The truth about 74GJ36


In life there are certain things that you must do. They are your destiny. If you repeat them, they become a habit. So you should do them only once. For me building my own Land Rover was one of life's destinies. I read in the stars that I must buy an aging Land Rover and take it apart. This would leave me with a chassis and then I would weld, galvanize and paint until I had a shining, rolling chassis with new wheels and new tires, so fresh they would still have their rubber hairs on. That would then be the perfect platform for my once-and-for-all rebuild. On our drive way. Where it never rains or freezes.

First step was to find sufficient time. This took 32 years. The second was to find a suitable vehicle. This victim vehicle should not be too good - no use in finishing the job within one weekend - and should not be too bad. It proved hard to find. All candidates were too bad or it was too bad that they were too good. Then, one morning I stared in the eyes of a Land Rover that was not a Land Rover. It was huge. It was too good, but that didn't matter. I'm not the kind of person who makes a habit out of following his destiny.

74GJ36 aka 95900575A aka. Zwelgje came to life on August 17th, 1977. We bought her on her 23rd birthday, by which time she had been converted to an ambulance. As such she had served the British Forces in Germany from June, 1982 to March, 1999. There is no indication of real military action in her many layers of NATO green. During the Golf War and save in Germany, she received a new, freshly painted engine. That's about all I know about her military achievements. It is enough. Between March 1999 and August 2000, 74GJ36 was waiting for us in the yard of a military vehicle trader, together with two of her sisters. When we first entered the yard, I had never seen a 101. Ten minutes later I had to choose between three of them. It was the same problem again.

They say that it is still greatly unclear how the human mind works. What triggers mine to be attracted to such an ugly thing as a 101? It will remain a secret for some time. The scientists are still investigating the phenomenon. They do this by placing electrodes on my head and me on a chair. I have to look at a large screen and they project colorful pictures on it. They can see my brain activity. (If any, Margriet adds). Football, fashion, the Dutch queen and Ferrari score low. Women, females, girls and Land Rover 101's score high, as do faces. My mind reacts very strongly when faced with a face that is looking at me. Female, male, animal or even dead matter, if it can be interpreted as a face, I most urgently will. The scientists repeated the tests on Pim. The results were more or less the same. Then came Paul and Andreas. In short: all participants of the third European Continental 101 Meeting took the test. It made no real difference. Then they tested random humans, chimpanzees and even women. The subjects reacted different from us to bananas, alcoholic beverages, 101's and most other pictures, but faces stayed the strongest triggers. Faces are universally recognized and immediately feared by everything that wears electrodes and is not a mushroom. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Soldiers have known this for decades. They paint irregular shapes on their faces, just to break the pattern. They also do it to their cars. The three 101's that I had to choose from in that yard that morning, came fresh from the army and had irregular shapes painted all over them. The art work on the back doors was very symmetrical. though. It was, well, a face.

Fig 1: Humanoid 101 in a war zone (Hilversum 2000)

The face was a joke. A military joke, so it was repeated over and over again. Since that first encounter I have seen about twenty "German" LHD ambulances in original army colors. One was faceless, two had a Martian face and all others were humanoids, that you could recognize from miles. Even after the whole 101 had disappeared, you would still see that face at the horizon, shouting "Shoot at me, shoot at me." The British forces in Western Germany turned a blind eye to human evolution, hoping the Russians would do the same and got away with it.

Fig 2: Martian 101 before the battle (Noordwijkerhout, 2000)

It is possible to go to a Land Rover dealer, test drive three 110‚s and then select the best one. That is why the dealer won‚t like you doing it. With military vehicles it is the opposite. The dealer won't mind but it cannot be done. Military vehicles were maintained the same by the same owner and they all look the same. Some have been standing for a long time, others for a very long time. You can test how they drive, but you have no idea how they should drive and neither how they will drive when properly oiled and refreshed. No wonder the trader generously invited me to thoroughly test all three of the 101's as much and as long as I wanted to. A few days later I returned with two V8-experienced friends and at the end of that afternoon we knew which ambulance to take. It sounded right, it had "Don‚t slam the door" lettered on the inside of the doors (so must have had one caring driver) and there were spots of oil under it (meaning it leaked, but only moderately and there was still oil in it). Also we had not looked at the other two yet - except for the faces. And the yard owner wanted to go home.

