27 May The Unique Story of a Special North American Spec D90
Vehicle paperwork is one of the many hurdles that both overlanders traveling abroad and expats with vehicles have to contend with. Without the proper paperwork, travelers may face costly penalties – even vehicle seizure by customs agents.
Mexico is no exception. Actually, Mexico has some strict rules regarding vehicle importation. Our North American Defender, for example, cannot be plated in Mexico because its VIN identifies it as a vehicle previously imported from the UK to the US. We don’t know why this is a deal-breaker, but it is.
This fact has kept us – Sean in particular – in migratory limbo, only able to obtain temporary status as long as we keep the Rover (which will hopefully be forever). So, we are temporary residents despite being home.
While in Mexico, we’ve made friends in the Rover community and we’ve seen some cool Defenders. Among these, one stands out – a 1994 North American Spec Defender 90 with the 3.9 V8 and a very interesting back story. When we first saw this Defender, we were surprised to see it had Mexican plates, since we didn’t know that was possible.
These days, she is owned and meticulously maintained by our friend, Pablo, who purchased the vehicle at a government auction of seized vehicles. It was this process of going through the Mexican government that made the vehicle legal to plate in Mexico.
The story we are about to share with you, however – the story of this unique ’94 NAS D90 – is a tragic tale.
The vehicle’s previous owner was a retired US fireman who crossed the border into Mexico in 2011. Behind the Defender, he pulled a motorcycle on a trailer. He got to know various parts of Mexico on his way down and when he reached the Mayan Riviera, he met a beautiful Mexican woman. The Caribbean backdrop was idyllic and with love wafting on the salty sea air, he decided to stick around. Life was good.
Alas, their romance eventually faded and our protagonist decided to take the voyage farther south, into Guatemala and perhaps beyond. But at the Mexico-Guatemala border, his story took a turn for the worse. The Defender was impounded by Mexican authorities for having overstayed its temporary importation permit. In a desperate effort to reclaim his vehicle, he set-up camp near the border for weeks and pleaded his case to whoever would listen. His efforts were in vain.
This story serves as a reminder for us, expats living in Mexico, to have our documents in order at all times. This may seem straight-forward but over the years it can be a challenge to keep up as migratory statuses are updated or renewed; sometimes the vehicle papers can be updated where we live but other times we may need to leave the country and come back in.
If, for example, you’re maintaining a 20-year old British vehicle in Mexico, you might not always be ready to drive 10 hours north into Texas. That’s one way you end up with paperwork issues. Or maybe the intoxicating mix of mezcal, sun, and the deep brown eyes of a Mexican señorita causes you to lose track of time. Either way, you can see how it might happen.
Today, Pablo, Sean and I weave down a path in our two Defenders toward the reservoir on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende. It’s mid-Summer, before the rains, so it’s hot but life abounds down by the water. We pass grazing goats & waterfowl darting through tall grass. There are fields on either side of us – some lined with rows of corn stalks. When the reservoir permits, local farmers take advantage of the drier times of year to plant traditional crops – usually the three sisters – on these fertile lands. Traditional farmers in North and Central America often plant corn, squash, and beans together because they grow well together.
Pablo has put a lot of work into the vehicle after taking ownership and it appears to be in almost mint condition – it has been registered in California before coming to Mexico and it doesn’t look like it ever spent winters up north where they put salt on the roads (still mad at you, Massachusetts!). The chassis is impeccable as is everything else. The V8 sounds fantastic. Did we mention the red leather interior, reminiscent of an Italian roadster’s cockpit? Simply magnifico!
The condition of this ’94 NAS leaves us wanting to call our nearest Defender outfitter to pimp our ride. It’s no accident that this ’94 NAS is in such good shape – Pablo painstakingly restored it while making a few improvements in homage to the vehicle’s history. The restoration process concluded with a paint job – from AA yellow to gray and she still sports her Rovers North soft-top. This top was fabricated for Rovers North by Badger Coachworks, a small New England shop known for producing some of the best Defender soft tops ever – which helps to explain why this top is still intact almost 20 years later.
“I think he would be pleased to see her today” – Pablo says.
Since assuming ownership in 2013, Pablo reached out to the US fireman’s family to return some personal affects he found in the vehicle and, in the process, learned of the fireman’s story. The fireman bought the Defender with very low mileage and owned it for several years before retiring to a life on the road. We don’t know the places he saw or the people he met before he reached southern Mexico, but we imagine it was a great adventure.
His journey ended in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas on the Suchiate River that divides Mexico and Guatemala. He had been in Mexico for 2 years and had lost his beloved Defender, his motorcycle and girlfriend. Maybe he was in a dark place. Or maybe he felt he had done everything he wanted to do. Whatever happened that muggy night will never be known. Ultimately, he found himself so irretrievably lost in this foreign land that he could see no way out. He would never return home – he would in fact never leave that hotel room alive.
On the trail with Pablo, we meander through the countryside. We pass farmers and their fields. The path takes us closer to the water until we have to turn around. We’ve been following a small brook on our right and, as we make our turn toward the empty field to our left, the sandy bank beneath us turns to mud – the deep, slick, clingy kind that remains after a reservoir recedes. Almost immediately, we are differential-deep and need the other vehicle to help us out (we don’t always get stuck but when we do, we try to have another Defender behind us).
We make it back to town before dusk, grateful for time spent in nature with kindred spirits & with some reflection given to those that came before us and to the series of events that eventually led to this encounter in central Mexico.