My 4x4 Off Road Fun!

One of my hobbies is 4x4 off road travel. Here I have regrettably not yet found a suitable hybrid-vehicle and I suspect that there will be a long wait for a capable off road hybrid ... as this is a small marketsegment world wide.
See my current dreams at the bottom of the page.

The roots

My 4x4 off road travel started in my youth as a passenger in my fathers and my uncle's 4x4's.

The vehicles in vouge at the time where:

  • Jeep's in various guises (my father even had one of the rare Jeep Forward Control and the sporty Jeepster '67),
  • Volvo Laplander's,
  • Land Rover series II's and III's,
  • Austin Gipsy's, Willys Station Wagon (with a swapped in Buic V6 and automatic),
  • Russian GAZ 69 (with a aluminum house and a Buic v6)
  • Bronco's (L6's and V8's) and a
  • Ranger Rover '73.

Gas 69

Gas 69

Ford Bronco

The Range Rover

I fell in love with the Range Rover when my uncle bought one in '73. It was so extremely refined, compared to the other 4x4's on the market, and still very capable off-road.

This was of course in the years when 7.5x16 tires where the biggest for ordinary 4x4. The Volvo Laplander due to its military heritage used 9.00x16 military tires.

The Range Rover was introduced at a time when all 4x4's where farily utilitarian and the few 4x4 with any level of creature comfort where still crude beasts. The US models where mostly shortened 1/2 ton pickups. I.e. Chevrolet Blaser, Dodge Ram, Plymouth Trailduster, International Scout, Wagoneer and Cherookee). Only the short Scout, the Wagoneer and the Cherokee had a steel hardtop, the other had flimsy, leaking and creaking fiberglass tops.
These where capable machines by the day's standards but the Range Rover ran all over them.

I remember an incidet in the early seventies where a Dentist entered his standard Range Rover in an offroad contest and competed sucessfully with modified v8 Jeeps, with the onlookers gaping in amasement.

My 4x4's

The Ram

My first 4x4 was an 1985 Dodge Ram 318cu and 35" tires.
We travelled all over Iceland in that brute of a 4x4. It was reasonable capable off road in a point-and-shoot kind of way. It broke axles and u-joints on a regular basis and ate brake pads for breakfast .. because of its point-and-shoot nature and probably aided by my heavy petrol foot.

The Rover Period

Then came my Rover period. I exchanged the Dodge for a 1985 Range Rover 2 door automatic on 33" tires. The Range Rover was a wonderfully capable and comfortable 4x4. It went where we wanted to go and even embarrassed several highly modified Toyotas in the rough stuff and snow. It was also reasonably trouble free in the several years of ownership, in stark contrast to the rumors that where abound regarding Range Rovers at the time in Iceland. I think the RR badmouthing was because people in Iceland where comparing reliability between new Japanese 4x4 and 10 year old Range Rover's (Range Rovers have always been expensive).

However the Range Rover was a 2 door and when my wife an I got our 3rd child, we needed something bigger. Now we had to fit two small baby's in baby chairs and one older between them + the unbelievable amount of stuff that babies need on off road travels :).

We bought a 1987 Land Rover 110 TDi. The Land Rover proved itself even more capable than the Range Rover in the rough. It had a turbo diesel and no electronics that mattered... so you could clean of the mud, the protruding 35" mudders splattered all over the vehicle, by driving fast through river's (i.e under the bough wave :).

The TDi, although no powerhouse, took every trail in its stride even when heavily loaded with extra fuel on the top. I loved it during our short summers but it was cold in the winter, and leaked water when it rained. On the other side you could hose it down both inside and out when it got too muddy ;).

My love for the Rovers was still fresh so I got my self a newer Land Rover, this time a 1999 Defender County td5 again a 110. It had a lot more power than the TDi, was slightly more refined and had a Webasto heater for the winter cold, however it still leaked in the same spots as the '87 110. This vehicle I only got stuck in snow so deep that it had all 4 tires off ground, and yes I hit the loose snow at high speed. It was in short extremely capable on the 35" Goodrich Mudders (with siping cut into the thread for better grip on Ice.) It never embarrassed my 4x4 driving skills but left many other drivers read eared in its wake.

Falling out with Rover

I got hit by quality problem with the early td5 engines. Where the oil pump sprocket comes loose and starves the engine for oil. This resulted in an expensive engine overhaul and a new turbo. I regrettable lost my appetite for Land Rovers for some time.
I was also after all these years, as a devoted Land Rover and Range Rover fan, disappointment in where Land Rover was heading.
The Range Rover, although a great vehicle, was lost as an off-road platform, long ago, to the Super Luxury segment and the new Discovery II followed in its stride.

The Defender however could have been, by now, the best no frills 4x4 in the world by a long margin. It could have a little more refinement i.e.:

  • no leaks,
  • usable windscreen vipers,
  • side window defrosters.
  • adjustable and reclinable seats
  • better second row seats
  • have a powerful non-electronic diesel (like the Toyota troop carrier) and
  • continue the pre 1999 meccano simplicity and maintainability.

But no Land Rover choose to put in electronic drive by wire throttle, vulnerable high-tech diesel, the old leaks ,the old rattles, the useless defroster and heater units, the leaky doors, the non reclining seats, ......

The worst thing is that the after-market has already solved most of the above problems and even made a more refined Land Rovers like the:
  • Santana from Spain and
  • The Ibex kit 4x4

Why spend so much on electronics when the only thing Land Rover needs to do for the Defender is to tighten up the current design and finish it...for example by using the ideas already found on the after-market.

Well I can rant on and on.. I just think it is sad when you see something you have loved for so long ... dying! (I wrote this in Jan 2006).

The Navara

Navarra 2006

In the meantime my Navara has been a good 4x4. Extremely good on the tarmac despite 35" Toyo tires, good on unpaved roads but the suspension does not cope with the very rough in the same manner as the Defender. So when passing very rough tracks I miss my Defender.

Mid 2007 - My prayers have been heard!

Land Rover have upgraded the Defender 2007 along the lines of my daydreams. New engine, upgraded heating unit and side window de mister, better 2nd and 3rd row seats, new 6 speed gear box.... wow!

Ok the td5 was a fine engine, although my 1999 model was a Monday unit (junk! really until fixed at a cost), my brother has a 2003 Defender and the td5 engine in his LR that has been exemplary and has given him no problems whatsoever.

But upgraded heating and ventilation , I cannot wait to get my hands on one to try out.

Falling in love again

I drove the new 2007 defender 110 SW yesterday. Lovely torquey engine, better seats, more rigid, better ventilation.
I took it on a bad unpaved washboard and it behaved wonderfully. The in cabin noise is a lot reduced compared to the previous Defenders, and other 4x4 for that matter on a similar track. E.g. leafsprung pickups like my current Navara jump all over the place on a track like this if it is driven at speed (40-50Km/h -the track is badly corrugated and the washboard is coarse and deep).

I want one!

I want to get back into the fold. Three Rovers in a row, a Range Rover and two Defenders, have put their mark on me. I love what they do well and kind of ignore the quirks, at least until they scream at me :)

I bought one in 2007 and put on 38" tires to boot ;).

I have also sampled the Discovery III and think Rover is again on the right track. It is maybe too refined for me after years in Defenders but even with independent suspension on all fours it is quite capable right off the showroom floor. Adding the MT tires and a winch I would trust it on any 4x4 track Iceland has to offer in the summertime.

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