Since telling Opere that I want to get a 15 year old Defender in pre-restored condition I have visited and telephoned him many times. He knows my specs, but each time somehow the ones he has don’t quite fit, or belong to someone else. Then, finally, a couple of Saturdays ago he said he thought a friend had something I might like. He jumped in my Subaru and off we went across districts of Accra I had never seen or heard of, through Abalemkie, Tesano and North Kaneshie. Finally in a district called Bubiashie, down a busy, narrow, rough and tumble market road are all kinds of mechanical hardware strewn about on piles along the side of the road: old engines, petrol tanks, wheels and whole vehicles ranging from whole one-ton trucks to small sedans. There in a parking area to one side are not one, but three Land Rover Defender 110s. Judging from the numbers on the back windows it appeared one was 2002, one was 2003, and one was 1995. At 15 years old the latter meets one of my criteria: legal to go back to Canada.
The 300 Turbo Diesel Injection (Tdi) engine (as opposed to 200 Tdi) was one attractive feature, another was the solid roof rack and rear ladder, a must have expedition feature. Some personality is added by the insignia of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)on the doors. It has wiring for external audio and video, the door on the rear fender gives access to a 220 output plug – perhaps it was used for public education in remote areas. Covered with the red harmatan seasonal dust it looks anything but pretty, and the aluminum body has plenty of dents on the sides and fenders. The odometer reads 180,000 Km, but neither vintage nor mileage seem to be important when assessing vehicles here. Most of the vehicles in Ghana are brought in used from Europe and by the time they get to someone often no-one is sure of the year and mileage, well, what it looks like is usually more important to the buyer. In the case of this vehicle, judging by the appearance those were probably 180,000 very tough kilometres, especially if it was used in the bush.
Opere looks it over and says the motor will need a rebuild and that the clutch, brakes and rear axle will probably all need to be replaced. However, he recommends I buy it, I just need to negotiate. The owner is not there right now, but his “brother” is, who tells us it is a driveable vehicle for which they want Ghana Cedi 9,000, or the equivalent of about $6,500. Opere says up front that it will cost the equivalent ofGHC 4,000 (about $3,500) to do all the mechanical work, including the motor.
After thinking it over for a couple of days I decide to go back and look at it again on my own. I have them start it up, a process much delayed by the fact that the vehicle does not have a battery. When they finally find a battery it starts grudgingly, and spews an awful lot of smoke. It is very difficult to engage the clutch, so I forego the normal test-drive. I already know it needs lots of work, that is part of the package.
Without ever meeting the owner, over the next few days I negotiate via Opere and we close the deal, moving from his asking price of GHC 9,000 ($6,500) and my offering GHC 5,000 ($3,000) we settle on GHC 7,000 ($5000). That is about half what I have been asked for restored Defenders of the same vintage, but this one needs alot of work. At this price I am probably not gaining much financially over buying a restored version, but I am attracted by the restoration itself. That way I will be able to able to manage the process so the end product suits our needs and tastes and I will gain a better knowledge of the vehicle and how it works, which may just come in handy when I start using it and something breaks.
There were some curious developments during the course of getting this vehicle. At one point after I have concluded my telephone negotiations without ever actually meeting Gomez I go out and am talking to someone who says, yes he is Gomez, but who still wants the GHC9,000 like we had never had the negotiations. I excuse myself and leave and call Opere to say Gomez is crazy. Opere calls me back in 10 minutes and says that Gomez was not the person I was just speaking with and he is still good for the GHC 7,000. Was some imposter trying to scam me? If so, how did he know GHC 9,000 was the asking price? In the end the real Gomez calls me to apologize and say that one of his colleagues that did not know he was negotiating with me had misunderstood, and he is still good for GHC 7,000.
So after months of stalking Land Rover owners, after leaving my business card under windshield wipers all over town, and after many visits out to Opere’s Land Rover shop under the tree we have finally found our Defender. There is a lot of work to do, perhaps more work than I realize, to make it into an attractive, comfortable, functional vehicle to explore West Africa in.