Legal Files Goes Rovering

“I can’t believe they call this a road!”

That’s how Legal Files columnist John Draneas reacted as we headed toward Pinnacle Peak in Oregon’s Tillamook Forest, lumbering along in SCM’s Land Rover D90 turbo-diesel.

I’ve known Draneas for more than 20 years, and we’ve driven Porsches, Alfas and Lotuses in events throughout the Pacific Northwest. But this was the first time we went off-road together.

The reason I enjoy Rover runs is that car guys are car guys, no matter what they are driving. The Rover guys are serious users. They enjoy putting their rigs into the situations they were built for, and they don’t mind getting a few scratches along the way.

It’s really no different than when we take our vintage sports cars on a tour that travels on back roads. We’re enjoying our sports cars on the types of roads they were originally built for.

The off-road drivers and navigators are cordial, helpful and eager to make sure every rig gets up every hill and past every obstacle.

The SCM FrankenRover

We’ve had the SCM D90 for over three years now. While the title says it is a 1984, it’s really a FrankenRover with a replaced frame, suspension, drivetrain and interior. I do think some of the dented body panels are original.

I bought it from a Rover enthusiast in Massachusetts, and he had imported it from England. It is right-drive, with a 200 turbo-diesel engine. It features a high-performance full-width intercooler, 5-speed from a Disco, high-lift suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and more. The very rare Scorpion mags wear BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain A/T tires.

The D90 was in a rather forlorn state when it first arrived, but Doug Shipman at Ship’s Mechanical revived it, adding an ARB rear-locking differential and on-board air compressor. Today it is a finely honed off-road weapon.

It’s SCM’s fourth Rover. While Shipman missed our disastrous time with the Disco, he helped us understand our 1973 Series II 88 and turned our 1989 Range Rover Classic from a good rig into a great one.

The torque available at low rpm with a diesel required rethinking my relationship to the “gas” pedal. As I have become more comfortable with the D90, I have learned to give it as little throttle as possible, most often in low-range second gear, as I crawl over steep and rocky terrain.

Draneas has expressed an interesting in going Rovering for some time. So when Shipman announced this year’s Pacific Coast Rover Club‘s New Year’s Day Run, John said he was in.

I told him to bring his rubber boots and a sack lunch. The rig was already packed with work gloves, tow-ropes, tree-save strap, shovel, winch and Hi-Lift jack.

I mentioned we had toilet paper in the emergency kit, as it’s a long way between porta-potties in the forest. John thanked my for my foresight.

Churning and Learning

John met me at a Starbucks in downtown Portland at 7:30 am, and we headed out Highway 26 toward the coast. We branched off onto Highway 6 and met the gang at Coleman’s Shady Rest in Gale’s Creek. Coleman’s is an old-school greasy spoon, with big breakfasts at reasonable prices and a clientele that prefers Carhartt outdoor gear to REI.

Twelve rigs came on the run. In addition to the Rovers, Shipman invited the Jolly Jeepers, and there were two Toyotas as well. All of the trucks wore scars from previous off-road excursions.

At 8:30 we left for the Diamond Mill OHV staging area in the Tillamook National Forest. We “aired down” to about 18 psi and set off on the Forest Service roads.

Our goal for the day was Pinnacle Peak, an over-3,000-ft. plateau with views all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The trails were a combination of steep rock-crawls and narrow tracks between alder trees.

Our D90, with its performance suspension, mud tires and rear locker, was agile and sure-footed. John was at first amused, and then apprehensive as the going got serious.

“Are you really going to try to go up that?” he asked. And then, “Who would have thought you could get a truck through that?”

Eventually we all arrived at Pinnacle Peak, after only a few towing and winching episodes. The D90 did its job. One plus was the radiator muff that allowed the heater to actually work. That hasn’t been the case on some past runs, and when it’s 30 degrees outside the Rover, it’s really cold inside the Rover.

After our bag lunches, we headed back to Portland, crossing the Nehalem River and airing up to 36 lbs just before we hit Highway 26. We covered 180 miles during the day, and the D90 averaged 21.2 mpg.

John’s verdict? “Sign me up for the next one.”

(To see my FaceBook album with more photos, click here.)


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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