Landies: The love that never dies
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Melissa Laver had to prove her worth before she could buy Ruby, a 1973, Series III short-wheelbase Land Rover.
And the person who needed convincing was Doug Penman who had owned the Landie since 1984, when he was living in the UK.
“It was grey, rusty, in the back of this dealer’s place,” says Doug. “I bought it and started to renovate it.”
That was in 1986. He bought a new chassis, galvanised it, then rebuilt it from the ground up — “My wife and I spent many nights in the garage, putting it together”.
The back tray, screen, bonnet, dashboard, steering column, diffs, axles, hubs and roof are all original, and any steel parts were galvanised.
He also converted the original 2.25-litre petrol engine to the Rover 3.5 V8 — no, he’s not a mechanic, but he does swear by Haynes manuals.
A standard Series III gearbox was obtained, fitted with overdrive and attached to the V8 via an adaptation plate. The final flourish was a change in colour to Ruby red, hence the vehicle’s name, plus 1990s Defender seats and a more rugged towbar.
Today’s refined vehicle options weren’t available back then, so this Landie remained a rugged device, and although it’s clearly not as it was when it rolled out of the factory, that seems fitting given that even its Defender replacement was very much a grandpa’s axe.
It was in production for 67 years, with updates rather than redesigns, so when I visited the factory some years ago, engineers could point out a handful parts allegedly unchanged from day one.
So why sell Ruby? It seems Doug now has a number of Land Rovers, and this one was sitting on a hoist, not getting used.
When Melissa, also a member of the Land Rover Owners Club, rang asking if he knew of one for sale, he thought about it. “I decided she was the right person to sell it to, she’d look after it.”
Melissa is passionate about the breed. The passion began with a two-week Land Rover trek in Iceland. Melissa then decided a Land Rover was the perfect tow vehicle for her 1967 Airstream caravan, but admits she didn’t expect the Landie — not the caravan — to be the star of the pair.
She’d been driving Mercs nd went from a black 2009 E350 coupe to a Defender 110. “My friends thought I’d lost it.”
Melissa has since retired from a career in corporates and business advisory roles to relocate and build a house, before changing focus to assist others to achieve their calling.
With the house complete, she bought a near-new Defender as a modern mate for her classic.
She’d always wanted a convertible Land Rover, “These things, you can take the roof off, take the sides off, it’s like a Tonka Toy for grown-ups.”
So she rang Doug for advice, which is when she discovered the extent of his stable.
It sounds as though he put Melissa through the wringer before entrusting Ruby to her care — but clearly Doug knew how enthused she was.
She’s even got the new one set up for camping: with a self-containment certificate so she can head into the wilds, stay anywhere, and leave no trace behind when she leaves.
She has, however, no plans to head seriously off-road. “I love the Land Rover for the journey, not for the sake of getting stuck in stuff. I’m drawn to mountains and rivers, and this literally gets you close.
“It’s ideal for accessing back-country huts and if there’s a river in the way, that’s fine. ”
You can guarantee a Series III Landie will take that in its stride. Originally designed as a stop-gap agricultural vehicle to keep Rover alive after the war, and launched 70 years ago, it used aluminium panels, as steel was rationed, and a simple production process.
The Series III launched in 1971, and is the most common. It was the first to use synchromesh on all four gears, it replaced the metal dash with plastic, and moved the instruments from the middle, to the driver side.
As we cruise the suburbs, top down, the growl of a V8 idling along adding to the undeniable aura of a vehicle like this, Melissa mentions she plans a soft top, but otherwise, Ruby will stay as she is.