Since building the Derange Rover for our 2018 Ultimate Adventure we decided it was high time we hung out with some Rover freaks—er, folks—at a Rover Rally. That’s just what we did at the 2018 Western National Land Rover Rally at Bear Valley, California. Even if we think being too serious about brand loyalty is silly, we do get it. Everyone likes what they like, and some have had bad experiences with other brands. We here at Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road are equal-opportunity offenders—we’ll offend anyone who is too serious about brand loyalty because in our experience everything can be built better than it was from the factory. All 4x4s have strong points and weak points. Some may have more of the latter than the former, but we don’t care what you drive as long as you drive it off the beaten path. Oh, and you can’t be afraid to fix and upgrade what breaks. The truth is almost any 4x4 can be cool if built correctly. Except side-by-sides. Those things suck.
Of all the 4x4s out there, the Land Rover has to be one of the most misunderstood and maligned. Like anything else, Land Rovers have weak points and parts that must be upgraded or redone to work well off-road, but we can promise you lots and lots of adventures have been had in a Rover product and many more are to come. Some Rovers are worth a mint, and others can be had for a song. We saw all types at this rally.
The Western National Land Rover Rally venue was unique, the trails were a blast, and believe it or not the Land Rover freaks we met were actually very down to earth—even normal (actually, they might have been a little too normal). Over the course of three days we hit three trails, checked out a bunch of Rovers, and also spectated some good old-fashioned Land Rover human-based competitions reminiscent of one of our favorite past events, the Camel Trophy. For coverage of that and more, including California’s own Deer Valley Trail, Sourgrass Trail, and Slickrock Trail, keep reading. For details on the next Western National Land Rover Rally keep your eyes peeled on the website (wnlrr.com) and Facebook page (facebook.com/wnlrr).
Over 150 Rovers of all eras attended the Western National Land Rover Rally at Bear Valley, California. Daily trail rides were tailored to everything from stock LR4s to built Defenders. The area around Bear Valley is beautiful and diverse with an abundance of 4x4 trails.
Lutzi Haas was our trail leader on Deer Valley. He is a veteran driver with a well-sorted-out Discovery II. ARB Air Lockers and Ashcroft heavy-duty axles allow him to keep moving forward even when hanging a tire in the air.
Graeme Ware told us that he has an Ashcroft underdrive in his Discovery, but he used momentum to overcome most of the obstacles on Deer Valley Trail. He runs Roverware in Northern California and put his steering and skidplates through the ultimate testing procedures.
The Gen IV 5.3L V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission in Nicholas Markiw’s Defender give him enough power and gearing for any situation from road to trail. He offers LS conversion parts through his business, RW Performance Engineering, and reports that the factory LT230 transfer case and stock axles are up to the task of living behind big power.
Matt Vanness bought his Discovery 10 years ago with a salvage title for $500. Over a decade of working on Rovers gave him the knowledge he needed to swap in a 4.6L V-8, locked axles, and a Rovertym suspension. Now he just needs a snorkel!
Deer Valley Trail was closed for a number of years as a part of the Eldorado National Forest Travel Management Environmental Impact Statement. Fortunately, small changes were all that were necessary before the trail reopened, as it offers amazing scenery and campsites in addition to a great challenge.
Each night after dinner, participants gathered around the campfire to share war stories from the trail and make plans for the next day. Rover owners came from all over the country (and beyond) for the rally, with California and Arizona the most represented.
Greg Bodine was our trail leader on Sourgrass, and he was largely responsible for us attending the WNLRR. His well-equipped Range Rover Classic has a 5-inch Rovertym suspension lift to fit 35-inch Nitto Mud Grapplers on KMC Enduro beadlocks.
Eric Johnson has a well-built LR4, but he brought his 1994 Defender 90 to the rally this year. Tim Scully completely restored this first-year NAS Defender and brought it back to showroom condition. That would probably deter some people from wheeling it, but Johnson uses his Rover as it was intended.
We drove the UA Derange Rover out from Phoenix to California for the rally, wheeled all week, and drove it home. This vehicle has proven to be rock solid in just about any situation, and there was a huge interest in the Rover community in the Cummins R2.8 engine.
One of our favorite vehicles at the event was Robert Pendergrast’s beautiful 1973 Series 3. While it looks stock, right down to the spare tire on the bonnet, there is actually a 400hp fuel-injected small-block Chevy mated to an NV3500 transmission.
On Saturday a Camel Trophy–style Team Challenge was held with eight different stations to test competitors’ skills for everything from winching to archery. Prizes from sponsor companies were awarded to the top teams, but everyone who participated in the challenge had a great time.
Slick Rock was the most difficult trail on the rally. Many optional obstacles can be found on this trail, but there are also sections that only have one line and pose quite a challenge. We would recommend at least 33-inch-tall tires and one locking differential for Slick Rock, along with rock sliders to protect the rocker panels.
Living up to its name, Slick Rock Trail comprises granite slabs that have been polished smooth by past glacial activity. With pine trees and a stream running alongside the trail, there are many similarities to the more famous Rubicon Trail found to the north.
This sweet 109 long-wheelbase Series IIA belongs to Matthias Moran of San Francisco. With a torquey 200TDI under the hood, an Ashcroft underdrive, and ARB Air Lockers, this Rover went everywhere he pointed it without issue.
Andrea D’Amico piloted the family Range Rover Classic through Slick Rock while her husband Nick spotted. Nick runs Overland Pros, and the family has a nearby cabin, so Slick Rock is their home turf.
Colin Brown navigated his Range Rover Classic LWB through Slick Rock Trail. With an 8-inch-longer wheelbase and a larger rear overhang, it took some work for Brown to maneuver through the same obstacles as the SWB Rovers and smaller Discoverys.
It isn’t often that you get to spot your own vehicle, but no one knows Don Happel’s convertible Discovery better than he does. Equipped with 37-inch Pit Bull Rockers on TrailReady beadlocks and lockers front and rear, this Rover can go practically anywhere.
Earlier this year the Forest Service rerouted the southern end of Slick Rock from private property onto Forest Service land. The new section of trail is loose and challenging, particularly if you’re coming from the north. The Forest Service even installed an optional rock garden to cater to the hardcore crowd. We applaud their efforts and hope to see more situations like this in the future.