As a young girl, I was able to tell you which Land Rover was driving past just from the sound of the engine, so, it was pretty much destined that I would end up having my own someday, I just wasn’t sure when that would be. I expected it would be many years down the line. However, when my dad asked: “Would you like a Land Rover for your 21st Birthday?” - I thought he was joking, obviously. But he wasn’t. In the garage stood a 1986 ex-military 90, covered in camouflage paint, that needed a little bit of love. Okay, maybe a lot of love. The next few months leading to my birthday were spent covered in oil, paint and sweat. My days were filled with engine and transfer box changes taken from an early discovery, the introduction of power steering, a new coat of some very nice looking AA yellow paint and the most important thing; a name. Dougal. And no, it didn’t come from the Magic Roundabout.
I had found my home in this old square metal box with wheels. Quite literally. The plan was always to turn a Land Rover into an ‘overlander’ and travel the world one day, just like I have as a child. That day just came a lot sooner than I thought it would. By May 2019, we were both more than ready to hit the road. I had a basic set up of a sleep-in, fold-out bed over the passenger side, a few ‘borrowed’ wolf boxes (sorry dad) and a fridge. Which thinking about it, might not be the safest choice when sat under a soft top roof. But, I’m still alive so it all turned out fine and I’ve never had to use the fire blanket, yet...
We had planned 3 months to explore some of Western Europe. Rome was the goal. A bright yellow Defender 90 in front of the Colosseum was too much of a photo opportunity to miss. Five days into the trip, somewhere near Lille, France I had my first problem; well, second if you include the accidental booking at a nudist camp. Thankfully, it only took a French man with a 24V lawn mower to fix Dougal’s issue, as it was only a flat main battery, due to the seemingly weak auxiliary battery taking all the power. At least it wasn't the fridge.
From that point on, everything went very well. We ticked Paris, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia off our list, meeting lots of new friends along the way. It wasn’t until we made it to Austria in late July when the next problem arose. The mountains started to become difficult for the engine in the heat. The temperature gage was going haywire which was a little strange considering everything it had tackled before this point! Think 30ft snow drifts in 40c heat. Things became even more questionable when Dougal couldn’t make it out of a wild camp spot on the side of a mountain with some new friends. A little embarrassing being shown up by a Lada…
However, the problem came to light at the base of the Matterhorn at an Overland Bound Europe meet up. At the start of the uphill track and with the (broken) low range engaged, we began to lose power. The engine temperature skyrocketed and pink smoke emerged from the engine bay. Coolant everywhere! Very dramatic. It looked like it should be a scene in a fairy tale, a fairy godmother appearing from the smoke by the bonnet. It was anything but a fairy tale. Thankfully, I was surrounded by lovely folks who helped me out and we diagnosed the problem as a failed automatic fan. Something so simple. My friends wired this directly to the fuse box and we haven’t had a problem with it since.
We headed back north to Germany where Dougal had a rest with my Uncle and I headed out on an overland adventure around Scandinavia with my family. A few weeks later we headed west to Cologne to meet up with our Lada and Ranger friends, where they very kindly helped us redo our auxiliary wiring set up. It’s now much safer and very organised thanks to my German friends. To be honest, we haven’t really left there since. A year later and that has become our base camp and Dougal stands proudly on the Parkplatz with his new Lada and Land Cruiser brothers. It’s like he belongs there. Only his UK registration plate sticking out. We have made a few trips since, the longest being home to the UK for some essential repairs, as our current project is registering him through the German TÜV, and they’re sticklers for tidiness and regulations. We also have an interior rebuild in the works for a cleaner overland set up. Hopefully in time for next year.
We have a lot of travel plans for the future, a trip to Canada in a few years is on the cards. We’ll see. I am learning daily how to be my own mechanic, with the amount of problems he has, there’s always something to learn about. But, I think we’re going to be okay. We’ve made it this far, what’s a few more miles and continents.