We have all had the dream…to buy an old Land Rover that has been asleep in a barn for many years, tow it home and over a few months (years even), bring it back to life.
Every year there must be hundreds of old Land Rovers being dug up from their last resting place and transported to a new home with the hope of a ‘new life’. There are even adverts with abandoned restoration projects stating “All the hard work is done, just needs finishing”! These are all put up for sale by defeated restorers broken by time and money! I am sure far more projects get abandoned than actually finished.
So how do you avoid falling at the first hurdle?
Let’s look at the things to consider before taking on such a large and daunting project:
- Do you have the time, space, equipment and basic skills to do the job?
- Will your partner put up with you spending hours in the garage working on ‘that piece of junk’ rather than quality time together?
- Have you got the money to cover the inevitable cost increases as you discover the sheer magnitude of the problems you find under the bonnet and bodywork?
- Are you organised? Labelling parts, taking notes, organising separate boxes so you can actually find everything to be able to put the thing back together?
All these are reasons why your project could fail! Be really honest with yourself before getting into something that you might come to regret or even grow to hate.
Let’s assume you have answered YES to all of the above?
Firstly, we need to choose the right vehicle as a basis for your project. Don’t rush out and buy the first one you see, keep your options as open as possible and above all, DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH THE FIRST THING YOU SEE.
Of course, if your whole motivation is to restore great Grandad’s old Land Rover you used to drive across the fields in, then maybe you have a good reason. However, if you just fancy restoring ‘an old Land Rover’ do yourself a favour and pick the right vehicle to start with.
Ideally, you want a vehicle that is all in one piece with no significant bits missing. Even apparently minor items can be very hard to source, especially on Series One’s and early Two’s which are now more than half a century old! A good starting place for parts and accessories is, of course, you guessed it – your restoration friends at JGS4X4!
Do yourself a favour and avoid vehicles that have been partly or completely dismantled. You will have no idea whether all the parts are there, and more to the point how to put it back together unless you have already rebuilt one of these before!! Be warned there are many incorrect ways to rebuild a Land Rover but only one correct way. DO NOT Guess – It won’t work!
Ideally, you want a vehicle as intact as possible. This will save you the fun task of trying to pick apart the previous owners mistakes. It also helps if the vehicle you are working on resembles, at least in major respects, the one in the workshop manual.
All-original vehicles are an absolute joy to restore, and the finished result will be far more authentic and worth far more money than a ‘mish-mash’ assembled from the best parts of ten or so different vehicles.
Most restorations will start with a new galvanised chassis, and if this is the route you want to go down then the condition of the chassis is unimportant. But if you have not budgeted for a new chassis, best check that the vehicle doesn’t need one first.
Bulkhead condition is absolutely crucial – new bulkheads are in short supply and are very expensive to replace. Series 1 bulkheads are especially prone to rot, difficult to restore and good replacements are almost impossible to find. There will almost certainly be some rot. Holes in footwells are easily fixed. Rotten door pillars can be trickier but not fatal.
Serious rot along the top rail, round the fresh air vents or in the top inner corners is usually game over unless you are a welding genius! Or know someone who is. Even then, there could be plenty more rot in places you can’t see or get to.
Look very carefully at the condition of the rear body tub. Good straight tubs, especially for Series vehicles, are interesting, to say the least! The tub is spot-welded aluminium which you will not be able to recreate easily. It is possible to replace the wing skins using specialist panel adhesive (Sikaflex) and Pop Rivets, but it isn’t easy to keep the whole thing straight or maintain the original strength. Holes in the floor are less of a problem, and the rear panels are much easier to replace than the sides, but a really battered, corroded and torn body tub will leave you hunting around for hours for a better replacement.
Remember there is a reason that old a Land Rover has been dumped in a barn! If a vehicle has been taken out of use and dumped, it is usually either because the chassis has rotted beyond repair, or because it has a major mechanical fault – it doesn’t work!
Bear in mind also that an abandoned Land Rover is unlikely to have received much maintenance in the last few of years before it was abandoned. Expect all the mechanicals to be worn out and budget accordingly. The good news is that it is all fixable.
And, finally – Good luck with your project when you find it!
Top tip: Take lots of photos when dismantling your Land Rover – I promise you it will be a great help and you will thank me for this piece of advice.