On a hilltop in Vermont, Jim Macri restores Land Rovers to perfection
Jim Macri likes to say that he met Land Rovers and his wife, Jane, at the same time. In the summer of 1966, he was a college student doing odd jobs on Martha’s Vineyard, and the island was lousy with Rovers. He’d never seen one before. “They’re not particularly beautiful,” he says. “They’re certainly not comfortable. They’re not great on gas. There are a lot of ‘nots.’ But there’s something about them that I was attracted to.” It was an attraction he’s never been able to shake.
Macri and Jane returned to Long Island, where he finished college, and he then earned a doctorate in genetics. After teaching and researching for years, Macri left academia in the early 1980s to start his own laboratory, where he and colleagues discovered a noninvasive method to detect birth defects during the first trimester of pregnancy. Eventually, Macri recalls, he’d had enough of that life, so he sold his laboratory and patents, and he and Jane moved to a 200-acre hilltop spread in a serene corner of Vermont. It was here, at High Meadow Farm, where Macri finally tapped into a nostalgia that he never quite got over.
In 2005, he bought his first vintage Land Rover, a 1964 Series IIA. He bought a pair of them, actually, both of which Macri says were “tragic.” When he crossed paths with a Vermont native and Rover specialist named Glenn Parent, Macri made him an offer to join him at High Meadow Farm in a custom-built restoration shop, with all the equipment he could ever need, to rebuild classic Land Rovers the right way. Parent agreed, and from the tragic Land Rovers the men built one immaculate example. It took over a year, but Macri was hooked.
Today, High Meadow Farm Rovers employs two full-time mechanics, including Glenn’s son, Jacob. (Glenn left in 2017.) The team excels at metalworking, aluminum welding, and sheetmetal bending. “Literally, we could build anything we want here,” Macri says. And they have. But he insists High Meadow is not a restoration business. “Once I did something like that, it would no longer be fun. We do this because we enjoy doing it. I don’t want to be tied to some schedule of producing a restored Land Rover for someone else.”
But the Land Rovers Macri and the team have produced for his own collection are spectacular. An airy wood-paneled barn houses the most perfect Land Rovers on earth. Upstairs is a 1948 Series I, the 149th Land Rover built. Beside it is the 1964 Series IIA, with a rare Brockhouse trailer restored to match. A 1957 Series I sits alongside a Series III, and the evolution of the breed—minimal as it is—is evident. There’s also a 1997 Defender acquired new for Macri’s daughter, Liz.
“We told her to take good care of it because we wanted it back at some point,” he says. “And she did, but we wound up taking it apart anyway.” An electric golf cart apes a Series I, faithful down to the shrunken grille and offroad tires. Macri built it for his grandkids, “but it came out too damn good,” he says. “They’ll get it later.”
Downstairs, in the restoration shop, sits a rust-free 1951 Series I from Oregon by way of New Mexico, with enviable patina. On a lift is Macri’s latest acquisition—a rare 1947 Rover P2 12 Sport Touring car from England, a lovely cream-white convertible that runs like a dream and is slated for a full restoration. Even though it’s not a Landie, Macri argues that the tourer is one of the family. In fact, it has a close connection to the crown jewel of the collection—the Land Rover Centre Steer prototype he spent three years re-creating.
After World War II, Rover set up the Land Rover project as a temporary measure until it could resurrect its touring car operation. In 1947, Rover engineers built a simple body atop a Ford GPW Jeep chassis and fitted it with a Rover P2 engine and transmission. With export in mind, they figured center-mounted steering would work anywhere. “A typically British solution to a problem,” Macri says. The Centre Steer was a tantalizing proof of concept and gave Rover the impetus to launch series production (in righthand drive) a year later. Then it disappeared.
Work on Macri’s Centre Steer began in 2014, when High Meadow tore down two 1942 Jeeps. From period photographs of the original Centre Steer, they spent thousands of hours generating a 3-D model. Macri sourced a correct P2 engine and transmission and designed an adapter to mate the Rover transmission to a Jeep transfer case. The body was hand-formed from aluminum and magnesium alloy, and although photos show a matte-finished body, Macri thought it a shame to hide all that brushed aluminum under primer. No photos of the Centre Steer’s engine compartment exist, so Macri and his team simply guessed: “We looked at one another and said, ‘What did these guys think of in 1947?’ ” They asked themselves that question a lot during the build.
In 2017, the finished product debuted at the British Motorcar Festival in Bristol, Rhode Island. “The amount of time and effort that went into it was phenomenal,” says Macri. “The cost was beyond belief. But I’m delighted that we did it.”
Macri and team attend three or four shows a year, mostly in the Northeast. The camaraderie is great, as are the awards—for the Centre Steer or for any other Land Rover he happens to enter. One wall of the barn is dedicated to the trophies and plaques Macri’s Land Rovers have claimed. “There’s no one who comes near us,” he says.
High Meadow Farm Rovers is what happens when one enthusiast finally finds the time and energy to devote to a longstanding love. “They all leak, they all lean, they all have issues,” says Macri, “but that’s part of the cachet of the Land Rover.” For 70 years, Land Rovers have traversed all corners of the globe. Maybe now they deserve some rest in a little red barn in southeast Vermont.