The base price of a 2021 Land Rover Defender starts at $47,000 and increases quickly with the most sought after accessory packages. With the price of new gear haulers out of reach for many outdoor enthusiasts, plus a nostalgia for more analog transportation, there’s been a groundswell of buyers restoring decades old Jeeps, Ford Broncos, and Chevrolet pick-ups.
Despite the headstrong loyalty to those iconic American trucks, it’s hard to match the appeal of a vintage Land Rover. “When you look at a Land Rover, you’re almost immediately transported to this idea of what adventure should be. As kids watching movies, or reading National Geographic magazines, all the far off reaches the world featured Land Rovers,” says Michael Kraabel, a former advertising agency creative director, who turned his passion for Land Rovers into a thriving restomod business called Bishop + Rook in Minneapolis, MN.
Land Rovers, especially old models, carry a mystique that’s attractive to anyone who craves going off the beaten path, and who has a reverence for analog transportation. “There are very few cars that you can own that creates such a positive sense of nostalgia for a slower pace of life, or the idea of the road can take you from point A to point B. But your adventure should be beyond those points. When you sit in the driver’s seat of a Defender it gives you that opportunity to imagine all of those things that you’ve always wanted to do. Now there’s this vehicle that can take you there,” explains Kraabel.
The visual image of most restored vintage trucks is a pristine, jewel-like museum piece rolled out of the garage into the sunshine and never, ever getting close to the dirt roads the original vehicle was intended to traverse.
At Bishop + Rook, Kraabel takes a different approach he calls ‘adventure tested’ restoration. “If people have lots of money they can restore everything and the project becomes a measure of a pocketbook rather than something else. We wanted to bring an honest truck to the market, and make sure it was mechanically reliable. We bring our Land Rovers to a level in which you can go make the next chapter of the truck’s story,” he says.
Restoration and rebuild customers are parents with young children, professionals reaping the first financial rewards of their careers, or maybe partnerships between grandfather, father, and grandson looking for a shared experience. Costs depend on the condition of the original vehicle and the intentions of the new owners. Ultimately, the costs are significantly lower than a new model that lacks the patina and soul of a restored Land Rover. Prices can run as low as $20k for a Bishop + Rock project. Of course, they can also run much higher.
“We felt an ethical and moral obligation to build a good trustworthy truck. You’re not going to be afraid that it’s going to break down or somebody has hidden something that you’re going to discover later on that’s going to be costly or dangerous to fix,” says Kraabel.
Kraabel has built a family of Land Rover artisans across England, France, and Spain. With the rare exception, he purchases his Land Rover stock from the vehicle’s current owners. “We get these trucks from somebody who’s cared for it and for whatever reason, they need to pass it on to somebody else.”
Even with vehicles with long histories and six or seven owners, Kraabel is looking for each Land Rover’s specific story. He’s purchased Land Rovers that have delivered mail, towed sailboats around marinas, and served honorably in an ambulance configuration.
Kraabel and his restoration team take that history into account. “We always collect paperwork and photos from the original owners. How do you preserve what is good about the vehicle while making sure that it’s going to be reliable and comfortable for the next owner?” Restoring a Land Rover once used by a fire chief in Spain, the Bishop + Rook mechanics left fire engine red painted metal interior door panels untouched. “It was perfectly solid and there was no reason to change. We wanted some of that story to go along with the truck for the next owner,” says Kraabel.
Historically, Land Rovers were designed with the steering wheel on the right hand side of the vehicle. At least half of Bishop + Rook’s commission work moves those controls to the left side familiar to American drivers. But Kraabel recommends staying true to the original driving right hand side position. “These vehicles were designed to be right hand drive. I find that a much more unique experience and much more fun. The driving experience is better,” says Kraabel.
Hearing that point of view, potential customers hesitate for a moment, rocking their heads left to right, contemplating changing lifelong driving habits. “It takes about 10 minutes to reorient yourself to drive on the right, and a day or two driving before it becomes natural,” says Kraabel.
There are a few downsides. Kraabel finds he’s always running behind schedule when he drives his right hand Land Rover. “If you’re an introvert, this might not be the best car for you. Every single time you stop somebody is going to ask you a question. I’ll pull into a parking lot and see guys walking across four lanes to ask what is this? Where did this come from? What’s the story?”
From the perspective of a buyer judging the cost of a restored truck, converting to left hand drive is 20-30 percent more expensive. “ And, in my mind, a much less unique vehicle,” says Kraabel.
Despite COVID-19 quarantines, interest in restored Land Rovers remains high. A street in suburban Minneapolis that borders a parking lot used to store a fleet of soon to be restored Land Rovers continues to see slow drive by traffic. Bishop + Rook has restoration and service work scheduled for the first eight months of 2021.
“There are very, very few things in life that you can buy or bring into your life that creates a sense of possibility and adventure,” says Kraabel. “That’s what I love so much about the Land Rovers in our shop. I know these Land Rovers will become part of the storyline of somebody’s life. And that’s what makes it fun to come into work every day.”
Photos courtesy Kraabel.