Switzerland

We have owned our V8 110 for nearly four years now and managed to attend one Land Rover meeting in that time. There were about six vehicles there and no possibility to use the vehicles off road. My only real contact with the wide community of Land Rover owners has been LRM and an Internet list I subscribe to. While this has supplied the information I have needed to keep this rare (I know of one more V8 in the county) beast going I have always missed the chance to sit around and talk about Land Rovers without that glazed bored look you get from the non initiated.

Each summer I would read of the huge meetings, auto jumbles and club events taking place in the UK and smile wistfully. Holidays to the UK never seemed to coincide with anything and events in Europe were always too far away. It seemed that I was fated to be a lonely and misunderstood Land Rover owner amidst a population of VW, BMW and Mercedes drivers.

Larry in Switzerland

A ray of hope was a small paragraph in LRM which announced that there was to be a Land Rover meeting in Switzerland to celebrate 15 years since the club "Land Rovers of Switzerland" was founded. Almost unbelievably the weekend in August didn''t clash with any other family appointments, at least for the males of the family. We sent off our booking form and money and shortly received confirmation. It seemed that there were going to be more than ten Land Rovers this time and the event was only 350 kilometres away in neighbouring Switzerland.

A few months before the date everything was ready except the noisy gearbox that seemed to be on it''s last legs, the copper bits found in the transfer box and the leaking head gasket which drove all the coolant out of the system. Three weeks before we were due to leave lots had been done but none of the problems were solved. With the support of Ashcroft Transmissions, my local workshop and a night spent rebuilding the head in the pouring rain everything was finished with 24 hours to spare and we set off on our test drive through Switzerland.

Daniel's first driving lesson
Daniel's first driving lesson

I spent the whole journey wondering what would fail or fall off first. It didn''t seem possible that you could undo so many bolts and then do them all up again without something going wrong. Luckily luck was with us and nothing happened.

At the Swiss border the welcome was less than friendly. I definitely got the impression that the customs man was not happy about our old and somewhat bashed vehicle, complete with roof tent and loud boys, being allowed into his country. He asked the sort of questions that they ask in the hope that they can find some reason for sending you home but failed and thus had to let us pass. His unfriendliness was only exceeded by a garage owner when I asked to pay in Euros rather than Swiss Francs.

As soon as we crossed the border the boys began asking where all the other Land Rovers were. I explained that we still had a long way to go and there would only be a few anyway. A few miles later I explained the same and then a few miles later. Who needs a radio with two boys in the back? Taxi drivers have the correct idea. maybe you can get a glass screen installed behind the drivers seat in a Land Rover?

It was actually just before our destination that we met the first Land Rover and that was going the other way. A few minutes later we met another two also going the other way. After we had turned round we met no more and shortly reached the camp site. What a revelation! We had to wait in a queue of Land Rovers to enter a camp site full of Land Rovers next to a forest full of Land Rovers. This was certainly more than ten vehicles. Every age from 50 to made last month, every size from tiny Series 1 to 130 and every colour from green to everything.

The organisers were a little stressed, as far more people had turned up than had registered. Camping space was getting short and the queue was getting longer. Despite this they kept their humour and dealt with everyone in one of four languages. We were soon parked up in a line of roof tent toting Safaris next to a large and fast flowing river.

Once we had opened our tent out (great things roof tents, open in minutes) and made something to eat we set off to explore. This was what life should be about. You could go up to total strangers and talk about Land Rovers and get answered with just as much enthusiasm. Actually there were difficulties; Switzerland has four official languages so the first step was to ascertain whether you had a language in common which you could use. I did manage a long "technical discussion" with a French speaking gentleman about his fold down door shelf which was an achievement as he spoke only French and I only German and English.

After a week of sleepless nights spent repairing engines and gearboxes I was in bed and asleep by midnight which was just as well because at six the next morning a hot air balloon started right next to our tent. "What idiot started that generator?" "What''s that burning sound?" "What''s that huge shadow out there?" "Swiss Dragons?" At least it made a change from being woken up by the children.

