1981 Land Rover Santana 109 Station Wagon
The Man Behind The Machine
It would be easy to dismiss Valencia Classic Vehicles as a two-man operation, and I am guilty of thinking of it that way myself from time to time, but the truth is that there are more than a few people involved in the process of finding, buying, and exporting classic vehicles from Europe. There are the obvious ones, like Bill and I, and indispensable folks like Chris and his talented crew at Japanese Classics. But there are plenty more, from the scouts who scour the countryside and small villages, looking for quality vehicles on our behalf, to the craftsmen and upholsterers who help us restore vehicles if they need it. And then there is Tom, our master Land Rover technician.
I met Tom very much by accident, when I stopped into a German-owned repair facility for some help with a Mercedes 280GE. As I was chatting with the owner, Tom pulled up in a beautifully restored Series IIA Land Rover 88, and smiling broadly, came and introduced himself. Born and raised in Munich, Germany, Tom fell in love with the mystique of series Land Rovers at a young age, and grew up as something of a fanatic. “By the time I could drive I was already looking for old Land Rovers to buy,” he said, shaking his head ruefully, “but in Germany they are all very rusty…”
As a young man Tom took a job with Landypoint, Germany’s leading Land Rover sales, parts and restoration facility located in the outskirts of Sigmaringen. He spent ten years there, eventually becoming the lead restoration technician and the man charged with their most difficult and challenging repair work. “I did a lot of work,” he says, almost in disbelief. “Total restorations. Engine, transmission, electrical, and chassis welding. It made me realize how much I hate rust, so one day I decided to move to Spain.”
Working largely out of his home, Tom now buys Spanish Land Rovers, restores them in his garage, and sells them again to customers in Germany. He lives in the middle of a citrus grove in Benedoleig, outside Javea, and his three plus acres of land are littered with Land Rovers in various states of repair. Turn your head in one direction and you’ll see a stack of safari roofs three meters high, and in another direction a row of doors longer than the 109’s they came off of. Here are engines, there are interior bits… It’s a cross between a salvage yard and a museum, and although he is interested in everything Land Rover, his real passion is for Series IIA and earlier 88’s. “For me, the 88 is perfect,” he says. “Large enough to carry some things and a few people, but small enough to go anywhere. And when you take the roof off and drive the vehicle open… wow… that is pure freedom, man.”
Since that day we met, more than 18 months ago now, Tom has become our go-to Land Rover guru, for repairs and servicing and advice and sourcing hard-to-find parts, and everything else we need. Always smiling, always cheerful, always positive, with an abiding love for both Land Rovers and his adoptive country of Spain, he is an immensely valuable part of the Valencia Classics team and a truly loyal friend.
Because he is always looking for 88’s to restore, Tom is often out scouring the countryside, stopping in small villages and asking around. Recently, my telephone rang. “Paul, it’s Tom,” he said. “I’m in Jaen and I found a vehicle I think you are going to want.”
Turns out he had made the long drive to Jaen to see an 88, and found that the seller had a very nice 109 station wagon as well. “It’s a rare find,” he said. “It doesn’t need anything. Mechanically it’s wonderful. Very low mileage, but just had a major service. New injection pump, injectors, everything. The body is straight and undamaged, and best of all it has no rust in the chassis. Oh, and it has ‘superdirecte.’” (‘Superdirecte’ is the Spanish word for ‘overdrive.’)
We discussed the truck more, he sent me some photos and a short video, and I called Bill back in the USA. “Buy it,” was all Bill said, and I finalized the deal with the seller over the phone.
“I would have bought it myself,” said Tom, laughing. “Land Rovers in that condition are hard to find anywhere, but you know me. I love the short ones. These 109’s are just too large for me.”
A couple weeks later the truck showed up in Javea and it was everything Tom had said. Honest, well kept, and with low original mileage, but showing substantial recent service work and no damage of any kind. A little rust in the shells of the rear doors, and on a hinge here and there, but no rust in the chassis at all, and no structural rust of any kind. It started instantly once the glow plugs had warmed a bit, and drove like new. Maybe the best driving Land Rover we have ever bought.
We affectionately refer to it as ‘Tom’s Truck,’ and after a long boat ride with stops in Martinique, Cartagena, Veracruz, and Jacksonville, it is here, safe and sound, in the USA. Still as nice as it was in Spain, with honest patina and no mechanical needs, it is ready for whatever adventures now await it.
In its current shape it would make a wonderful overlanding or adventure vehicle. The overdrive is rare on these, and allows it to cover ground with pace that the standard four-speed can’t match. And although very presentable and straight, it could go right into the rocks and bushes as is, because it isn’t so cosmetically perfect that a fresh scratch would feel like a travesty. It would be a great candidate for a driving restoration, because the important bits are already fine and series Land Rovers are looking like a great long-term investment. Either way, ‘Tom’s Truck’ is ready to be driven anywhere and used for anything.
The roof even comes off, allowing it run to run fully open, and as a very wise man once told me, that’s pure freedom, man.
(CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO CYCLE THROUGH THE GALLERY)