Marty Marcinczyk took his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute engineering degree into the dot-com world of the 1990s. When his first start up went public in 1995, he took some of the proceeds and went looking for his then-dream car, a late ‘60s Ford Bronco. At least he did until he saw his first 1995 Defender 90.
Marty remembered, “I went to Land Rover Edison (NJ) and found there was a waiting list. I told them I wanted the next one that came in. Then I got a call from the dealership. Someone had bought an Alpine White soft top and discovered that his wife hated it. It had 3,000 miles on it, but was in perfect shape. I said, ‘Put my name on it.’”
Twenty-one years later, he still owns that very Defender, but it’s a very different one in 2016. Marty’s life with his Land Rover demonstrates what enthusiasts can accomplish through their Land Rover, and he shared his experiences in a phone interview.
The New Jersey native used his then-new Defender to get him to the best surfing beaches in his region, from Montauk Point, Island Beach State Park on the Jersey Shore, to Cape Hatteras. He started enjoying off-road events like the Mid-Atlantic Rally in Virginia. A new start up opportunity took him and his Defender to Denver, where he enjoyed traveling through the Rocky Mountains. Another start up took Marty to a company in Virginia in 1999. That coincided with the dot-com bust, and when that company failed, Marty pondered his next turn. With little venture capital available for another start up, Marty decided to change course and have his Defender take him on a long trip.
Marty quoted John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, noting, “’We do not take a trip; a trip takes us.’ My plan was to head to Alaska and then travel through South America to the tip at Cape Horn. I attended an event in the Northeast and there ran into Mark Letorney. I knew that my Defender’s soft top was impractical for an expedition, so I sourced a fiberglass top at Rovers North. Once there, I saw a Defender 110 top in their barn and realized, that’s the size Land Rover I need for this trip. I asked Mark, ‘Can I convert my 90 to a 110?’ Mark said it would require modifications, but it was doable.”
“I had plenty of time, so I asked to make the conversion right there at Rovers North. We struck a deal for assistance when necessary and I went right to work. It took 11 days and 18-hour days to complete, but in the end, I had a Defender 110 Station Wagon, which offered me a ton of room, extra security and safety.”
“In 2001, I headed north to the shores of Hudson Bay and then drove back to Quebec City. At a gas station, the attendant informed me of the horror of September 11. He befriended me and invited me to stay at a cabin in the woods. In October, I tried to return to Canada a few weeks later. I arrived at their border crossing in my Defender, laden with surfing and camping gear. The Canadians assumed that I was attempting to flee the US in the event of war and denied me entry.”
“Plan B involved me heading through the Pacific Northwest and then towards South America. My intent had been to travel to the Cape of Good Horn at the tip of the continent—that is, until I ran up against the requirements of a carnet de passage. This document is really a bond based on the value of the Defender, as interpreted by government officials. They wanted me to take out a bond for $75,000—in 2001 dollars—the amount I would receive back when I left a country. Not trusting anyone to actually return the bonded amount to me, I spent the year traveling through Central American counties instead. I wanted to surf the best beaches and I wound up riding waves from Mexico to Panama.”
“Shortly after the trip began, I stopped worrying about lost time, scheduled itineraries and reaching my goals. I adapted to our surroundings and created opportunities, finding success in the trailer parks, National Parks, local events, homes of strangers, homes of friends, educational institutions and remote locations that cannot be found on a map.”
One of Marty’s most compelling surfing locales was at Pavones, located in remote southern Costa Rica. Surf Europe considers it #4 in the world for its “three minute long leg-burners, a point-break gem.” A ferry shortens the drive time and once there, Marty met up with two Brits traveling in their Land Rover 110: Tom, a software engineer from Yorkshire, and Barry, an IT contractor from Bournemouth. They spent six weeks surfing with Marty and traveling the country.
Marty remembers living out of his Defender the entire time. “I was self-sufficient. There was nothing in the back but a foldable bench seat. I created a bed frame from redwood that could be set up as needed. I created yacht-style compartments for storage. The back door had sliding shelves and drawers. I hung 3-4 foam beds from the roof and they would form the mattress for the night along with netting for bugs. I also traveled with water bags hanging outside the car, warming them in the sun for hot showers. I installed security bars across the windows and carried sand ladders in case I got stuck. I used the roof rack for storage only and slept in the ground tent most every night.”
“I learned to trust people and their local customs. For example, at border crossings I saw kids offering to help with paperwork. At first I doubted they could speed up the process, but entering Guatemala, I gave them $10, my passport and vehicle title. Twenty minutes later they returned with all the paperwork stamped; from then on, I let the kids handle it all!”
The trip included numerous other adventures, such as, “Being chased by abull in a bull fighting ring in Costa Rica, having generals and their families of the Sandinista Army cheer me on while surfing in Nicaragua, being invited to the Panamanian home of an indigenous Mové Indian family, panning for gold along the riverbeds of the Osa Peninsula, and navigating the rigorous drive to San Blas in an attempt to purchase an authentic mola (fiber art) from the Kuna women.”
“I returned to the US and reentered the corporate world in Virginia. Then, overtired one night, I rolled the Defender 30 minutes away from my home. Time to reimagine the Defender again, and after a call to Mark Letorney, I decided to convert it to a quad cab, like one I’d seen at MAR in 2005. Once completed, it became my adventure and off-road vehicle from 2006–2013.”
“By now the Defender had become a bit tired and I felt compelled to complete a full, high quality refurbishment of the vehicle. I decided to work with Bill Schofield of Pitch Enterprises, in Shippack, PA. Initially, I thought of an engine replacement but once Bill saw the chassis, he said, ‘Let’s start with the frame first’ and I agreed. In fact, I decided to replace everything that showed any wear at all. I also decided that I would have every possible steel part galvanized. Then we added a roof rack, a snorkel and additional lighting. In the end, the job took about 1.5 years to complete.”
Marty’s Defender is NAS #3156. He’s upgraded the interior of the fascia of the 21st century Defenders and added a back-up camera and a center panel, with extra power plugs, AC power, USB and iPod ports. Driver and passengers are cosseted by Exmoor seats. Full doors with roll up windows definitely seal more effectively. Bill Schofield created a custom rear spare tire mount, a high lift jack mounting bracket, and a unique bull bar and grille.
When Marty first traveled with his Defender, he worked with students at RPI to create and maintain a website, “Travels with Rover,” chronicling his adventures. The site has been discontinued as Marty has remained in the corporate world as Vice President of Customer Experience for the cable company, Comcast. But he promises that “Travels with Rover Part 2” will appear one day; despite its sharp appearance, his Defender gets used for camping and off-road escapes. Marty noted, “In a decade, I predict I will be knocking on Bill’s door for the next iteration of my Defender.”
Marty reminisced about his travels in his shape-shifting Defender. “After the places I’d been, the things I saw, the sounds I heard and the people I met, I saw things differently. In the end, I did not take a trip, the trip took me.” And his Defender made it all possible.
Story By Jeffrey Aronson,
Photography by Marty Marcinczyk, Kevin King