For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an enthusiast of Land Rovers because of the sense of adventure and freedom such a car inspires – driving something that has actual parachute hooks and two fuel tanks is pretty awesome. The Land Rover community is massive, but I tend to keep to the classic vehicles. I would class any designed before the 1990s as my favourite cars.
My name is Lucas Savva and I’m a systems engineer at Hubspot. I only started this job at the start of 2020; before that, I was also a systems engineer, automating infrastructure for a large private cloud.
I’ve always had a passion for systems administration. When I was 14, I began to host game servers for me and my friends. With access to the hardware that my dad’s job granted me, I always had a spare computer around to load Linux onto. Linux was the natural choice at the time – I couldn’t get licences for anything else, and Dad had DVDs of Linux lying around. Being from Donegal in Ireland, internet connectivity has always been an issue, so having a server at home to store pictures, videos and games has been essential. I spent a sufficient amount of time without the internet (and only access to a terminal) to get familiar with Linux internals, and I had my first real systems administrator job in my first year of university.
I moved to Dublin to study computer science at DCU. Staying at home and going to the local college was a completely feasible option, but I simply wanted to get away from home and witness city life. I knew it would be easier to get a job in Dublin too. I’ve only recently started to enjoy living in Dublin. I’ve always been drawn back home to the scenic, spacious and quiet hills of Donegal, which contrasts with the noisy, bustling and narrow streets of Dublin. I’d prefer to live in the northwest if I could find a similar job – it’s very difficult to maintain the hobbies I have when living in a city housing estate.
Outside of my job, I love Car Restoration. To preface all this, I must admit I am yet to finish restoring my first Land Rover. During my 4th year of secondary school, my dad procured a Series 3 Lightweight. This 1979 example arrived at our house far from showroom quality. It had to be shipped over on the back of a recovery truck. We quickly found that the engine was totally seized, which inevitably led us to find the chassis rotted out to the point where a good hit from a screwdriver could go through the previously 3mm thick steel frame. The bodies on series Land Rovers are made of aluminum, and thus are excellent at hiding the horrors underneath.
Restoring the car is not a complex process, but it is time-consuming. It took us about a year of weekends to deconstruct the entire car, down to the last nut and bolt. A major problem restoring classic cars is procuring the components, although for all old Land Rovers share a majority of important components; they only differ on body panels. There are suppliers in the UK that stock old and remanufactured parts. Also, when dealing with a 40-year-old car, there is a lot of information to be sought out regarding what people have done to fix common issues and extend the vehicle’s lifespan.
We have attended the Land Rover Owner show 2 years running now, and it has been both inspirational and informative. There has been a person there to answer any and every question we’ve had about the process. I’ve also watched just about every Land Rover restoration project posted to YouTube over this time – I could nearly rebuild the car blindfolded!
We’re over 6 years into this restoration now. We have a new chassis at the ready to be sat on top of newly restored axles and suspension, which we are almost finished with now. Next up, we have the drive train and engine ancillaries to restore. We still have to source a new vent panel (the part between the windscreen and the bonnet, which on old Land Rovers has two big fresh air vents on it) which is unique to the Lightweight. There are also some upgrades we plan to install, such as front disc brakes and an unleaded conversion for the engine, but these changes can be made incrementally in the future.
It is true that you can do a better job of restoring a car than the factory did building it. For example, we have been attempting to electroplate any components that we can, like nuts and bolts and small engine components. This prevents them from rusting almost entirely if done correctly, but the process is too slow for it to be carried out during mass production. Sandblasting rusted components has been an essential part of the process to de-rust parts, but we have also successfully used electrolysis to de-rust smaller and more complex parts. When looking at a restored car, it should always be obvious that someone has taken due diligence and care to get it back to the condition they aspired towards.
However, this isn’t our only project car. A few years ago, we also got our hands on a 1977 Land Rover 101 Ambulance. Both of the vehicles are ex-military; there were only a few hundred right-hand drive ambulances like this one made. It is currently out the back of our house waiting for the Lightweight to be finished. We simply don’t have enough space to deconstruct a truck right now, and we need to get the other one out of the way.
The future of these vehicles, as I would want it right now, is with us. I am extremely jealous that my dad’s first car was a (driveable!) Lightweight back in the 1980s. I am determined to finish the car this year and drive it around. It would be a cold, rough, noisy, windy, almost painful journey from Donegal to Dublin, but it doesn’t matter when fuel consumption is measured in “smiles per gallon”. As for the Ambulance, we are torn between either restoring it to an ambulance again and using it as a show vehicle (it has a particularly special military history) or convert it to a camper and make a trip to Norway.
I have intentions to integrate some technology into the Lightweight when I do start driving it. I discovered Automotive Grade Linux a few weeks ago and started brainstorming things I could add that wouldn’t be terrible things to add to a 40-year-old car, such as reverse sensors and an engine monitoring system. There is a video online of a fully electric-powered Lightweight – although I would like to do the same thing at some point in the future, I want to experience the 86 horsepower engine for a little while.
There are a few similarities between restoring Land Rovers and running servers. I tend to spend a lot of time setting up servers, perfecting their configuration and constantly making updates. Similarly, I am doing my best to restore the Land Rover to a condition in which I believe it would never break down again, but I will inevitably work on it on a regular basis patching it up as necessary. It’s never truly finished; there will always be something to improve or change. Also, the essence of being a superuser is similar to being the owner of a car you built yourself. If I have any issues with it, I know the whole car inside out and I am confident I can fix it myself.
The industries of system engineering and car restoration couldn’t be farther apart. The cars are so electronic-free that you can start them with a handle if you so wish. Being tech-savvy has certainly helped in a number of cases. Keeping 6+ years of digital photography safe (along with countless forum bookmarks, saved PDFs, and archived emails) has been essential to our progress.
If you are a self-taught car enthusiast like myself, don’t be afraid of barriers to entry when it comes to restoration. My dad and I have restored this Land Rover out of a household garage, which had just enough space to fit the vehicle whole inside. You don’t need a car lift or a degree in engineering to restore one of these things. I don’t even know how to weld … yet!
There is always more than tech. I have given two talks at work about Land Rovers to date, and I plan to do more. I know so many people who don’t have a hobby outside of tech, and I feel that’s quite detrimental. This shouldn’t be a minority; it should be the norm. I find it both empowering and inspiring to know how cars work, and I’m happy to talk for hours about Land Rovers to people who don’t know what a crankshaft is.