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Bob Marley's Iconic Land Rover Rides Again

Bob Marley's Iconic Land Rover Rides Again

Posted by Shanelle Weir on February 18, 2015

When people ask where I live and I say Jamaica, it’s almost a given that someone will then randomly say “ah, Bob Marley” in response. It can grate that one man can define an entire country, but this man was that most rare of individuals, an icon, the man who introduced reggae to the world and who drove an equally iconic vehicle, a Series III Land Rover.

One of my favourite shots of Marley is of him behind the wheel of his 1976 Series III, a truck design that has pretty much remained in production since 1948. Its latest and final guise, the Defender, will stop production at the end of 2015.

For Marley, the Land Rover fit perfectly; as a nature-loving Rasta who hailed from the rural Parish of St Ann, he felt an affinity with the countryside and needed a vehicle that would handle the rough roads of the island’s interior.

Since his death in 1981, his truck, unlike his reputation, faded away, and for years stood neglected in the car park at 56 Hope Road, Marley’s uptown Kingston home that became a museum dedicated to his life and music.

The Victorian-era building is a well-preserved time warp, with rooms left in the same way as when he was alive; the blue matte truck cab, in contrast, was left to deteriorate.

Land Rovers are tough and can last many lifetimes over, but the four-by-fours made in Solihull, England, were in the past renowned for their inconsistent panel work, resulting in chassis and bulkhead rot.   

So to celebrate what would have been Marley’s 70th birthday, Sandals International Resorts, which operates Jamaica’s Land Rover dealership, worked with the Marley family to restore the classic truck.    

On 6 February at the Bob Marley Museum, the crowds came out in force to celebrate, taking in a free concert in remembrance of All Things Bob.

Members of the Marley family were in attendance, along with hundreds of supporters. There was no need for a smoke machine, as a thick haze of ganja smoke sat over the crowd for the duration of the event.

The Rasta colours of red, gold and green were everywhere, but a touch of silver caught the eye on the opposite side of the stage.

Under wraps was the other star of the day – Marley’s Series III – and when it was finally revealed it came as a bit of a surprise. It wasn't a nut-and-bolt, chassis-off rebuild, the sort that’s becoming more and more popular with these cars, but rather a sympathetic restoration. It had the patina of age on the stainless steel trim pieces, but it was still Bob’s old car.  

The musician needed a spacious vehicle. Ky-Mani, one of at least 11 children the singer is known to have fathered, remembered the truck from his childhood. 

“I remember my father picking me up and taking me to his birthplace in Nine Miles, me and my brother Stephen. It was built in the year I was born so it’s good to see it back up and running.”

It took two years to bring the vehicle back from the brink, and despite the challenge, it was something the team behind it enjoyed.

“When we first saw the vehicle it was in complete disrepair, we stripped it and we rebuilt it from the chassis up,” said Stephen James, a master Jaguar Land Rover technician for ATL Automotive in Jamaica. “Finding parts for a vehicle this age is tricky; we used a supplier in the US, Rovers North, and they found us 80% of what we needed. There was no engine in the vehicle, so the power plant came from an import to the US that had originally been in Ethiopia. It seems appropriate that for Bob’s truck the heart of the vehicle was from the motherland.”

Living in Jamaica you come across two types of Land Rover owners. In the hills overlooking the capital of Kingston you see the uptown set in smart new LR4s and Range Rovers of the Sport and Evoque variety; and much farther up, in the unspoiled rural communities, you spot totally trashed Series and Defenders. These are the work horses in the Blue Mountains, an area renowned for some of the world's best and most expensive coffee.

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