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Land Rover

Sands Of Times Published: 4th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: SII/SIIA (2.25)
  • Worst model: Bodged old heaps
  • Budget buy: Most 1980s models
  • OK for unleaded?: No – needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): Most no problem
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Usually splendid
  • Club support: Brilliant
  • Appreciating asset?: Early S1/SIIs
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Former… classless fun
Interiors only become remotely car-like with S3 and still crude. Exposed wiper motor on early cars now extremely rare Interiors only become remotely car-like with S3 and still crude. Exposed wiper motor on early cars now extremely rare
Most Landies will have towed at some point but many have been abused so look for chassis and transmission wear Most Landies will have towed at some point but many have been abused so look for chassis and transmission wear
Most prefer the simplistic looks of S1 and S2 vehicles. Wagon versions make good estates although rear space can be tight Most prefer the simplistic looks of S1 and S2 vehicles. Wagon versions make good estates although rear space can be tight
Bulkhead rot can be terminal so check at ventilation fl ap, the A posts, footwells etc. Bulkhead rot can be terminal so check at ventilation fl ap, the A posts, footwells etc.
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Sketched on a beach, the original go-anywhere vehicle hits 60 this year and is the only classic you can still buy brand new! But it’s the old ones that enjoy cult status – and rightly so...

Pros & Cons

Versatility, ruggedness, classless image, magnifi cent off-road ability, value, club/ aftermarket back up
Extremely crude, rust problems, suspect mechanicals, on-road performance, expensive OE parts

The Land Rover was born out of desperation from a war-torn country where the message to industry in general, and carmakers in particular, was ‘export or die’… and a Rover big wig wanting to do some gardening! The MD of Rover was Spencer Wilks and whilst pondering the fi rst problem, his brother, Maurice had one of his own. He had a 250 acre farm on the island of Anglesey and there was only one vehicle capable of getting him around the varied terrain – a wartime Willys Jeep. As it neared the end of its useful life, Maurice considered getting another to replace it when he realised that there was a gap in the market, which could easily be fi lled – by Rover! Work on the Land Rover (the name decided early on) began in 1947 with a simple sketch drawn in the beach sand by Maurice at his Anglesey home, or so folklore has it. Certainly the design was as simple as a deck chair – it would use a Rover P3 engine, gearbox and back axle and there was no need for expensive body dies – the entire body would be made from aluminium. Unlike today’s swanky 4x4s the Land Rover was purely a working vehicle to complement a tractor and featured a power take-off to enable it to use a range of existing farm machinery, too. A range of bolt-on accessories would further enhance its appeal. This thinking also applied to export sales, as the car would be able to tackle everything from harsh deserts to dense jungles. Six decades on, the Land Rover is still with us and still shares a lot of the original DNA. Early models are now particularly coveted as classless classics and they always make splendid practical working run-arounds into the bargain. This marks a real anniversary-fest for the Land Rover. It’s 60 years to the month since the original was introduced, half century since the SII was released and 25 years of the coil sprung generation. Happy birthday Landie!


It was designed in the sand on a beach in anglesey!

The original Land Rover was introduced in April 1948 and retrospectively labelled the Series 1. In 1958, it was updated to become the Series II, the IIA in 1961 and the Series III in 1971. Production of the Series III slightly overlapped its replacements (the 90/110 models, which began production in 1983 and which ultimately became Defenders), eventually stopping in 1985. However, even the latest Defender model wears its heritage on its sleeve, the Series connection being visually obvious from across the street. The Land Rover was launched with the P3 1595cc engine with an 80in wheelbase; this was one of numerous aspects it shared with the war-time Jeep, which also included the separate box section chassis frame, front mounted engine/gearbox with transfer box at the rear driving propeller shafts to the front and rear live axles.

Suspension was telescopic dampers and semi-elliptic (cart) springs. Because of cost restrictions, the chassis sections were made from four strips of sheet steel welded together to make the ‘boxes’. The original production run was to have been 1000 units per year – a fi gure that was actually restricted by the government! It was argued that there was a future in export and so production was increased – in the fi rst year of production, a staggering 8000 were built! Between 1948 and 1958, three short wheelbase models (80, 86 and 88in) and two long wheelbase (107 and 109in) models were made along with an expanding range of derivatives and options. A decade later, a new model was required. The Series II was introduced and, as previously, there were two models, both relating to the wheelbase length in inches – the 88 and the 109, being short and long wheelbase respectively.

