Photographs by Nikki Schuurman
Mostly, when one meets anyone restoring older cars, it is at a fancy classic car show, an auction or a glitzy event organised by a car manufacturer. I met Daniel van Oort at a wedding in Amsterdam, one which was a formal black tie kind of a setting. Except, Daniel was dressed in shorts and a linen jacket. That wasn’t what made me notice him, though, it was an orange and black Defender 110 he drove in. Naturally, I went up to see the car and conversation followed. One that led me to Daniel’s workshop in North Amsterdam the next time I was in the Dutch capital.
Like most things involving passion, Daniel’s love affair with the Defender started because of a love story. His then girlfriend lived in South Africa and Daniel, along with his friend Peter Zeisser wanted to drive to South Africa from Amsterdam. The next logical step was to find a car to undertake the journey, something which didn’t cost a bomb and was easy to fix if it broke. The Defender fit the bill, literally and figuratively, and Daniel got one. Very soon, the trip became secondary and restoring the car took up all of Daniel and Peter’s time. So much so, ironically, that the relationship with the girlfriend had ended by the time the car was ready. But a new relationship had begun, one which continues stronger than ever till today.
The first Defender Daniel and Peter made used to be parked below the apartment both of them shared along with two other friends. One day, a gentleman passing by, who happened to be a Defender fan, noticed the car and asked if the car was for sale. Since the South African chapter of the story was closed, and the price being offered was fantastic, both decided to sell the first Defender and made enough money to buy two more. The realisation that they could do something both of them love and make money led to the formation of their company — The Landrovers. Seed money came from friends and slightly reluctant families, a workshop was set up outside another friend’s office and The Landrovers were in business.
Born in Tanzania, in a family of nature lovers, Daniel always wanted a place that embodied freedom. Peter, a lawyer by education, always wanted to be his own boss. Both wanted work to be a part of their life, not their entire life. Enough money to be comfortable, not so much that earning it leaves no time for anything else. A life which was on their own terms, as cliched as it may sound, but they have made it happen. A sentiment that both feel is embodied best by the Defender. A car that can go anywhere, isn’t constrained by terrain or weather and does not require a lot of money to own/maintain.
Daniel and Peter are like Yin and Yang, or the shorts and the linen jacket if you may, and run the place like an extension of their personalities. Division of work and labour isn’t a strategic decision always, it is more on the lines of what one can do better. Peter takes care of the legal and corporate aspects, not just because he wears glasses, and Daniel manages the shop floor. Roles that are reversed without any glitches if and when there is a need. Neither of them work on the Defenders as much as earlier, something they rue and hence the glass office to see what’s happening in the workshop always.
Their workshop is an absolutely fun place to be and the horde of Defenders parked outside isn’t the only reason. The bunch of mechanics who work with them all grew up admiring the Defender and were thrilled to get an opportunity to work on such cars. The workshop is organised, as clean as a workshop can be, and serves coffee and beer (after working hours). What more do you want, eh?
In slightly over two years of being in business, The Landrovers has a steady base of customers in the USA. An interesting choice of market, which Daniel and Peter chanced upon when they realised Land Rover sold very few Defenders in the USA due to a change of regulations in 1991. Add to that import regulations were not impossible to comply with. Their first customer in the USA was so thrilled with the car, he offered to become their representative in the country to sell more cars for them. More happy customers ensued and within a year, The Landrovers were doubling their production.
Expanding to other countries and a bigger workshop are topics both Daniel and Peter discuss frequently these days. Their order book is overflowing, thanks to repeat customers and their word-of-mouth publicity. But being the people that they are, Daniel and Peter are not queuing up for investment to expand the business or looking for bigger workshop spaces. They love their freedom and want to be happy doing what they do, not become an assembly line with an impressive top line. Much like the Defender again, I think.
[The story was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Motoring World]