After breakfast we packed everything up (not so good these roof tents, have to take everything with you) and set off to a nearby quarry where the organisers had arranged for us to play off road. This was the bees knees, the icing on the cake, the ...., you get the idea. In central Europe you can not go off road legally almost anywhere. The few places I know of cost a fortune or are very tame. This was neither.

They are slowly filling the quarry up with building waste so it consisted of numerous tiers of roads with steep slopes between them. When we arrived there were numerous 90s at play but we seemed to be the first 110 which meant that we were able to scrape the dirt off the lips and get stuck in the hollows. I used to drive Land Rovers in the army but you got in trouble when you bent them so this was my first try at steep slopes of loose material. It took a little time to realise that the V8 really just needed leaving alone and then got on quite nicely. Lots of accelerator was counter productive and braking was worse than useless.

  Our 110 is absolutely standard with normal road tyres. It was a revelation what we could do with it and how easily it dealt with obstacles that I was convinced were impossible. The seat belts also did their job wonderfully when the run out at the bottom of a slope proved too steep and we ploughed into the ground with the bumper. Glad we had them on, unlike one or two other people.

We did manage to get stuck once when a nice lady reporter with a television camera asked us to drive through a mud hole, but help was quickly at hand and another driver quickly rescued us smiling at the camera all the time.

It was while playing in the quarry that we met Klaus and Babsi who also have a V8 110 and live just over the mountain from us. They were having problems with starting when warm so we quickly agreed that we would travel back together on the Sunday. I don''t know if we could have helped each other should mechanical problems have occurred but a problem shared is a problem halved.

One condition of using the quarry was that we jet washed the vehicles before leaving. Jet wash is an understatement. This was industrial grade equipment and when you opened the nozzle you had to do an impression of a fireman to stop yourself falling over. On leaving the quarry disaster struck. The offside brake started squeaking as if I was driving through a mouse colony. Driving backwards and forwards didn''t help so I drove to the campsite with thoughts of recovery services, missing work and expensive repairs. Even the bright sunny weather couldn''t clear my clouds. At the campsite I took the wheel off and found a tiny pebble lodged in the brakes. Pebble removed and life was wonderful again. The birds were singing, Switzerland was beautiful and life was as it should be.

The late afternoon was spent swimming in the river and admiring other Land Rovers. There were now over a hundred assorted vehicles present and my Christmas list grew by the minute. A lot of Swiss regularly take their Land Rovers to North Africa and the modifications carried out by some made the mouth water. Maybe one day I will get all my mechanical problems solved and can start using the money I don''t have for expedition equipment instead of essentials.

While "doing the rounds" I met a small group from Scotland. They had travelled down in two Land Rovers but unfortunately one had died just inside Switzerland and they were going to have to continue their holiday in a hired car. Their journey made my 700 kilometre round trip seem particularly unimpressive.

In the evening there was a sit down meal for all those present in a huge tent on site. The organisation involved must have been immense but everything ran like clock work. There was also live music and, after the meal, the official speeches. It was impressive to hear the same person give his speech in three languages. The boys weren''t much taken with listening to speeches and so spent the time gathering wood for a camp fire on the edge of the woods overlooking the river which was a perfect end to a fantastic day.

After two days of perfect weather we awoke to a downpour (good things roof tents, up out of the puddles). Breakfast was once again in the price so we squelched to the tent to eat a large breakfast and then squelched back again. We had planned on staying until lunch time but there is only so much you can do in a rain storm so we packed up (not so good roof tents, bit difficult to pack away alone) and, after saying our thanks, set off home.

Luckily we didn''t need to help each other on the way but it was still good to know you weren''t alone should anything happen. After crossing Switzerland and nipping through the corner of Austria we were glad enough to be back home.

So now it is back to LRM and the internet for my daily dose of Land Rover. The list of jobs to be done seems to have grown rather than shrunk and I still spend more time fixing things than driving but at least I have met a few other addicts and know that while my hobby may not be understood by the neighbours, I am not alone.

I can''t compare this meeting to any other, it being my first, but would like to thank the Land Rover Club of Switzerland for a fantastic weekend. While we had all the fun they had all the work and when we drove off into the rain they were left to tidy up. Thank you, all of you!

Neill Hogarth | neill@hogarth.de | www.hogarth.de