Cross Country in a Series One

As a rule, Brandon Rabbie buys Land Rovers that require an adventure to get back home safely. No matter where it comes from-Canada, Colorado, or Australia-he wants to drive it home under its own power. As a result, I got a call from Brandon telling me that “I bought that Series One 107 that Timm Cooper is selling. Do you want to drive it back with me?” All I knew was that three days later, I was on a plane with him headed to Seattle to pick up the car. I knew this truck would work flawlessly. When else would you get the chance to drive across the United States in a Timm Cooper-built Series One 107?

Baby 107" on small tires
All the right guages
All the right knobs

Having owned a Series One 86", I know what I am getting myself into. Driving one of these machines is unbearably loud, brutally uncomfortable, and probably one of the most dangerous experiences of my life.

Let me describe a Series One for you. They don’t come equipped… at all. They have four drum brakes that pull you whichever way the wind is blowing. As seats, Land Rover stuffed foam into green plastic bags and mounted them on a wooden box frame that is not attached to anything. No armrests. No headrests. No sun visors. No radio. No cupholders. No A/C. No floor mats. No seat belts. No dash or interior. These trucks are made up of thin, vibrating sheets of aluminum that seem to harmonize perfectly at 50 mph. It has nothing and it's perfect.

I am not being funny here, this is how they are. Take a tin box and paint it green. Get inside that tin box; strap it to an old ladder and put some wheels on it. There is nothing crazier than driving one of these cars. I love that feeling so much. I hope you now understand why I was so eager to drive over 3500 miles in one with one of your best friends. Seems okay, doesn't it? However, let's not forget our friend John Costello! The three grown men (one a little heavier than the other two, and who acquired a nasty hemorrhoid the day before flying out) in a soft top Series One 107 Pick-up powered by — whatever ran those Penny Racers Cars you had as a kid.

Preparation H prepared

Now, this is no ordinary Series One. It was built by a very special craftsmen named Timm Cooper. If you don’t know who Timm Cooper is then let me give you some background. He is the Carroll Shelby of Land Rovers. He doesn’t restore old Land Rovers or slap LS engines in them, he re-engineers them from the ground up. Want your Series II rolling on 42” tires, locked Eaton axles, driven by a completely serviceable American engine putting out 350hp yet still keep the classic design lines of a vintage Land Rover? Call Timm. Some people will give him shit for modifying an 80” bulkhead but let me say this, if your 80” bulkhead is attached to a Land Rover that can out perform a brand new Ford Raptor, would you do it? I think the answer is yes. We owe a lot to what Timm has built and engineered over the years. He is a true Land Rover nut in the purest and unpurist way.

Timm's Series 109

What does Brandon’s particular 107” have? A switch for your headlights, 5 gauges situated in-front of the middle seat which your knees push up against. Pedals that push down into the floor like you are driving a forklift. A split windshield that is made up of left over stain glass from a church in Birmingham, England. And a fuel tank thats under the passengers green foam bag. And a serious doughnut on the hood… thats two feet in front of your face. Glad we only bought 4 tires. I bet this “toughened” glass will protect us from unforeseen harm. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, it’s exhilarating and makes you feel 18 years old again.

The simplest and deadliest dash

Chevy 327
These British tractors put out 50hp new. This 107 has around seven times that.

The 107 is powered by a Chevy 327 with a hot cam that really lights it up over 3k. NP435 tranny to Series transfercase, Series HD axles with 3.54 Range Rover diffs, and a disc brake conversion up front. P38 power steering and a custom truck bed in the back. It’s stout and quick and absolutely nothing rattles. It is a well built, stripped down machine that will last forever. These upgrades and modifications now allow this tractor that was first intended to max out at 50mph, hit 80mph in roughly 6 seconds.

Second modification after the tires - a shoe

The only downside to traveling at 80mph is the canvas soft top would flap uncontrollably up and down and slap anything close by. To eliminate this we stuffed shoes, shop towels and anything else we could fit up there. Don’t be surprised when a size 11 shoe would fall on your head every couple hours... just stuff it back up there.

When we arrived at Timm’s house in Seattle we thought the 107 would need a couple of things to get it ready for the long haul. Seat belts would be a good thing to have, so we hooked some in and made sure they were properly zip-tied down really tight. We fitted new 35” tires on, to keep the revs in a sweeter spot which helped our miles-per-smile. No need for a spare, four will do. We cut some plexiglass for side windows and we also fitted a random canvas top on that Timm had laying around… just incase it rained… Other than that it was good to go. Runs better then most modern cars.

We still had panel gaps and no weather seals like all old Land Rovers do. And when I mean zero weather seals I mean we had to use two whole rolls of duct tape everywhere to seal up the little gaps. Because 16 hours in a Land Rover Series One for three thousand, five hundred miles can get a little tiring and any slight improvements are the best improvements. It was like taking a 16 hour flight everyday for a week straight, on the wing of a 747.

Brandon and I stood back and looked at the truck. Looked under it, shook and tapped on things… I guess we are ready to hit the road as nothing was leaking or loose.