The most obvious exterior feature differences were the additions of sill covers and a ‘barrel’ line along the length. The latter added curves to the slab-sided shape and was necessary to cover the 38mm width increase. The fi rst few off the line used up existing stocks of the old 2-litre (2052cc) petrol engine, after which the SII was blessed with the now famous 2286cc unit (more commonly known as the 2 1/4). Diesel powered Landies were stuck with the 2-litre engine until the advent of the (virtually unchanged) IIA models in 1961, when the capacity was also upped to 2286cc. Inside, the made-for-work ethic continued, with the main instruments sited in the centre of the dash, just one wiper being fitted as standard (and that with an exposed motor) and virtually everything in sight being painted steel.

All models had four-speed gearboxes, which were tough but unrefi ned with synchromesh only on third and fourth. In high ratio, the vehicle was rear-wheel drive, though drive to the front wheels could be selected manually. When low ratio was selected, 4WD automatically came into play via a transfer box bolted to the back of the main gearbox. Unlike the Range Rover, Series Landies have no centre differential, so 4WD is for tricky conditions only (thick mud, snow etc.) otherwise you’ll get axle wind-up and, eventually, transmission damage. Incidentally, the very earliest Landies up to 1950 featured permanent 4WD with a free-wheel device on the front wheels to cut wheel scrub and subsequent damage to the transmission.

In 1967, the engine line-up was enhanced by the option on LWB cars of the 2625cc, six-cylinder Rover unit, which naturally gave much better performance but at the expense of fuel economy – something dear to the heart of the average farmer. As a result, it is now comparatively a rare fi nd. In 1968, Euro lighting regulations (yes, even back then!) required the headlamps to migrate from their home alongside the radiator into the wings. Export models got them in 1968, but UK cars had to wait until the following year. The SIII arrived in 1971 (along with sales busting the 750,000 mark), though realistically it should have been called the Series IIB, because it was effectively just a facelift. There were a few important upgrades, though. The wheelbase options remained the same, though the track was widened to add stability. The grille became plastic (to outcries from many outdoorsmen who used them as makeshift ‘barbies’!), the instrument panel was relocated to a more sensible position in front of the driver and double-declutching became a thing of the past as the gearbox became fully synchro. By mid-1976 Land Rover sales topped the one million mark. The engine choice remained as previously, with the four pot petrol and diesel units taking the bulk of the sales and the straight six remaining a not-very-popular pick. Word on the street is that very early Series III chassis were constructed badly from steel hardly worth the name – this was the ‘70s, don’t forget, a time of trouble and strife for the British Car Industry. However, like most Landies, the welders art will be much in evidence anyway.

After doing a great job in the Range Rover for almost a decade, logically the old girl eventually got the V8 too in 1979, albeit in vastly derated form to 91bhp and 166lbft (MGB owners remember this if you get your V8 from a Landie) which was on a par with the now-discontinued six. That said, the alloy V8 unit weighed a massive 60 per cent less so it was a worthwhile revise. Due to use of the Range Rover’s transmission, V8s also gained permanent four-wheel drive. For 1982 a ‘high capacity’ pick-up joined the ranks along with a family friendly Station Wagon called ‘County’. A year later saw one of the biggest changes to the mechanical spec yet; Range Rover coil spring rear suspension, fi rst on long wheelbase models (110) and them on the new ‘extended’ swb chassis a year later, called the ‘Ninety’ to denote the wheelbase (92,9in to be precise). Transmissions were now permanent four-wheel drive. The long awaited turbo diesel arrived – a somewhat prickly piston-digesting 2.5 litre ‘four’ in 1986 while the Defender badge took over in 1990. These days the innovative Landie relies upon Ford Transit technology!


Only a true enthusiast – masochist for want of a better word – would say that Land Rover driving is a comfortable experience. It’s a rough and ready machine with scant creature comforts. The ride is jolty, the cabin is noisy plus early engines are extremely low-powered for the weight they lug around meaning that it’s working hard to maintain a 50-60mph cruise. V8s are better, but naturally juicy. And that’s part of the appeal of a Land Rover because as a main car they are a non-starter. But as second or even third car for occasional use, a Landie provides a wonderful antithesis of any modern Eurobox, totally involving and demanding real skill to get the best from it. If you can put it through its paces off-road, you’ll come away amazed that any vehicle can handle such extremes without dying on its feet or ending up on its roof!

