In this ride, the joy lies in simplicity
For Ric Legge, the itch to own a Land Rover, that iconic British answer to the American Jeep, started early.
Like a lot of children of the 1960s and ‘70s, Legge, 52, spent Sunday afternoons watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” which often featured the dapper zoologist Marlin Perkins tooling around the Serengeti or some other far-flung locale in a safari-rigged Land Rover.
Perkins, fans will remember, delivered interesting commentary about wildlife while his square-jawed cohost, Jim Fowler, fought for his life with one or another example of the local fauna.
It was exciting, glamorous stuff, not the least of which was the rugged Land Rover, a sheet-metal embodiment of exotic adventure.
Legge, who’s from Galveston but resides now in League City, found his 1966 Land Rover — a seven-seat wagon with left-hand drive — for sale about two years ago on a Houston used car lot specializing in imports from the United Kingdom.
“It had not been running for 25 years,” he said.
He has since invested about 600 hours in a frame-off restoration of the Land Rover, he said.
While the phrase frame-off restoration conjures images of pristine paint and various other bling, you won’t see that on Legge’s Land Rover. He’s focused on a mechanical restoration and some new paint, while leaving the Rover with all the battle scars it has earned in 52 years of four-wheel-drive life.
But while the Rover retains its rugged good looks, it has been taking it pretty easy under Legge’s ownership, he said.
“It has never been off road since I’ve had it,” he said. “I don’t plan to take it off the road.”
The first Land Rovers, the prototypes of which were built on a Jeep chassis and with Jeep components, began rolling off English assembly lines in 1948. The brand has survived numerous corporate owners, including Ford Motor Co. for a while, and its models have followed the same trajectory as Jeep Cherokees, Toyota Land Cruisers and the like — getting progressively bigger, more civilized and more complicated over the years.
Legge’s Series IIA retains the off-the-grid appeal of those originals, however. It’s driven by a simple in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a three-speed gearbox driving solid axles with permanently locked hubs.
And for Legge, as with many fans of classic four-wheel-drives, that’s the Rover’s real beauty — its tinker-ability. The systems are simple and mechanical, easy to work on with common tools and common automotive knowledge.
“I like working on it,” Legge said. “I like to keep improving it. For me, it’s a hobby. When I get bored, I like to go outside and piddle around with it.”