We live in a tree rich area, an area where you would expect a well camouflaged car like 74GJ36 to go unnoticed. It turned out to be true. A few times I had cars coming towards me that didn't seem to notice me. When parked next to the house it was never overlooked, though. The neighbors didn't like the skull. Margriet didn't like it. I didn't like it anymore. It had been funny for 1 day. So I bought an electrical heat gun and began scratching. I started at the back. It was like spelling "banana", not difficult but the problem was knowing where to stop. Ultimately 74GJ36 lost more than her face.

Fig 3: Incognito

It was never my intention to paint 74GJ36 more than once, but that is not the way it works. Land Rovers follow the law of inexperience: you either learn or you repair; there is no such thing as learning by doing. In practice this means at least three phases. The first is the high expectation phase, after which you know what you did wrong. (In this case: use expensive 2 component car paint. It dissolves rollers.) Then comes the optimistic phase: you think you know what you should have done and you do it. (Buy old fashioned synthetic paint and roll it on, on a sunny day). It is followed by the repeating despair phase, during which sometimes it suddenly works. This exception is called the "never change a winning team" state. It is there to enjoy. (E.g.: tell yourself it is a military vehicle, after all)

One year later Andreas Pfau invited me to the third European Continental 101 Meeting in Saverne, France. It was phenomenal - read his article in this issue - but it was nothing compared to what happened in the following week. Rather than driving home that Sunday, we drove straight to Rotterdam where we loaded 74GJ36 in a big ship. I always thought of shipping cars as a rather slow process, but this transport went very quick and exactly one week later we were driving 74GJ36 through Yosimite Park in California. Of course we had to make a photograph of 74GJ36 under a Sequoia tree. Because the two subjects of our picture were of really different dimensions - it is unbelievable how tiny a 101 looks next to a Sequoia tree - I had to move the car to get an acceptable composition. I climbed in, drove the few meters and stopped. There were two loud bangs. They meant that I had forgotten to fasten the rear doors. They swayed wide open when I drove away and shut themselves when I hit the brakes. Nothing to worry about, but Margriet did. She was waving and yelling at me and I could even hear the words she was shouting. "A bear. A bear. You caught a brown bear!" I started to laugh, but then felt the car shaking. Something substantial was moving inside the patients area.

Fig 4. 74GJ36 in front of a Sequoia tree

I jumped out of the car. "I saw it walk in. I think it is a black bear. And then you drove away!", Margriet explained with big eyes. "I told you not to eat cookies in bed." It was clear who was guilty, but what to do next? Someone had to open the door and let the bear out, but there were no volunteers who were willing to face an angry bear. We had to find an expert. One of those friendly men with dented hats who warn about bears and who drive around in police car like cars. But how to find one? Meanwhile our bear was furiously ramming the rear doors. There was a real danger that it - unlike any normal patient - would manage to open them from inside. Where could we go? There was only one choice left. We quickly climbed into 74GJ36 and firmly shut the doors. Instinctually I started and drove away as fast as 74GJ36 could.

There are two windows in the wall that separates the main compartments of a Land Rover 101 Ambulance. They are square holes with two sliding windows in them, one of dark glass and one of metal to protect patient privacy. As long as the bear didn‚t know they were sliding windows, we should be safe, I thought. But bears learn quickly, especially in a racing 101 on a scenic American road where sliding windows slide without any friction. It must have taken me a lot of skill and concentration to keep the car on the road, but I have absolutely no recollection of the ride itself. Instead I am completely aware of every of the bears moves. It was as if I was continuously looking at this fearful hole. I remember the terrifying claws with the long nails reaching for us. Then he tried to squeeze his gigantic head through the hole. It was impossible, but he managed. Then I woke up.




Firsth published in Six Stud, the official newsletter of the 101 Forward Control Club and Register, 2001.



A Dutchman's difficulties