Ex-Fort Land Rover ‘Matilda’ visits 100 countries in eight years

Christopher takes a break on the bonnet of Mathilda in Africa. NO F48 Africa (10)
Christopher takes a break on the bonnet of Mathilda in Africa. NO F48 Africa (10)

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It was while inspecting the Caledonian Canal near Fort William in 2002 as part of his job that New York City native Christopher Many stumbled across a near 30-year-old dilapidated ex-British Army Land Rover that a local farmer was using to transport sheep.

Eight years later and thousands of miles covered across 100 countries on five continents – and more adventures than you could count – and the result is a first book by Christopher, now in his late 40s, entitled Left Beyond the Horizon.

‘It was love at first sight. I opened the door, brushed the cobwebs off the steering wheel, and immediately knew I must buy it,’ Christopher told the Lochaber Times this week from his current location in France.

‘Battered by the elements for three decades, this wonder of British engineering did not seem to be the ideal vehicle for a trip around the world. But I didn’t care. I located the owner, and asked if he’d sell it.

‘He agreed, so I gave him £700, and he gave me the keys. A few weeks later, I quit my job with British Waterways and left the UK – with my dream car.

‘I named the vehicle Matilda, and it suffered dearly on five continents, where I abused it to within an inch of its life on many occasions. But it still drives, despite enduring temperatures of minus 55 degrees in Siberia and plus 50 in the Mojave Desert in the USA … a very different life from hauling sheep between paddocks at a Highland croft.’

But despite being the least reliable vehicle Christopher has owned, breaking down 1,667 times during his eight-year odyssey around the globe, he still has a soft spot for the Series III Land Rover and says the pair’s adventures are not finished yet.

‘She broke down 1,667 times in 3,000 days. That’s right, on average every second day. I bled her brakes on 52 occasions, replaced 86 brake
shoes and 59 suspension bushes, renewed 40 spark plugs, 18 condensers, four coils, 12 contact-breaker plates and four distributor caps.

‘Then there were the 20 suspension leaves, eight universal joints, two prop shafts, 65 flat tyres and three gearbox rebuilds. The steering unit seized on a steep mountain pass in Chile, the gears disintegrated on Bolivia’s ‘Death Road’ and she rolled over twice in Namibia with me trapped inside.

‘Yet, here we are today, some 200,000 kilometres later, still alive to enjoy each other’s company – she got me safely home. I doubt a single bolt remains I have not unscrewed at some point in the past.

‘She’ll never be sold. Forty years from now, with both of us well into our 80s, we might still be seen puttering along in search of adventure and spare parts.’

Matilda is currently  enjoying a long and well-deserved break as, in 2012, Christopher set off on his third round-the-world journey – only this time with girlfriend Laura Pattara and two motorbikes.

That lasted four years and then last year’s acquisition of an old Mercedes 308D post office truck is letting the couple vagabond around Europe in the bright yellow vehicle.

‘My Land Rover found a retirement home in a classic car museum called Landy Point in Beuron-Neidingen, in southern Germany,’ said Christopher.

‘There she can wait until we return, swapping tall tales with other vintage vehicles about off-road adventures, and all the other stuff cars chat about
when the museum’s lights go out and visitors leave.’

Next week we will have more of Christopher’s adventures with Mathilda and for those interested, readers can follow him at his Facebook page (which has details of the books) at www.facebook.com/Hinter.dem.Horizont.links).