REVIEW:// Land Rover 109 series 3 type stawag Safari - The timeless car

The basics and the character of the Land Rover series haven't changed much since the introduction in 1948. A leafsprung ladderchassis has all-wheeldrive and houses a simple engine - almost every engine will fit. And the construction and mechanics are so simple basic repairs can be done with an everyday toolset and everywhere. This and the ability to make a Landy whatever you think it needs to be can get you hooked and addicted forever.

The very first LR was designed in 1947 by Maurice Wilks (Wilks Brothers). A year later Rover started sales. The use of an alloy of magnesium and alluminum with the exotic name Birmabright made them rust-free and soon Land Rovers became known as imperishable. 

From 1948 on an enourmous amount of variations on the Land Rover theme were produced. If you want to know more about all those try Google on 'Land Rover' (or 'Landrover') in a combination with 'Pink Panther' or 'Cuthbertson' or 'Centaur'. The numbers stand for the length between the axls, in inches: 80, 86, 88, 90, 101, 109, 110, 127, 129, 130 even up to 147". . . In 1976 the One-milionth Landy was produced! Around that time Japanese competition like the cheaper Toyota Landcruiser took over.

Incredible power

4 cylinder Landrover dieselOur Safari has a 2.286 cc 4pot diesel with 60 hp. That doesn't seem much for a 2 tonne lump of all-terrain vehicle. But without any hiccup it proved enough to propel 9 persons and luggage (mind the roofrack) everywhere everytime. The diesel was the Safari Landies fourth engine BTW. Other options - out of many to fit in the enormous space - are the reliable Peugeot 1.9 diesel (65hp) and the Nissan Patrols 6 inline. It may seem attractive to choose the RV8. A 135 hp and 3.5 litres displacement does sound like a nice one. But hey, it will drink more than a shiny Murci and besides that, the big advantage of a diesel mill is that it keeps on running. Which comes in handy when you're in the middle of a nasty manoeuvre.

When the heavy bonnet - with the spare on top - opens up for a peek, I have difficulty to see what I'm looking at. Really is this a diesel or a petrol mill? Ah, the injection gives it away . . . The enormous airfilter, filled with oil, and some unclear plumbing make this a sight that is miles away from fine engine architecture.

The kick inside

As is the interior. Owner Hans fitted two very comfy Volvo leather seats for both driver and navigator but on the second row it's just a plain straight bench and behind that, two more but placed in length. I'm glad I can sit on the soft leather. 

It has been freezing the last few days but inside it's nice and noisy. I hang on at a horizontal rim just above the open gloves departement. Warm air blows over my hands. Electric! The fresh air vents are manual operated open / close flaps. Placed on the roof a kind of second roof can hold cool air between the half inch extra space to refresh the cabin by opening the one or two porthole windows. Nice when you're spotting rhino's on the hot Serengeti plains.

Get things moving

I sincerely hoped on a rainy day full of mud. But oh bugger, that was just too much asked for. The frosty grounds did get us into enough adventure though. The owner of the Land Rover 109 series 3 type stawag (stationwagon) Safari asked two mates to join us for an afternoon off-road fun. And while we were adjusting both the 65 kgs roofrack (135 x 55 inch) and the ladder (looks nice on the photo's) a nice green '83 Army Rover and a big 109 Camper rushed into the street to park theirs loosely on the pavement. A closer look at those cars makes me smile: you really can make your own Landy. Assembled with nuts and bolts the design is LEGO for adults.

LandRover convoy

Hop in and fire up that piece of iron! In convoy - exactly what you expect - we drive up to the woods. At the gasstation we meet a tidy 88 Defender. I must say those series 3 look indestructable compared to the newer Land Rovers. Squealing and snorring through town we attract quit a crowd. And I didn't quite expect this. Look at the brushed up paint: the dullest creamy off white or forest-keepers green you can imagine. And is there a more boxier designed car than a Landy? Covered with spots and bruises all over the place and lack of performance is for a blind man to see. So, what's the magic? I soon found out.

I like the wide range of noises coming from the gearing, the engine, the mastodont hi-profile tires and at speeds above 30 mph the roofrack starts to join in. When the overdrive - on all gears - is on we can even have a conversation. There's no radio ;)

Minus three for the trio

Still on RWD we switch from tarmac to sandy paths. It's getting pretty narrow and rough so it's 1st gear all the way. The surface and the slope must be in match with the speed and gearing. The width and height are also a factor worth considering: we don't want the roofrack to rip off branches or worse, vice versa. When things get steeper we switch on AWD, lock diffs and match the gearing along with the circumstances. There are some choices but it took me some time to learn what or when you have to pull one of the three arbitrary placed levers to make the Landy go on forwards in her imperturbable way. And if not than so, because there's always a method that will do the trick. With only 60 hp ladies and gentlemen . . .

Landies in their natural habitatVoila, the first real 'hill'. Are we really going to do this? . . . steep! Hans steps on it and after just a few metres we get stuck. From a distance our mates look at it with interest, compassion and amusement. Hans puts on the handbrake, pulls the levers and uses the manual operated throttle to ascend. With a twist and a shake we go up and reach a sandy plateau: our next challenge. When we're all up here the exploration and discussion how to get through this etc, starts. Meanwhile I had a good chance to scan the three cars. The lovely, warm and low light invited to snap on and fill the card. The natural habitat of woods and sandy grounds suit 'em like nothing else. "Want to move on or what?", Hans definately has a good time and doesn't mind there's no mud to play in today. 

Just do it! is the LandyMen's motto. Whether it's about keeping them cars on the road or getting through the next stretch of impassable road, there's nothing that'll keep them from taking the next step. The risk of damage is always there but that doesn't matter. A 109 won't be easily beyond repairs. Besides, after a saturday's drive there's a tommorow perfect for some after-talk in Hans' garage . . .

After our drive through the woods we're heading for some river forelands. We literally go off road to pass a road block, everything for some fun on a mini-desert! A nice piece of digging became our next hours playground. And pretty soon we got into some serious trouble. Normally a 7 feet hill of sand would collapse under the Army Rovers weight. But not in this weather. A 2 tonner balancing on the dieseltank is a tricky one to get out off. Time for the ropes and a bit of pulling. Hans gave it some tug and within seconds fun could start all over again. 

Army Landrover on a 6ft. sanddune

The next hours were this LandyRuns highlight. We crossed terrain in all possible variations and ended up with a torn exhaust, some messed up steering and a suspension faillure. The Army Rover was the last one to cross some ice and sank through. A winch pulled it out no problem. Despite the naggles we called it a day - it became to dark to shoot pics anyway - and ended up at grandma's birthday: chips and beers and cake!

I must say my idea of an automotive dreamday is slightly different from the 109-experience I had this cold january afternoon. But I had a very good time and now completely understand the Land Rover enthusiasts to the bone.

Words and photo's: Albert Mensinga