That night we set out on our maiden voyage cross country. Portland was our first stop as we had to pick up John Costello who was flying in to join us. We also wanted to check out the All British Field Meet that was kindly hosted by the Pacific Coast Rover Club. Our friend Jeff Briggs set up a wonderful get together and dinner that night at Toby and Nicole Pond’s house. Toby is the US dealer for Scheel-mann Automotive Seats. Paul Van Orden was there with his 101 Forward Control and Brian Hall from Defenders Northwest. It still amazes me wherever I go, Land Rover owners are always the most accommodating people I meet. We shared stories and laughs all night long.

The next morning we arrived at the ABFM. Terri-Ann was there along with most PCRC members, Timm and Erich Neal drove down that morning from Seattle. It was an amazing time seeing the West Coast Land Rover enthusiast. We sadly had to leave the ABFM a bit early as we were now going to be driving for the first time with all three of us together and needed to lay some miles down as this was officially the start of our cross country trip. Our goal that day was to make it to Ontario, Oregon before night fall. But first we needed to drive to the top of Mount Hood to take in the sights.

TeriAnn is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

The 107 felt a bit snug now as we all tried to find our most comfortable seating positions. Brandon was driving, John took the middle seat and I was on the far right. I would stick my foot out the window to allow John more space. We found the most limiting part was shoulder space. From this point on to New York, our shoulders would sway and bounce simultaneously with every curve and bump in the road.

We drove up to Mt. Hood which was incredible. We really had nothing to do for the next week so why not do some sightseeing on our way back. We met a Defender owner at the top of the mountain. He was driving around the states for the next couple of months.

The entire state of Oregon was having major forrest fires that week and the drive east saw us stuck in a cloudy haze like nothing I've seen before. The smell wouldn’t leave the cab of the truck and a thin film of dust and ash followed us all day and night to Ontario, Oregon. The following morning we would wake up to that smell again as we headed into Idaho trying to make it to Wyoming.

Brandon always took the lead while John and I were on rotation on whichever one didn’t seem half delirious as the other. At this point we had a well oiled system going about every hour and a half. We calculated we were getting 9 miles to the gallon on a 10 gallon fuel tank. So every 90 miles we would have to pull over and refuel from our race style spare fuel cans. You read that right, race, not Jerry. But as we all know, Series One the fuel tanks are under the passengers seat. So we would all abandon the truck for 5 minutes, get jackets, hats and other warm clothes out of the pelican cases in the rear, clean the glass, make sure nothing was leaking, take a leak ourselves, rotate drivers and hit the road again. We took 4 hour stints in the drivers seat each. We couldn’t talk to each other when we were driving so on these long night runs we would make sure least two of us were awake. A casual glance over to the driver to make eye contact was a sure assessment that they were ok to see driving. A head nod up and down meant it was time to stop for fuel again.

Sitting bitch took on a whole new level. I would gladly sit bitch in your car for eternity because I believe there is nothing that can describe 16 hours in the middle seat onboard the 107. Remember that split glass windshield? Well now you get to stare at the 2” galvanized metal piece forever. Your right foot would reach far over on the passengers side footwell and your left foot would be touching the drivers gas peddle while four sharp sticks of rebar would be poking up between your crotch. But you had a special task! You were designated ‘Keep The Driver Awake Guy’, and also hi/low beam switcher. For some odd reason the truck’s headlight switch was a 3 position one. So every time a tractor trailer would come barreling down in the opposite lane, the guy sitting in the middle would flick the high beams back low beams with a brief second of complete darkness in-between clicks. Not that it mattered as the 107’s headlights resembled candles flicker in the wind to begin with.

The most enduring section of the trip happen after Alpine Wyoming. We stopped in to see my uncle After having an amazing day at my uncle’s house, and taking a plane tour over the Grand Tetons we had to step back into reality and buckle up and hit the pavement.

We left around 7pm and drove through Yellowstone at night. We were exhausted. We had to get to Casper, Wyoming which was a 6 hour drive from Alpine. The temperature dropped into the 30’s and we were soon wearing two jackets each and had a sleeping bag laying across the three of us. The sky was pitch black and the long straight roads began to play with our senses. What didn’t help was loosing the passenger side window soon after leaving Alpine. We were surprised our shoddy velcro job lasted that long. Don’t get me wrong, we looked for the plexy-glass window but, looking for something clear in pitch darkness is kind of pointless. So we carried on and I immediately realized the far right passenger seat was the worse seat.

We would drive what seemed like endless hours on a straight road without ever seeing another car. It was creepy. No stars as the sky was still still full of smoke. We were driving in complete darkness. The moon was a brilliant burnt orange color because of the recent fires throughout the area. The most out of body feeling of it all was pulling over on the side of the road to refuel. It would get really quiet all of the sudden as you took your headphones of and earplugs out. You would hear nothing. Everything was calm and the air was still. Your ears would be ringing like you just got out of a rock concert.

