Jason Garnier ’97 achieved his life-long dream of becoming a professional pilot over 20 years ago. But now he is chasing a new dream, this time on the ground, with a side business, restoring old Land Rovers.
Although he wouldn’t start his company 34NorthDefenders until much later on, Garnier first got his used-motor-vehicle dealer’s license while he was furloughed for two years following the attacks on September 11.
He maintained his license throughout the years, buying and selling used cars on the side, but after he went on a few safari trips while on flight assignment in Johannesburg, South Africa, he developed a love for the iconic Land Rover.
“It’s definitely a niche market,” Garnier said. “They’re very simple, rugged vehicles. There’s nothing fancy about them. It’s something unique – the history, the nostalgia, the simplicity of the Defender. They’ve just stayed true to what they are over the years.”
After buying his first personal Land Rover – a 1975 series III – and selling it in 2016, Garnier was able to incorporate his love for the Land Rovers into his day job while flying a Boeing 777 to places like South Africa, the Netherlands and Australia.
“Flying’s always been my priority, but now, I’m just turning a passion into a business.”
Growing up in Atlanta, Garnier didn’t want to just go to a typical flight school; he also wanted the “big university” experience.
So, when it came time to decide on a school, Auburn’s highly regarded aviation program was one of the only places he could get both.
Garnier loved everything about the program and took a co-op with Delta in his junior year at Auburn, leading to a job right after graduation with a regional airline. After three years, Garnier was picked up by Delta, where he’s remained for nearly two decades.
By the nature of his longer flights, Garnier’s assignments are typically three to five days, which includes the flight there and back, as well as time on the ground, allowing him to make connections around the world and get immersed in the growing Land Rover community.
Since the Defender was only offered in the U.S. from 1994-1997 and went completely out of production in 2016, demand has skyrocketed. Garnier is trying to provide customers a distinguished-looking vehicle at a reasonable price.
“There are some companies out there that do amazing and beautiful work, but it comes at quite a premium, which isn’t affordable to a lot of people.”
Looking to have just a few vehicles in the pipeline to start off, Garnier currently has three Defenders in South Africa and another in Turkey – all in the restoration phase.
Because there are so many people around the world who specialize in restoring Land Rovers, Garnier outsources all the restoration in the places the vehicles come from. He said he expects his current vehicles to be ready for import to the U.S. for sale in the next few months.
And with different styles in mind, 34NorthDefenders, named for the latitude that the pilot’s hometown of Atlanta lies, will offer a traditional Land Rover look, a more economical style for off road and a luxury Defender, or “the Buckhead style” as the he likes to call it.
“It’ll probably never see off road, but somebody will get to drive a pretty cool vehicle – something you’d see in Buckhead,” Garnier said with a laugh.
With his business in the early stages, Garnier hopes to build his business’s name to a point where customers approach him for specific customized Defenders.
“One day, I’d love to have a retail location in downtown Atlanta; that’s probably a few years down the road, but we’ll see.”