The Land Rover in all its glory.

Land Rover: Mechanicity


Fettling a machine is comforting at the best of times. In times of crisis it can be a lifesaver. Lifelong mechanic John Hansen shares the story of how he emerged from deep despair by breathing life into a Series 2 Land Rover. As told to Michael Fordham.

The Land Rover Series 2 from the front

Restoring old cars saved my life. There was a time when the world seemed to narrow down to nothing. When I just felt trapped. When it was all I could do to just drag myself out of bed every day. It wasn’t just one single thing that happened. It was more like one thing happened and that led to another, and another. And before I knew it I was down a deep dark hole.

I couldn’t see out of it. No one was there with me, though there were people around me all the time. It was as if I was in a bubble – a kind of world of my own that I could not see out of and that no one out there could see into.

I’d had this old wreck of a Series 2 Land Rover out in the yard covered in tarps for years. One morning I just gathered myself and started. It was a process that I thought would end. But it never has. I’m still in it now. And there’s a few decent motors that have been brought back to life as part of the process. And somewhere along the line I came back too.

The black steering wheel and black seats look striking inside the red vehicle.

I’ve always been into cars, always been a mechanic in some ways all my life. I’d had jobs where I worked with my hands. I’d had interest from a little kid in cars. Cars were to me like a thing that real men did. And I alway wanted to be a real man. But somehow I never felt I could be.

I didn’t realise all this at the time of course. I had to go all the way to the top and then go the other way and hit the bottom before I could truly realise what was going on. So I did the usual things that young blokes do. Got into motors early on and drove them too fast and thought I was the top dog. 

My first car was an Escort Mk1 and I did all I could to make it look like a real Mexico. I worked in engineering and was good at metal work and did a bit of mechanics at college. But all the time I had this darkness around me that sometimes I would slip into.

When I was young I’d sometimes tinker around in the garage and it did make me feel a bit better but too often I’d go out and get smashed and have a fight. But that never really did the trick – and pretty soon I’d be back where I’d started, deep in the hole again.

The Landy parked in front of a fence.

So a cycle started. I’d have a few good months, and even years, where I forgot about the blackness, or only glimpsed it. I thought that I had left this thing alone and that I had moved on and become that real man that I always wanted to be. I had a bit of success with work and had my own firm and got a few toys to play with and a wife and a house and all the things you’re supposed to have.

But I started to go too far the other way. In my mind I thought I was Johnny Big Potatoes. I thought that I could get away with anything I wanted. I was drinking too much and doing a lot of other stuff that I shouldn’t have. I didn’t realise at the time but I was on the flip side of the darkness, this soaring crazy bit that makes you feel invincible.

It feels like you can go on forever and nothing will touch you. But somewhere even in the middle of the high you know it’s brittle, fragile. It can come crashing down at any time. And it always does.

The Land Rover parked up and viewed from the side.

So one morning I started. I just stripped this old wreck down to the ladder frame, took everything off and started again. At first it was a simple process of unscrewing stuff and arranging everything. Then, it was all about working out all the stuff I had and all the stuff I didn’t.

That first part was about shutting myself away. It was about concentrating on what was right there in front of me so the darkness just stayed where it was. Then, of course, I had to work out where I would get all the bits and pieces that I needed.

I have always been bad at the internet – and when I was doing this the internet wasn’t as good as it is now. So, I had to force myself to go and speak to people, phone them up. Walk into old farmers’ yards and talk about Land Rovers. And there was something that started to help me, started to make me very, very slowly come out of the hole and to start being able to function again.

The Land Rover in all its glory.

But it was the actual simple hands-on mechanics of doing these things that I think really began to make me heal. It somehow made me focus on the simplest of things. Turning a nut. Searching for the right bolt. Sanding down a panel, then screwing the panel back and making something come alive. There’s something in making things come alive that makes you come alive.

You begin to find a sort of centre. Everything else drops away, and somewhere in the middle of it, there you are.

It’s an ongoing process. The darkness will never go away. But I have found a way to keep it at the door. And in a way I realise that it’s everywhere. But so is life. And you have to find things that live and breathe. For me, it happened to be old crappy motors.

Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Images provided by Land Rover press.

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