 so my pal Jamie Nelson and I agreed to bring the sacred headgear to the Gnomedex geekfest that year. One of the attendees was a professional photographer and we have him to thank for these fine image.

Vintage Roadster

This little beauty pulled up across the street from my local coffee shop this morning and I had a few words with the owner. Don’t know if restoration is the right term for what happened here because he seemed more in tune with the spirit of the original (at least the original street version) than creating a perfect reproduction. This started out as a four-door!


I was delighted to hear him say he drives this every day and the interior (very cozy) looked nicely lived in.

Cars too precious to drive

I had lunch with my friend and former co-worker, Phil, a couple of days ago. Phil is a polymath in the truest sense of the word and one of the smartest guys I know. And he owns a 1970 GTO that he restored so I wanted to get his thoughts on my Great Land Rover Adventure. He asked if I planned to keep my MINI and expressed some concern when I said I did not. Why would I need two cars, I asked?

A little background. Phil spent countless hours and not a little money restoring his GTO. His first car as a teenager was a GTO so it has a lot of sentimental value. So it’s a lot more than a vehicle for getting around town. He certainly wouldn’t drive it up and down the gravel road that leads to my house. There are other considerations, of course, but I got the strong sense that ‘having’ the GTO is more important than ‘driving’ it. (Another co-worker has a restored ’67 Camaro and it stays in the garage most of the time, too)

When Mr. Wolf locates that perfect Land Rover (and fixes it up), I’ll have no such investment. No sweat equity. No ’skin in the game’ as they say. It will be the only vehicle I own. If it gets dusty and dinged coming up my hill… well, so did the MINI. If it gets dented, I’ll have it fixed.

Who knows, perhaps I’ll come to feel differently about my Land Rover after a while. But leaving it in the garage while I drove my ‘other’ car would feel like keeping my dog in a kennel and only taking her out for a walk on weekends.

1965 Land Rover Series 2A 88

Mr. Wolf continues the search for my Land Rover. He’s still focused on a Defender 90 but based on recent conversations, we’re broadening the search to include the Land Rover Series models. Produced by the British manufacturer Rover company, this model was inspired by the US-built Willys Jeep. Fun facts: In 1992, Land Rover claimed that 70% of all the vehicles they had built were still in use. And all three of the Series models could be started with a front hand crank.

This Series 2A is a good example of the iconic Land Rover look that makes me weak in the knees. And check out the dash.

I’m no kind of handy with with a wrench or a screwdriver but even I get a warm glow when I look under the “bonnet.” Someone said when you lift the hood of a Land Rover you can see the ground. Sigh.


Series model or Defender 90, I’m confident Mr. Wolf will find the right Land Rover for me. I’m eager but in no hurry because the search is at least half the fun.