“I need you to talk me out of being stupid.”
You know what kind of day it’s going to be when your phone buzzes and you hear those first words on the other end of the magical string. The disembodied voice has already made his decision, but he wants to go through the exercise anyway. He wants you to tell him whatever BMW he’s going to interview, or whatever Mercedes-Benz on which he’s about to click Buy-It-Now, is either a bad idea, redundant to his current fleet, or both.
In this case the stupidity revolves around your friend driving an hour to see a Range Rover County LWB he has, in his head, probably already bought. Meet Chris.
Chris is what those who have mainstream hobbies — like scrapbooking, cooking, or Bonnie and Clyde-style bank robbery — would call Seriously Afflicted. His father was similarly afflicted, having wrenched on Can-Am cars back when they were the fastest track weapons on four wheels. Back when racing cars were banned for having more than 1500 horsepower and loud paint.
Chris took a different path. He decided to race motorcycles. Old ones, from Japan, with jewel-like engines, magnesium wheels, and the kind of charm that comes from knowing the brake lever is long enough to distort the front brake calipers on really fast courses like Daytona.
My friend is quick to point out these old Yamahas are speedy but not crazy-fast like the new generation of two-wheeled organ donor cards. They won’t run out to 200 mph. I’m always quick to add I think falling off a bike at 100 rather than 200 means you get to live through the subsequent pain.
Fittingly, somewhere along the line Chris got into old BMWs.
His first was a 320iS, subtly hot-rodded with 15-inch wheels and fat tires, Recaro seats and upgraded suspension hardware. A tree fell on it in his driveway. Chris loved that car, and still waxes poetic about it. He’ll send me Craigslist postings suggesting he should own another. I tell him E30s are better cars. We laugh.
Later, Chris bought a 1974 Bavaria. It turned out to not have any frame rails, and I’m pretty sure a tire fell off while he was towing it home. Another friend, Dale, and I dragged it out to Dale’s farm. It has donated some parts, but mostly it slumbers near a dilapidated barn and is now known as the Weed Bav.
The E28 535i, for which Chris built some goofy M30 big-six with VW bug pistons in order to modestly boost compression, got punched so hard in the rear by a Grand Marquis-driving octogenarian — who “hadn’t had an accident in 50 years” — the transmission tunnel buckled. It wasn’t a particularly nice E28, but no car should have to die like that.
Chris has had better luck with his exceptionally clean E32 735i 5-speed, an ultra-rare Zinnoberrot-on-black example pushing 200k miles. I helped him bring it home one Monday afternoon, having had no idea how far Madison, WI is from Minneapolis, MN. (Answer — really far).
His E34 M5, a black-on-black creampuff with less than 70k miles, has recently coughed to life after a two-year motor rebuild. The previous owner had done something bad to the engine and Chris bought it for a song. In olden days, only the most exalted BMW gurus with psychic connections to Paul Rosche’s frontal lobe could rebuild this era of Motorsport powerplant. Not so much any more. I heard Chris’s M5 the other night, and it sounded fantastic, but what was the raw gas smell?
The other cars in his fleet? Some Honda box his wife drives and, for Chris’s winter wandering, a Chevy S10 pickup rusty well beyond its eight years. And that brings us to the Range Rover.
Really, I know very little about it. I gave it a cursory gander on a snowy day. It’s black. The rear hatch is rusty because they all are. The aluminum body is ripple-free though some trim parts seem to be falling off. It may be a 1994 or 1995, depending on whether or not it has the later, Discovery-style dashboard. The wood and leather are worn but not garbage. When Chris bought it, the Rover needed shocks, tires and a couple of door handles, which seem to break if you look at them funny. In almost all aspects, except for the door handle issue, it’s like every E23 7-Series you’ve ever considered buying.
So did Chris fix any of these things? Not initially. Being a good little hoarder — he has shelves and shelves of vintage Yamaha parts and enough bits to assemble another M5 engine — Chris has already sourced a Range Rover Classic parts truck. The rear hatch is not rusty, which indicates the previous owner had made some kind of deal for some part of his chi. There is all manner of aftermarket spookiness under the hood in the form of wiring and extra ignition components. Which, come to think of it, may be stock. The rear differential and driveshaft are not currently installed. It doesn’t matter; a Range Rover will drag itself around like a front-wheel-drive car if need be.
I talked Chris out of neither the County nor the Classic. Maybe I’m just a bad friend. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always toyed with the idea of a Range Rover and I want to see how goes his ownership experience. Sure, they’re British. Could they really be that bad, eclipsing the worst of even American cars from the 1970s? They intrigue me in the way that blowfish intrigues me – fun while it lasts, could kill you in an instant.
Besides, if things go poorly, I’m sure there’s another tree near Chris’s driveway.