My First Car/Farm Vehicle
It was while pumping the brakes down San Francisco hills and clamping the loose top to the windshield with my right hand that I first questioned my car-buying judgement.
When I handed $2000 in cash to the seller just twenty minutes earlier, I felt pretty great about my negotiating skills. The original asking price was $6000. I was a natural at this, I thought at the time.
Not so much.
Still, the car--a 1959 Land Rover Series II 88 imported from the UK--was a find, especially given the pre-Craigslist times (kids, I remember when one actually had to look up car listings in actual newspapers).
I had seen a handful of Land Rovers over my lifetime and thought the world of them. Utilitarian and yet elegant, those old off-roaders exuded a Churchillian resolve that I found compelling at the time. So when I found the listing for the one I eventually bought, the way-out-of-budget asking price gave me pause before I called the seller.
Really? $6000 was way-out-of-budget? Yes. I was twenty then, trying to pay my way through college with part-time work. My mother supported me as best she could but lived paycheck to paycheck, and my father had passed away a few months before. My budget, therefore, was hairpin-tight. The only “negotiating leverage” I had was that I truly could not afford a car for more than $2000 (this constraint, by the way, helped land me an actually-great deal on a gold 1965 Thunderbird I was considering as an alternative to the Land Rover. I could have bought a beautifully-maintained example with only 73,000 miles on the odometer for $2000. The original asking price? $5000. Yes, I made the wrong choice).
The Land Rover Series II 88 I purchased had spent decades on a farm in the UK, a history I found almost as charming as the right-hand drive configuration and removable--well, almost everything. What I found profoundly less charming was the considerable on-the-farm-for-decades rust plaguing the Rover’s frame which the seller had painted over and which was showing through within a couple of months of my purchase. I discovered this issue after taking the tractor car to a Land Rover specialist to get the vehicle off-road ready with new tires for which I had painstakingly budgeted since buying the Rover (which was rolling on petrified-rubber tube tires). “This thing’s a rust-bucket” is not the expert diagnosis any cash-strapped car owner wants to hear, nor does any car owner want to spend a new-tire budget on rust-removal and frame repair. Compounding this problem was the galvanic corrosion eating away at the aluminum body panels. Within a couple of years, the Rover was, quite literally, disintegrating as I drove it. One morning, on my way to school, I heard a strange, wet crunching sound to my left. The top half of the passenger-side door was flapping in the wind, thanks to the corroded screws that had left this plane as if by Thanos’s snapping fingers.
If this reads like a nightmare account of a poor car-buying choice, then I’m getting my point across. But I still remember my 10,000 miles driving the Land Rover fondly. Despite not being able to top 55mph, the Rover was an experience to drive. Most of the time, I drove the thing roofless, rain or shine (and living in Humboldt County then meant I drove through a lot of rain). I’d don my ski jacket and Yankees cap, hop into the spartan cab, and eventually make my way to school, to work, or back home in the Bay Area. The ride was, in a word, bouncy; the Rovers of that era had leaf springs, and the bench seat was upholstered over springs. It’s a wonder I didn’t trampoline out of the vehicle when I drove over potholes (no, the car wasn’t equipped with seatbelts. It was a different era, but still another bad decision on my part. I should have gotten them installed immediately). Despite the Land Rover’s bad, slow, ride, I still had fun driving the car. I even ventured on a couple of non-paved trails for short spells, though I was wise enough to avoid real off-road terrain in a vehicle that was falling apart.
I also learned a few things about car-buying. I learned never to buy a car without good records or without doing extensive research. And I learned to avoid buying cars on impulse.
Much has changed since my Land Rover days, including my taste in cars. The new Land Rover Defender 90, though, is the only SUV-like vehicle I would ever consider buying. After a thorough inspection, of course.
Erik JP Drobey lives in San Francisco. He currently works as the sous chef and sausage meister at Wursthall, to which he commutes via "the twisty way" each morning. Erik chronicles some of his culinary and vehicular adventures on Instagram as @zjpd.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.