Eight years ago, my daughter Alex (then 17) and I were trying to get up the Hog’s Back Hillclimb in our 1973 Land Rover SIII 88.
My off-roading skills were rudimentary. I attacked the hill with too much speed and tried to muscle my way up. I got hung up on some rocks near the crest, and the Rover started rocking back and forth.
“Stop right now, I’m getting out,” Alex said to me. “If I’m going to die in a car, I want it to be a Mercedes, not a stupid old Rover.”
She hopped out and met me at the top.
Start Them Out Young
We often talk about how to get kids interested in vintage cars — or cars of any kind. I maintain that you get them involved by involving them — at the earliest age possible.
For Alex, banging around over the rocks in an old Rover is something she’s been doing for nearly half her life. When 9-year-old Bradley sees that we’ve pulled the D90 out of storage, he knows that something fun is about to happen.
Last weekend was the annual Pacific Coast Rover Club Snow Run. Our current vintage Rover is a vast improvement over the old Series III. It’s a 1984 Defender 90 we imported from England.
It’s a right-hand-drive, turbo-diesel rig kitted out for competition. In addition to a raised suspension, it has an ARB on-board air-locker to give maximum traction to the rear wheels.
In compound-low 2nd gear just off of idle, it can climb nearly anything.
The Snow Run takes us to Tillamook State Forest for the day, and ends with a potluck dinner. It’s often the best-attended Rover Club event of the year, and this year 22 rigs showed up.
Alex drove the D90, and her friend Ross served as navigator. Bradley joined me in the the back seats, so we could offer a stream of advice about her driving technique.
This was the first time Alex had driven an entire off-road event on her own.
The day was overcast — but not raining — when we assembled at 8 a.m. in Banks, Oregon, 24 miles west of Portland towards the coast. After a driver’s meeting, we headed another 20 miles down Highway 6 to Rogers Camp trailhead. Then we “aired-down” (reduced our tire pressures for better grip) and set off for the day.
After a few easy trails, with colorful and descriptive names like Powerline, Hood Raiser, 7-Up and Dogleg, we came to the base of Hog’s Back Hill Climb. Alex recognized it immediately.
I asked her if she wanted to try driving up it, and smiling, she answered, “Of course.”
The best way to attack a difficult, technical hill is going no faster than necessary and picking your path through the rocks. But there is another approach, “The Martin Way,” as some observers mentioned.
Perhaps from my days of driving high-revving sports cars, I tend to come at climbs too quickly and muscle my way through them. Despite extra skid-plates, this has led to a variety of bent steering parts over the years.
I suggested to Alex that she use second-gear compound low, and just point straight up the hill. Some rigs were maneuvering deftly around the large rocks at the top. But I was confident that the D90’s extended suspension-travel and rear locker provided enough clearance that she could just drive right over those troublesome rocks.
What I didn’t count on was that Bradley and I, in the rear seats and not wearing our seatbelts, (why would we need them when we were just going 10 mph uphill?) were bounced around like popcorn in the back. I smacked the top of my head on the unpadded steel roof, and Bradley pointed out the mark I made on the interior.
The grin on Alex’s face at the top was something to behold. I understood her feeling — there’s an adrenaline rush that comes from conquering a difficult hill, especially in a very basic-machine with no electronic nanny- aids.
After coming down around the back of hill and traversing a couple of water obstacles, she was ready to try Hog’s Back again, this time alone with Ross.
I watched her from the top. After a couple of false starts, she got the momentum right and just powered up. Here’s a brief video.
The rest of the day was uneventful. By 2:30 we were back at Rogers Camp trailhead. We used our on-board compressor to “air up” and headed back to Portland.
The Rover Club potluck dinner that night was held at the Jaguar Land Rover hi-tech Research and Development office in downtown Portland. The vintage rigs parked outside offered a contrast to the state-of-the-art equipment inside. We all tried our hand at the full-sized video simulator, turning very hot imaginary laps indeed.
Bradley regaled some of the other kids with tales of Alex going up Hog’s Back, and started calculating how long it will be until he can take the Rover off-road (about 6 years until he can get a legal permit – less before he can sit on my lap and drive).
Alex now has the confidence necessary to take the D90 on her own on Rover events. In effect, she has graduated and no longer needs the training wheels of her Dad along. Bradley is counting the days until his permit.
And both my kids have another vintage-car experience under their belts, and are eager for the next one.