It has been almost two years since my last blog post. While a lot has been happening in the world I’ve been enjoying slow life.
What was originally planned as a few months of travel outside of Japan turned into several months in London followed by a move back to the Scottish Highlands. It was a good strategy for the pandemic.
Recent events have had some positive impacts on the world of work, including in particular; higher acceptance of remote work, and a better valuation of work/life balance.
Life in the Scottish Highlands is certainly slower than Tokyo or London life.
Although, the Highlands have changed significantly since I left in 1996. These days there are a lot more people, tourists and wealth.
But, the pace of life is still quite relaxed, and this leaves time and energy for side projects.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve devoted an hour or so a day to checking classic car classifieds and auctions.
The idea was to look for good deals on interesting 70s or 80s cars. Buy them, carry out some basic maintenance, drive and enjoy them, then sell them on. Ideally to a good home.
The objective isn’t to make big profits, but rather to enjoy post-modern classic car design and engineering.
And further, to share this enjoyment. I’ve noticed how much people love to see and talk about classic cars. As with many aspects of art, design and engineering, they make the world a richer and more colourful place.
After a few months of looking, I discovered my first project.
Let me introduce B488 BMJ – an original UK 1985 Landcruiser HJ60.
I saw a few Landcruiser 60s while living in Japan. This is my favourite model Landcruiser. It was one of the earliest ‘comfort orientated’ Landcruisers or ‘station wagons’. Previous models are more utilitarian. It’s notable in design as the first model where the bonnet extends the entire width of the car up to the edge of the wings.
For me, the Landcruiser is a synonym for life in the Scottish Highlands. It’s functional, with few frills, it has a natural beauty to the design, and it moves along at a slow, but even pace.
The 60 series is quite rare in the UK. Those who like 4x4s will be more familiar with classic Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
Land Rover and Range Rover do have a huge fan base, but I like to think that the 60 series is a better-engineered alternative.
I’ve had the Landcruiser for about eight months now. It has been a delight to own.
The most modern feature is a central locking button on the driver’s door that locks/unlocks all the doors.
All the windows are wound open and close by hand.
A lot of modern 4x4s are automatic. The 60 series is manual.
As with many other classic 4x4s, the default is rear-wheel drive mode. There are five forward gears selectable by the main gearstick.
To go into four-wheel drive you push a button on the dashboard.
In addition, you have to rotate the freewheeling hubs on the front two wheels.
Freewheeling hubs let the front wheels rotate freely while in rear-wheel drive mode hence reducing friction and improving fuel economy.
The second smaller gear stick to the right of the main one allows you to select between high and low range four-wheel drive.
Four-wheel drive should only be used on loose surfaces. This is because the differentials drive all the wheels at the same speed. However when cornering etc. wheels will move at slightly different speeds. Hence they must be able to slip slightly on a loose surface.
If you drive in four-wheel drive on tarmac at speed you will destroy the differential. I’ve heard of younger people destroying newer manual pick-ups based on ignorance of how the differentials and gears work.
This is because we live in a culture where cars are seen as commodity appliances. Sadly, they are designed to require no skill to drive or maintain.
As cars become more advanced, people more and more lose the ability to drive well.
Indeed, there are issues with a lack of skill when it comes to the average modern driver.
A recent statistics podcast explained how devices such as seatbelts and airbags make roads less safe. People tend to drive faster and more carelessly when they believe they are protected by safety devices.
In the highlands driving conditions are often tricky. Single track roads, loose tarmac, sharp corners, steep verges etc. And in winter add to that snow and black ice.
Many drivers don’t know tyre grip, correct braking and skid control. Did you know it’s the stretching and elasticity of tyres that allow cars to turn? Unfortunately, the driving test does not cover these skills. Safety device-laden modern cars may protect the passengers, but they leave motorbikes, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders at risk.
Life with the 60 series isn’t exactly comfortable, but it’s fun.
The Landcruiser has leaf springs all around. Leaf springs don’t dampen as well as coil springs and you bounce around a lot. You can feel it in your neck muscles after a long trip.
The 60 series has a very large 4-litre inline six-cylinder naturally aspirated diesel engine.
Compared to modern engines it is not particularly powerful, but it is simple, bulletproof and sounds amazing.
There’s no plastic cover or fancy computer under the bonnet, just a huge piece of cast iron.
The Landcruiser will happily cruise between 40 and 60mph, and I’d best describe the experience as ‘trundling around’.
When you sit in the Landcruiser the most striking thing is the big windows. You are surrounded by large glass windows all the way around. You also sit higher up than most 4x4s and get a great view of the countryside, which suits well the slower pace.
There’s no doubt the Landcruiser 60 is capable of serious off-roading, and long journeys in harsh conditions. They were a part of the U.N. fleets back in the day.
But B488 BMJ; an original UK car, has survived well since 1985 and I think she deserves the luxury of the more tame ‘trundle’ down to the village for a coffee. And indeed I can’t think of a better car for the highland life.