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.

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.

Bringing the Land Rover Defender back?

“British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe hopes to resurrect the iconic Land Rover Defender (that’s no longer in production). The goal is to develop a vehicle like the Defender minus shortcomings such as poor drivability and outdated emissions and safety standards, and have it ready in the next two to three years. […] The company is hoping to build between 15,000 and 20,000 units annually. It’s too early to talk pricing but Ineos has hinted at a starting price of less than $65,000.”

Nope. Wouldn’t be the same (for me).

Concierge Buyer

Things have been moving quickly on the Land Rover front. As impressed as I was with the folks at Arkonik, I decided I couldn’t wait 13 months. And the Universe seems to be cooperating with me at every turn. A friend put me in touch a “concierge buyer.” He’s an expert when it comes to vintage vehicles in general and Land Rovers in particular. Let’s call him Mr. Wolf.

“I intentionally keep as small a footprint as possible. I have zero social media, I keep my face off of the internet, etc… I’m one of “those guys” I guess, ha! I don’t mind if you mention me by name, or put up pictures of my vehicles or whatever, but no links to me, please. However, if someone asks (and they don’t seem like a complete toolshed) I would be happy to help other folks.”

“All of my car work comes from word of mouth, friends recommending friends, which works beautifully because it tends to weed out the jerks, and keeps it fun for everyone involved. At the end of the day, I don’t do the car stuff as a real business, I do it because I get to play with all kinds of interesting cars, and I get a huge hobby shop to play in. I am completely, hopelessly in love with vehicles of all sorts. I love researching, repairing, and modifying cars, but mostly I want to use them the way they were intended to be used. If it has four wheel drive, I will find new trails to explore. If it is a sports car, I will get it sideways every chance I get, take it on road trips, and then take it to the race track and wring its neck.”

“Somehow I find a way to incorporate cars or motorcycles into everything I do. Rent a Nissan March to explore the twisty roads outside Tokyo? Yes! Buy shitty Russian motorcycles and ride them through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia? What could go wrong? Drive a notoriously unreliable Range Rover Classic through Baja with no backup plan? You know it. Heck, nobody died the first time, let’s do it twice! Drive a leaky Alfa Romeo 1,000 miles in the middle of winter to look for fun roads through the redwoods? I think you get the idea…”

“Really what I want is to be an enabler. Put people in the vehicle they have always dreamed of, but never bought, because where do you get the fuel injection tuned on a Morgan Plus 8, anyway?”

I’ll share some of his work in future posts. Before this is all said and done, I plan to jet out to The Coast and meet Mr. Wolf. He promised to take me off-roading.

Arkonik Custom Land Rover Defender

This morning I heard about Arkonik, a company in the UK that does custom restorations of vintage Land Rovers. I submitted my name and email address on their website and within 5 minutes got a call from Tom Maxwell who might just be the best phone salesman I’ve ever encountered. He talked for half an hour but it was all good stuff. A full-on core dump. Where I could get no information from the Cool & Vintage guys, I got more from Tom than I could process. (D90 below is just a sample image from their website)

It’s becoming clear I’m gonna drop a bundle if I want to own a Land Rover D90. Did I mention the 12 month wait? This is clearly a seller’s market. Much more like buying/investing in fine art than driving a new Prelude off the lot. Or a bespoke suit on Savile Row. Deep water for a small town boy like me. But I’m hooked. Unless I get unhooked. From the jump Tom (and others) have stressed how much are and attention a 25 year old vehicle demands. It’s really more like buying a Golden Retriever than a truck. So why the hell is the Defender worth so much?

“I’ll tell you why: because it’s so damn cool. Yes, it’s loud, and rough, and slow, and unreliable. Yes, the Jeep Wrangler is better than the Defender in every objective way. But that’s the point of the Defender: it’s unique. It’s special. It’s unusual. The Jeep Wrangler is for people who leave their dealership license plate frame on. For people who drive past six gas stations to get to a Texaco two miles from their house because gas there is three cents cheaper.” (Jalopnik)

Stay tuned.