Day 1: Toronto to San Francisco

This trip began as, all of our trips do, with optimism.  Some say we are extremely late for everything. We prefer to think that we’re just extremely optimistic about what can be accomplished in a given amount of time.  We’re not hanging around early, waiting for things to start, like a bunch of pessimists.  

Despite initial gestures toward proper planning and efficiency, such as registering the Range Rover a week ahead of time and packing 2 days ahead of time, I managed to thrust us into panic mode on day one by scheduling our car to the airport on optimist time, rather than on Greater Toronto Area rush-hour reality time.  We managed to make the flight, though I’m not sure we deserved to.  Optimists: 1 Pessimists: 0

The flight from Toronto to San Francisco was delightfully unmemorable.  No delays, no unacceptably precocious children, no chatty Cathy in the next seat.  I watched “Vacation” and wrote my first automotive review piece, on the 2016 Mini Clubman.  We arrived in San Francisco with plenty of time to kill, since the Range Rover wouldn’t be ready for another 48 hours.

The Tartan Prancer from “Vacation” ( Check out the promo video here !)

The Tartan Prancer from “Vacation” (Check out the promo video here!)


I booked us the cheapest possible rental car, hoping we’d get a total shitbox that I could tear to shreds in my review.  Unfortunately, they did not have a Mitsubishi Mirage.  Instead, we were “upgraded” to a bronze 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe.  He might has well have said, “I’ve upgraded you to a Dodge Grand Caravan!”  It’s not that the Santa Fe is a bad car, it’s just that it ranks pretty low on the sex-o-meter.  

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe.

We actually warmed quickly to the Santa Fe.  It’s an easy-driving, practical, transportation appliance.  It’s lovely, in the way that a metallic grey LG washer/dryer pair is lovely.  We loaded it up with our stuff, and set off for our first stop: Chipotle.  We will eat at Chipotle a lot on this trip, as Chipotles are scarce in southern Ontario. It is a delicacy of the highest order, on par with beluga caviar and Ferrero Rocher truffles. 

Our faux-mex craving sated, we dropped in to visit Harry Hayashi, our trusty mechanic, for an update on Mr. Barry White’s condition.  In typical fashion, he was brief, and we could tell that he wanted us to leave.  He’s actually a pretty friendly guy; he’s just not burdened with a need for pleasantries.  I asked him about the 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500E sitting in his shop.  His face lit up, and he told us about how they were built by Porsche back then, and how one of his customers once had him install a Porsche horn in his 500E, because the Mercedes horn was too weak.  

One of the Range Rover's roommates during his stay at the shop. 

One of the Range Rover's roommates during his stay at the shop. 

Anyway, the Rover was up on the lift, and pretty well taken apart underneath. Dave and I walked around under the truck and marveled at the robustness of its construction.  The reasons for the Range Rover’s off road prowess became apparent. I’ve seen Range Rovers up on ramps, demonstrating wheel articulation and approach angles, but I’d never really gotten a close look at how it’s possible.  The Classic used soft steel coil springs, paired with a Boge self-leveling strut attached to a central “A” frame suspension link. It’s an impressive balancing act. 

That night, we visited with old friends VA and Kip in Novato.  We played with their adorable baby, Vesper, and caught up over a couple bottles of local red wine.  When it was time to turn in, we spent the night in their spare room, which does triple duty as guest room, home office, and horror-film memorabilia collection. Dave and I each used reassuring self-talk to keep the scary slashers out of our dreams.

Dave with Vesper. He's a natural. 

Dave with Vesper. He's a natural. 

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.