Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-53: Rust Gets in Your Eyes

This truck is going to drive me to drink — and I don’t mean the cases of LaCroix that I’m killing working on it night after night to prep for the Mother Country Trail. (I hate the fact that this stuff is a hipster icon, but it’s actually not bad, and sugar and sodium free. Also, it’s easy to get at Costco, so I’m stuck with its affected neon cans and the six pack of grapefruit that comes in the Costco pack. I refuse to call it the stuck-up “pamplemousse” it says on the can, and I often pepper my sentences with French.)

The great enemy of the Disco is rust, the silent killer which has taken so many fantastic Discoverys and Range Rover Classics to their crunchy death in this area. Now, Duncan isn’t as bad as Spenny, my 1993 Range Rover Classic County LWB. Spenny’s in such bad shape that the bottom of the driver’s side A pillar has dropped out. I plan to fix Spenny. I bought a welder. I did not buy classes at the local trade school in advanced automotive welding. Yet. Spenny is my summer project.

They say Land Rover has been making owners into mechanics since 1948, but mine are going to get me ASE Certified.

The quest against rust begins at the rear axle. Like many parts of the Land Rover drivetrain, these are somewhat overbuilt. They’re floating axles, which means that if you break an axle shaft, the wheel will not fall off, which is a good thing. The casings are strong cast iron. The unique trailing arm and A-frame links make it very flexible.

On this robuste et bien construit platform, Land Rover capped the differential with a steel cap that is slightly thicker than a Solo cup. After 24 years in the Northeast, this has perforated a little. When it perforates, a constant stream of 80W90 gear oil slowly drips out of it, leaving a calling card wherever I go. I’ve left my mark across New Jersey, from the liquor store to the supermarket to the curling club. Finally, I just ran it dry, and learned that this mostly kills a differential in about 7,000 miles, which is honestly far more than I expected. A crappy diff made it all the way to southwest Virginia and Ohio for the Mid-Atlantic Rally in October, so just think of the possibilities with a good one!

Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.
Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.

Since the goal of this project is to minimize downtime, I got another axle casing from a Land Rover owner in New York who was breaking a 1995 Range Rover Classic, and carried them around in the back of the truck for two months instead of being proactive and working on them. Finally, I got sick of the rear drivetrain rumbling more than a 747 down the runway at Kennedy, and I stripped down, primed up, and painted up the new axle. Following this, I rebuilt the components, swapping over my brakes, hubs, (new) differential, brake pipes, (new) ABS sensors, and diff breathers. This took three weeks in between working in the city, my other life obligations, and being exasperated when I got home from work some nights.

About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.
About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.

 

This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.
This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.

Finally, the new rear axle was attached, torqued, and ready to go. I drove the truck up and down the street, was happy. I drove it to curling on the back roads, felt courageous, and drive it home on the Interstate.

Now this was all well and good; it was far less rumbly on the road, and I was no longer flooding the parking lot of the curling club with gear oil. Get that stuff on the ice and you’re not having a good day.

But…the silent killer, rust, had struck again, at the exhaust. I have some kind of wonky exhaust setup, a Borla center muffler in a sort of funky stockish setup otherwise. It keeps rusting out in different places, and at this point it’s more held together by Advance Auto repair sections than it is by its own integrity. Part of the plan is to get a new stainless Magnaflow cat-back exhaust and new catalytic converters and Y-pipe, but not until I get other things (see below) done.

So I got it all apart, went to Advance Auto, where I’m now “The Exhaust Connector and Gear Oil Guy” (I can’t leave without at least a quart, it’s a compulsion), and cobbled it together. For good measure, since the output stub on the muffler has split away partially from the body of the muffler, I slathered it in that most gloriously Cheap Bastard item, exhaust repair paste. This fix has to last maybe 100 miles around town, without my becoming too notable to the township police. The silence is now deafening, and kind of freaking me out after years of exhaust leaks.

Use of this requires low expectations.
Use of this requires low expectations.

The next steps? There’s going to be a lot of work to do underneath the truck. First off, my transfer box is also leaky, and thus rumbly. The rear diff may have been thirsty, but if was a college kid on spring break in Lauderdale, my transfer box is a barely-functional alcoholic.

Since the goal is to upgrade, I went to Connecticut and picked up a new one from Paul Grant, a noted Land Rover breaker. The 1994 Discovery came with the LT230T box, but I upgraded to the more refined LT230Q (Q is for Quiet) box that was featured from 1997-1999. It has more and differently cut gears, which takes some of the slop out of it and makes it quieter. Every little helps.

