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ROVER READY

By Laura Roesch
Photography by Michael Booini

“OFF-ROAD DRIVING IS A WELCOME
CONTRAST TO HER WORLD OF
PROBLEM SOLVING AND IT SUITS
HER SENSE OF ADVENTURE.”

For Lynne Henslee, a Panama City transplant from Western Colorado via North East Ohio’s snow belt, driving off road is a way of life.
Lynne loves off road vehicles, particularly Jeeps, and she has owned seven of them over the years. She laughingly recalls driving down every dirt road she could find in her first car, a VW Bug.
As co-owner of a successful software development and publishing company, Lynne spends her professional life marketing the business globally. Off road driving is a welcome contrast to her world of problem solving and it suits her sense of adventure.
She describes herself as a “Jeep person,” but vintage Land Rovers captured Lynne’s imagination long ago. Big and boxy, distinctive in appearance – their shape easily recalls images of safari expeditions across harsh, unforgiving terrain. Now she proudly owns one, a four-door right-hand drive British racing green 1991 Land Rover Defender 110. It is also perfect for checking off an item on her bucket list this year when Lynne and her sweetheart will put the Defender to the test in off road rallies.
Land Rovers were first introduced in 1948 as the British version of the WWII-era Willys MB, commonly known as Jeep. By the end of that year, Willys Jeeps were exported to almost 70 countries. The earliest model was a utilitarian vehicle marketed as a “farmer’s friend,” with its steering wheel located in the centre of the dashboard, much like a tractor.

The “Centre Steer” also avoided the pesky problem of building two different versions at the time, for left-hand or right-hand drive. Early paint choices were limited by post war supplies, meaning various shades of green were the only colours offed. The Land Rover marque has since gained iconic status among other recreational vehicles.

It is easy to spot an off road vehicle driver; sunglasses, wide smile, hair flying in the breeze… it’s a lifestyle. Just one look at the extra-large Land Rover Defender conjures images of safaris in the desert and nights spent in tents under the stars. Lynne’s keen fascination with her Land Rover shines through as she shares its story.

Tell us about your Land Rover Defender–of all vehicles you can own, why is this your favorite?
I have pined for one for probably 35 years. I just love that boxy, safari look, not to mention, it’s a vehicle with no boundaries. I didn’t originally seek out right-hand drive, but it certainly adds to the car’s uniqueness. I came close to buying a Land Rover about twenty years ago. There was a dealer near my home, and I drove by almost daily; occasionally I would stop in and test drive one. My son was about 16 at the time and I remember him saying, “Why on earth would you buy an old vehicle like that, they aren’t even made any more and must be hard to repair!” So, I bought a Jeep instead, for reliability and convenience. Jeeps were great with kids and big dogs; you could just hose the Jeep out. And they were so reliable in the snow; where I lived it would not be unusual to have 60 inches of snow in two days. But I never forgot about the Land Rover.

Driving the Defender must be quite different than a typical car, especially with its size and right-hand drive?
It is. But surprisingly, it is also quite comfortable. We found our Defender in Sarasota, at a company that specializes in importing and refurbishing them. At the time, I had little experience with right-hand drive. Driving in heavy traffic through Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Tampa was my first adventure with it…by the time we arrived home, I was completely comfortable. And, when you are driving an unusual or a vintage car, perfect strangers will flash a “thumbs up” as you drive by. Cars have an amazing ability to bring back memories and nostalgia.

There must have been some glitches along the way…?
The first time I stopped for fuel, I was unsure which side of the car the gas cap was on, much less where it was located. There I was, wandering around the car at the gas pump. I finally figured it out but, by then, there were about eight guys gathered around, asking all kinds of questions. What is it? Where did you get it? Right-hand drive? They had never seen one before, didn’t know what it was, and wanted to know more about it. That kind of curiosity and enthusiasm is contagious! It has a 2.5 litre four-cylinder turbo-charged diesel engine and gets 16 miles to the gallon on the high- way. It can seat nine passengers and has great room for cargo.

Have you made any special modifications?
A roll cage and roof rack have been added. The model designation of 110 is the length of its wheelbase in inches and that, with its ground clearance of 15 inches, makes it quite adept for traveling over and up rocks and boulders. And it is a surprisingly smooth comfortable ride on the highway. We added Super Swamper 16” tires, so its profit is even taller than usual and the ground clearance greater which, coupled with the long wheel base, will make bottoming out less likely. It also has a 10,000-lb. winch, limited slip differential, skid protection, front and rear differentials, steering guard, and a gas tank guard. We also added air conditioning to complete the package.

You have special plans this year. Tell us more.
Off road rallies! These aren’t timed competitions, but a gathering of adventuresome like-minded people who enjoy the experience of off roading. These events are family-oriented and novices and veterans alike are welcome. There are many throughout the United States every year. It was the Moab Jeep Safari in Utah that inspired us to fi y do this. We will attend the Land Rover off road driving school in Asheville, North Carolina to prepare. We have our eye on several upcoming events, including the Western National Land Rover Rally in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

So, after pining for a Land Rover all those years, is driving it everything you expected?
Yes! It’s even better. I must admit I had a bit of a learning curve with the right-hand drive that requires shifting with my left hand. But now I don’t even think about it. It’s a fi e-speed and has a giant gear box with a long throw shifter, compared to a Mini Cooper or a Porsche that have much shorter distances to travel between the gears. Of all the cars I have ever owned or driven, the Defender is by far my favorite. I can hardly wait for the rallies!

Laura Roesch

Laura Roesch, born and raised on Florida’s east coast, earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Radford University and a law degree from Indiana University School of Law. A retired judge, she is a voracious reader with a lifelong passion for books. She and her husband collect vintage cars and motorcycles. You may see her driving around town in “Maybelline,” a purple 1956 Chevy Belair–her favorite in their collection.

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