Day 0: Don't Hold Your Breath

Sometimes the best plan is no plan. 

Ask a Swiss person, and they will tell you that the key to a successful road trip is careful planning.  When you work ahead of time to plan your route, secure lodging, and make plans with friends, you ensure that you’ll make the most of your time on the road.  I am guessing that there are not a lot of Swiss people who own classic Range Rovers. 

The planning for our road trip began last month when we decided to combine our plans to “take a nice trip somewhere” with our plans to buy our dear friend Douglas’ 1993 Range Rover Classic. We knew the truck could handle a cross-country trip, as Doug had driven it from NYC to San Francisco a few months back.  When we told him about our plans, Doug immediately contacted his master mechanic, Harry Hayashi at Pacific Motors in San Francisco, and had him give the truck a thorough inspection.  

A Range Rover Classic in it's natural habitat.

Harry noted a noise emanating from the rear of the drivetrain when the vehicle was moving.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that this was emanating from the transfer case, but Harry’s uncanny instinct led him to find that a few teeth had broken loose from the pinion in the rear differential.  The solution:  a new rear axle, and new bearings while we’re in there.

The noisy differential had broken some teef.

The noisy differential had broken some teef.

Having owned only relatively new, relatively trouble-free, or relatively common cars over the years, it’s never occurred to me that there are, in fact, a limited number of any given part available for a car that’s been out of production for twenty years.  A new rear axle is not the sort of thing you can just phone the Land Rover parts counter for; you need to be resourceful.  

Miraculously, a shop in North Carolina happened to have the exact parts we needed.  They were packed up and shipped to San Francisco, where they arrived last week. The “new” axle proved to be in great shape.  Harry had gotten the engine block number from the donor vehicle, so he was able to order the set of four rear bearings that would match the axle.  

The new axle is in and looks great, I think. Also note how deliciously rust-free the underbody is. California car FTW.

This week’s lesson is that when you replace the entire rear axle, the resulting clearance at the differential requires shims which are likely different from what was there.  If you’re good with context clues, you already know that these parts are not available from the Land Rover parts counter, either.  Fortunately, Harry found a set and they will be delivered on Thursday afternoon. Our new old Range Rover ought to be ready on Friday afternoon.  Which is great, except that we arrive on Wednesday afternoon and had planned to drive to Santa Barbara on Thursday. 

Leaning on my partner for support on the eve of our departure.   

Leaning on my partner for support on the eve of our departure.


We will arrive in San Francisco tomorrow, having left our brand new LR4 (with it’s silky supercharged Jaguar V6, heavenly air suspension, and working cruise control), nestled safely in our garage where it can’t help anybody.  We’ll get to drive a rental car for 2 days (look for a mini review on whatever we get) before getting our hands on this ancient aluminum brick, which will be fully functional, except for the cruise control. And then? We pray.  We pray to God, to Jah, and to any other available roadside deities, that I won’t have anything else mechanical to write about on this trip.

You might ask me: Michael, how does this affect your plans?  Well, I’ll tell you: not a whole lot. The secret is in my non-Swiss trip planning procedure:

1: Book airfare to start point. The plane wasn’t designed or built by British Leyland, so there’s a good chance you will get there without incident.  

2: Contact old friends who have moved to places along the desired route, and see if they’ll be around. Do your best to sound earnest, like you really believe that you’re going to get there, but MAKE NO FIRM COMMITMENTS. Just string them along until you know what your sitch is. Basically, re-enact your single days.   

3: Identify places you’d like to stay along the route.  Make reservations if you like tempting fate, but keep the cancellation policy handy in the very likely event that you’ll be rescheduling or canceling altogether.  I opted to wait it out until we have possession of a roadworthy vehicle.

4: Plan for special activities, such as skiing in Colorado, hiking in Utah, or contracting chlamydia in Las Vegas.  Pack accordingly, but don’t hold your breath; you’re rolling in 4,401lbs of “Definitely Maybe.”  Look on the bright side, though: you can catch chlamydia almost anywhere!

5: Promise your family that you’ll be home for dinner in New Jersey on Christmas Eve.  Be prepared to buy 2 very expensive last minute tickets with so many connections, you’ll visit the same number of states that you’d planned to drive through.

6: Look at your beautiful copilot and take a moment to appreciate how unbelievably fortunate you are that these are things you’re worried about this Christmas. Depress the brake pedal, shift into “D,” and THUNK! (it’s supposed to make that sound), away we go.