I got a new gasket and seal kit from Eric “Extension 231” Riston at Atlantic British, so my goal this week is to take apart the new transfer box and reseal it. I can’t say it won’t ever leak, because it’s a Land Rover, but by God I’ll try!

After that, there’s going to be probably two weeks or so in the garage accomplishing several tasks. In addition to swapping the transfer box, I need to replace the kickdown and throttle cables, which means taking part of the transmission apart. That requires a new filter, and new mounts, and new fluid. I’m also going to make new breathers for both the transfer box, and extend them with my extended diff breathers under the bonnet. I’ll install the aforementioned new exhaust, fabricate a new heat shield for the center muffler, and I want to heat shield the starter a bit better too.

I have 53 days to go. It’s a long time, and it’s no time. I’d like to have this major driveline work done by the end of March so that April can be focused on little bits and bobs for comfort and organization. I’m also hoping to get a trial run in, maybe up to Vermont or Upstate New York, so I’m not doing trial by fire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Been there, done that. It sucked.)

The image of crossing the Sierras and seeing “Welcome to California” drives me through all this, as well as the goal of seeing good friends on the other end at the Mendo_Recce rally. This will be a huge personal accomplishment, fueled by lots of calorie- and sodium-free hipster water.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-93: Origins

Driving across the country solo is something that’s been on my list most of my life. In middle school and high school I’d plot routes out in Microsoft Streets and Trips and flip through atlases and National Park Unigrid brochures, linking together the highlights of the nation. In 2006, my family loaded up our trusty Yukon XL and drove out on I-70 for a week in Colorado, a place our family has made many memories on fly-drive trips. As fantastic a trip as that was, though, there was still a quarter of the journey to the coast left.

For the past eleven years, I’ve been driving Land Rovers from the early 1990s, trucks which in my case never seem to work quite right. I’ve never had one that was reliable enough to do 7,000 miles in one shot. That has hopefully changed, however; after three years, I think that my 1994 Discovery is going to be ready, with a three-month final push.

There is always a goal, of course. Last April, I really enjoyed flying out to the Mendo_Recce rally in Northern California, meeting people I’ve talked to online every day for years. It’s cemented itself on my annual events list.

As I thought over that trip in the months after, I thought of how driving myself to Mendo 2018 from New Jersey be a perfect way to set a goal to get my truck fixed up, finally.

So, I’ve devised the journey for two weeks, starting in late April 2018, dubbed “The Mother Country Trail.”

My route will take me across the East and Great Plains to Colorado, where at Denver I’ll jump off the Interstates and hit the Blue Highways, winding across the Rockies and into Moab, Utah. There, I have a booking to drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, considered one of the top off-road trails in the country for scenery. After three days on the trail, it’s across Nevada and the Sierras to Mendocino National Forest and the event. Afterwards, the plan is to head south down the spine of California to Death Valley or the Mojave Road, then perhaps some poking around in Arizona before heading home via I-40.

The name “Mother Country Trail” has two origins. The Trail part comes from the Emigrant Trails and Westward Expansion Trails that the route will trace part of; the California Trail, the Old Spanish Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Oregon Trail. Parts of the journey will be directly in the footsteps of John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Jedeidah Smith.

“Mother Country” comes from my aviation hobby. In 1973, United Airlines began an ad campaign to promote their extensive coast-to-coast network. In 1972, they’d had a very successful ad campaign using Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” so successful that the Guthrie estate wanted twice the royalties for 1973. Looking for an alternative in the same vein, their ad agency commissioned a jingle called “Mother Country,” and had Bonnie Koloc, a folk singer from Chicago, sing it for the commercials.

The lyrics (see them in full here, along with more historic info on the campaign) begin with a verse that I think sums up the ethos of this trip pretty well, as well as the personal journey it represents:

Have you seen the other side
of where you live?
Don’t you know this great big land
has got so much to give? 
Mother Country’s got 
her arms open wide.
Don’t let your good land 
pass you by.

 

And this more chipper, “Teach the World to Sing” style version:

And further, this brand-enforcing one with some killer 747 footage at the end:

After many years of poking around the world in various ways, it’s now time to undertake a serious exploration of the homeland. I’ve seen the Other Side of Where I Live several times, and I’ve in fact gotten all the way there overland by Amtrak (a fantastic 2010 trip I may summarize on this site one day). There was, of course, that family trip to Colorado, still one of our most legendary adventures. But to be alone much of the way in a truck I rebuilt wholly by myself, that’s a new level of personal achievement.

I’ll detail some of the preparations here during the run up to departure in April, especially as some things might warrant some technical write-ups for the Land Rover crowd, and I plan to blog from the road.