Last June I learned that two of my colleagues at the Canadian High Commission in Accra had each purchased older Land Rovers Defenders which they were restoring to take back to Canada with them at the end of their postings. I was only casually interested until one day Stephane brought his into the CHC grounds. It was a Defender 110, perhaps 1994, painted white and beautifully restored.
I have no prior knowledge of or experience with Land Rovers. Over my 30 year development career I have probably driven a million miles in various Toyotas, Nissans, and Mitsubishis, but rarely did I ride in a Land Rover. The only occasion I can recall was in the remote and very beautiful Rupunni savannah region of southern Guyana some 20 years ago. I spent an afternoon tumbling about in the box of an old Series pick-up, a ride made more interesting by the fact that I and a chain smoking colleague shared the space with a 20 gallon drum of diesel fuel.
The Land Rover has such a classic profile, and Stephane’s restoration was very nice. He had had the interior redone, and the exterior painted and all the fittings replaced. Stephane took me out to Legon on the edge of Accra and introduced me to meet Opere, a Ghanaian Land Rover specialist who maintains a “shop” under a tree surrounded by old Land Rover shells he has scavenged for parts to create some quite lovely classics that he rejuvenates under his tree. Since then I have learned that a great deal of micro-enterprise in Ghana is conducted under trees, which provide shade and protection from the elements.
The Defender got my attention and it was not long before I was googling for “Landy” sites and thinking about what I might actually do with one if I took the plunge. Suddenly I began to think of the destinations that were on our list to see during our time in West Africa in a new light, viewed not via a series of week or two visits via aircraft, but as parts of a more substantive overland trip. The vehicle could have a purpose beyond just giving me a project to keep me entertained during the remainder of my posting in Accra, we can use it to drive out of here on an overland adventure.
There is no question I was attracted to the vehicle before I thought of the trip. The Defender has me quite inspired, for both the rebuild and the travel. In our trip to South Africa in December I bought Africa Overland (Bradt, 2009), which is a great source of tips and ideas for travelling through Africa. In the section dealing with vehicle makes they list Land Rovers first, with the guarded enthusiasm that is typical. Most interesting is their recommendation that the best thing is to “…buy an older model, preferably in good condition, and spending some considerable time fixing it up. How old it should be depends on your mechanical ability, the time and enthusiasm you have, and the depth of your pockets.”
There is another factor that will influence the age of this vehicle and that is whether or not we want to take it back to Canada when we go. We are allowed to ship one vehicle back at the end of our posting, although these are subject to regular Canadian regulations on safety and pollution standards. That is unless the vehicle is 15 years old or older, in which case the requirement to meet safety and pollution standards are waived because it is considered antique. I am not sure that is a good idea, a 15 year old diesel vehicle may have some novelty antique appeal in Canada but it is not going to be practical. I think most owners of older Land Rovers in Canada probably use them as seasonal toys, storing them in winter and bringing them out to go trail blazing in the spring, summer and fall. Nevertheless, it is an option. As to time, I do have lots of that, if not spare time at least lapsed time when someone else can be doing repair and restoration work under my supervision. My pockets are not that deep, but the work is not expensive here and I could certainly sell the vehicle in Canada for as much as it would cost me to purchase and restore it here. If we time the pack-up and shipment of our other goods here right we can send it back to Canada at no additional cost to us or the Canadian taxpayer, in the same container that carries our household goods. We brought our Subaru to Ghana from Canada that way, but we are going to sell it here.
However, when the Bradt Guide was talking about restoration and fix-ups, I somehow think they were addressing an audience in Britain or elsewhere in Europe where the supply of parts and materials, spares and tools, is plentiful, not in Ghana. I only brought a small toolbox with me from Canada to do household chores: a screwdriver, a couple of wrenches, a hammer. I do not have a socket set, or any of the heavy duty wrenches that you need to work on a vehicle. Ghana is not an environment conducive to DIY. However, what they do have is an abundance of skilled auto mechanics and the labour costs are reasonable.
So the idea is to buy an old beat-up Defender and make it into a functional, comfortable, fully outfitted overland vehicle.
“Land Rovers are always sick but never dead”
“Land Rovers don’t leak, they are just marking their territory”
“Land Rovers last longer than their owners do, but that may be because they are so uncomfortable”.