It was strange because we did so much refueling at such a frequent rate that it all felt like we were stuck in some strange time warp. Didn’t we just fuel up like 5 minutes ago? How are we still on this same straight bit of road? Are we going anywhere? Everything looks the same as the last stop we did. We were delusional, delirious an deaf and it was my turn to drive.

The only problem with me taking over to drive was that my right eye was completely  dried up because I was sitting in the windowless seat for the past 8 hours. My contact was so dried up I had to drive with one eye while the right one was closed trying relieve the dryness. The road was now lined with Pronghorn deer and rabbits waiting to commit suicide. Our pace of 80mph slowed down to 60mph as we neared Casper, Wyoming and found a motel on the outskirts of town. It was 3 in the morning and we were still behind schedule. Brandon made the decision that we need to hit the road by 6am to make up time.

As the guys gathered up their belongings, I went to the front desk to ask for the most murderous looking room that will sleep three guys for just three hours. They had one room in the corner for that. To get formalities out of the way the man behind the desk asked for the make and model of the car, I just pointed to the only monster truck in the parking lot he could see. “We drove that thing… You’ll hear us leave in 3 hours.”

Why only 3 hours of sleep? Well we had to make it to Omaha the next day to stay with our friend Robert Wollschlager. That was our half-way point and we had a 10 plus hour drive ahead of us.

I remember waking up, packing up, and heading out to the truck with mixed emotions. It was amazing that the 107 could carry us this far without any problems, yet it was slowly destroying us with each mile. Choosing places to sit wasn't difficult that morning as the entire interior was wet from not having any windows on the car. All the seats sucked. The slight dampness brought shivers down my spine. After packing up, we hit the road as the sun burned through our windshield. Sunlight melted the dew and warmed the inside of the cab. We all didn't feel better about the day until we filled up at the gas station and had a coffee break.

Brandon removing the window frame because the velcro kept chafing his arm

Fortunately, the drive to Omaha went smoothly. We were warmly welcomed at Robert's house as soon as we pulled up. It wasn't long before we were drunk on beer and Cohibas. There was a Rover get-together organized by Rob, and it was good to see familiar faces again and share stories.

We went to the hardware store the next morning to make some "improvements" to the truck. The windows were cut from new plexiglass and sealed to the doors with 4 inch wide Gorilla tape this time. To make sure the canvas top was taut, we zip-tied more things down and found a wood rod that could hold six shop towels over our heads. An hour later, that canvas top gave up. What started as a tiny slit above the driver's seat, slowly turning into full-blown cowboy tassels flapping in the wind. As we removed the top, we noticed dark clouds on the horizon. It was time to get a plan in place, so we headed to Lowe's for even more "improvements".

We bought one black 48"x52" tarp (esthetics matter), rivet punch, ratchet straps, tape, and rivet punch. The three of us attacked our new problem like surgeons undergoing surgery. For the perfect fit, Brandon measured out the windshield tabs and punched new rivet holes. It was done so well we wondered how many times he had done it before. To reinforce the tarp, John added tape to the underside. My goal was to give the tarp a nice snug fit by adding braces inside. For added security, we wrapped a ratchet strap over the top and pulled on the back corners. The fact that it looked like shit means it will stay put. We were again pushed back on our schedule because of this.

We climbed in and hit the road, heading straight into a torrential downpour. Are you familiar with the noise rain makes when it hits plastic? At 80 mph, it was now amplified tenfold. Due to a lack of circulating air, the temperature in the cab steadily rose. There was an unbearable amount of humidity. I thought your mother told you to never put a plastic bag over your head? Yeah, I thought so too. All of us started to feel better after we opened the windows to let air flow in. However, we discovered a new problem. There was now water seeping through the joint between the windshield and frame. The seal isn't there. Inside, little bubbles formed and dripped down to our feet. At least the driver had a windshield wiper. However, the passenger did not.

New gauges were installed

After burning through Ohio and Pennsylvania, the reality of going back to the day job in New York began to set in. Even though I didn't want to go home, I was looking forward to taking a hot shower and sleeping. As we entered the Appalachian mountains, we knew we were almost home. As we approached the city, we paid more and more tolls and stopped at familiar gas stations and rest stops. While entering the Lincoln Tunnel, we received several thumbs up from people taking cell phone photos. It was little known to them that we just endured hell.

Was it difficult? Yes, absolutely. Is it something I would do again? Yes, of course. Expedition rigs of today seem disconnected from the experience of travel. All of us are enclosed in a temperature-controlled environment with every amenity at our fingertips. You're able to have a conversation or plug in and zone out to your own music at a constant 70 degrees. With a giant infotainment screen, you can keep track of your progress and find out everything you need to know about your car. These days, you are snugly wrapped in plush leather seats that bolster, heat, and even cool you. What happened to the essence of traveling? When did your car have to be more accommodating than your house? Traveling is best when you get thrown off guard and everything you expect turns out to be different than you expected. I love the smell of the air when you drive through different places. The Sun burning your arm as it hangs out the window, and the harsh reality of the temperature dropping rapidly as the night draws closer. To me, traveling should be an immersive experience, not something you drive though from the comfort of your own car. I promise you'll enjoy traveling more if you pack less.

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