Keith’s Blog: The D90 Heads to Timberline Lodge

It’s horses for courses when it comes to old cars.

A modern SUV could travel easily on Interstate highways at 75 mph — and plow through snow and scramble up dirt roads. But where’s the fun in that?

Part of what makes old cars so appealing is their lack of competence. They require our skill set to make them work properly. This is why I drove SCM’s 33-year-old RHD Land Rover D90 turbo diesel 64 miles to Oregon’s Mount Hood on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner at Timberline Lodge before. Located at 6,000 feet on Mount Hood, the Lodge was built as a WPA project during the Great Depression. Exterior shots of it appeared in the “The Shining” movie.

It’s a masterpiece of 1930s rustic architecture – and a great place to have a holiday dinner.

Good friend and fellow Alfa Romeo owner Doug Hartman went with me. Despite my protestations that the SCM Suburban would make the perfect rig for the trip, with its heated seats, studded tires and AWD, he insisted we take the D90.

Titled as a 1984, the D90 is similar to Washington’s axe. It has a replacement frame, engine, gearbox and suspension. It appears that the only parts original to the rig are the door and fenders, which are riddled with corrosion.

According to Doug, “Driving the D90 will be an adventure.”

Well, the adventure started with filling up the power steering reservoir. The pump leaks, but replacing it will cost over $1,000, and the automatic transmission fluid required is $3 a bottle. So, I just top it off before each use.

Don’t have to do that with the Suburban.

Then we had to fit the muff over the radiator. The 200 TDI in the Rover takes a long time to warm up, and I’ve found using the muff (opening and closing it partially depending on the temperature and load on the engine) helps me get heat into the cabin.

The Suburban has never needed a muff.

I also threw an electric oil-sump heater and an extension cord into the D90, as diesels and cold weather don’t play well together. Finally, I waited until I got to Government Camp, elevation 4,416 feet, to fill up with diesel, as that high-altitude fuel is formulated differently for cold weather, and I wanted every advantage I could get.

The smoked turkey feast at Timberline was first-rate — and well worth the $83 fixed-price cost.

During dinner, the rain turned to ice, and the D90’s doors froze solidly shut. We came out to a truck encased in ice. I was able to crawl in through the back door, and slam my shoulder against the driver’s door hard enough to get it to pop open.

After buttoning the muff up so it was fully shut, we clambered down the hill and even got some temperature showing on the gauge.

The next morning it was an easy trip home — there was just enough heat to keep our feet warm, and the D90 with its Disco-sourced 5-speed will cruise at 65 mph. It’s not quiet, but my earlier Land Rover SIII 88 required a good tailwind and a slight downhill gradient to hit 55 mph in 4th overdrive.

On the way home, I stopped to pressure wash the engine bay of the Defender. It was still covered with dust from my road trip to eastern Oregon in July of last year.

This Saturday is the annual Pacific Coast Rover Club holiday run, and Bradley and a couple of friends will be my navigators and passengers. The kids love the D90, as bumping along off road is better than a theme park ride.

I’ve come to view the D90 as I would a dirt bike. It’s not really suitable for daily transportation, but it does make what would be a normal trip into an adventure.  I always feel like I’ve just escaped from the movie set for “Jurassic Park” when I’m driving it. As I’ve said before, one of the primary reasons to have old cars is that they are the keys to experiences.

Driving to Timberline Lodge for Thanksgiving dinner in a 33-year-old English off-road vehicle, created another old car memory to reminisce about in years to come.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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