The reason why so many are still in use on remote farms is simple – they do what it says on the tin and don’t require a hugely expensive special order of complex bits and pieces from Japan every time something breaks. Other advantages include strong club and social scene support and a totally classless image. And if some lunatic-fringe, misinformed tree-hugger decides to slap a ‘ban 4 x 4’ sticker on your paintwork, it really won’t matter – in fact, as real Land Rovers come with a coating of mud, it wouldn’t stick there in the fi rst place…


Like the later Defenders, short wheelbase (SWB) models are more popular than the LWB models (not least because they’re handier off-road) and so carry a slight premium. In the same vein, the station wagon versions of any wheelbase, with rear seats, cost more than the pick-up models. Buy your Landie more on condition rather than year or mileage but as rule you can expect to pay around £500 for a basket case SIII and around £5000 for a top SII with SWBs the most wanted due to their stubbiness. Series III cars are the ideal as a fi rst classic however; they’re younger, generally in better nick and, because they haven’t quite reached total classic status, they’re more affordable. Later 80s cars can be had for a few grand but be warned, there’s a lot of bodged, rotted dross around. Unusually, the larger engined six-cylinder cars will often be worth less than their four-cylinder counterparts. Diesels are liked for more modern use while the V8s are great if you can afford the running costs.

Variations of A Theme

As you know, Landies come in all shapes and sizes; hard and open top, shooting brake, van and pick-up, short and long wheelbases… the list goes on. And if a standard factory model doesn’t do it for you, then there’s a host of specials to consider.

These vehicles were integral to our armed forces and civilian services and you’ll fi nd a lot of ex-military and municipal Land Rovers in various forms. Once upon a time the Government used to sell old stock off via dedicated auctions. That’s all changed now, although you still see them at specialist dealers.

Whatever you wanted a Land Rover to be it could be adapted to suit; fi re tenders, ambulances, tractors, agricultural machines and even amphibian vehicles. Don’t forget there were also the highly coveted lightweight Land Rovers used for military purposes and ‘forward control’ (that’s cab-over-wheels) bodies which were used as lorries. A Landie is whatever you want it to be…

What To Look For

  • Landies are a bit of a contradiction in terms of durability. While they are as tough as old boots, mechanical ailments sully the reliability record – and that’s as true on even the latest swanky models.
  • Rust is the classic Land Rover problem (even up to recent Range Rover and Discovery models). Check the chassis carefully, particularly the rear cross member and various outriggers; carefully welded (NOT pop-riveted!) repairs are acceptable and almost inevitable.
  • Front footwells always rot through – repair is either by a specifi c panel welded in or a piece of old sheet steel. The front bulkhead is probably the worst rust black spot, especially around the ‘A’ pillars – serious rot here can mean an entire front end strip, complete bulkhead replacement and lots of cash fl owing out of the bank account. Cruddy inner wings are another worry, with some bolt on sections missing in many cases.
  • Check the spring hangers and main chassis legs for rot and repairs. The spring hangers, lurking behind the front bumper, are a common rot spot.
  • Apart from rot, you need to check for chassis damage and distortion due to serious off-roading or crash damage. Frankly, anybody buying a Landie without fi rst crawling underneath is asking for trouble…
  • The aluminium body will probably suffer from a multitude of sins including corrosion, dents and dings, plus it is harder to repair then pressed steel. Door rot is common. If you don’t mind a less than showroom fi nish, Land Rover Green is available to brush paint on from Re Paint, available from Halfords!
  • The evergreen Rover four-cylinder (IOE – Inlet over exhaust) petrol engines are simple and last well if treated correctly, not least with regular oil changes. Spares are okay and it’s an orthodox engine to strip and repair, although side exhaust valves are tricky to set and adjust and so many run under par.
  • The 2.25-litre petrol (1958-72) is a big improvement in terms of power and torque and is as tough even when it sounds like a bag of nails. Spares are not a problem.
  • The 2.6 ‘six’ was also found in many Rover cars and while it provided little improvement in pep, it was as smooth as silk. Still IOE, the unit gained a reputation for unreliability but this was blamed on its car origins and abuse from Land Rover drivers!
  • As ever, the diesel unit is more complex (especially setting it up) and is more diffi cult to diagnose when not running right. If things get really bad, a complete exchange recon engine costs around £1800 (£200 more for the diesel) or around £900 for a short engine. Six-cylinder diesels are few and far between and even more complex. The Tdi unit isn’t that good and has a reputation for eating its pistons and blowing its turbo. Many may have a later Discovery unit installed.
  • The V8 is well known. Excessive tappet noise leading to cam wear is due to infrequent oil changes causing sludging. Head gasket woes are not unknown. Bear in mind that it’s detuned to 91bhp – but it’s easy to fi t a more powerful version from a Range Rover or Disco. Gearboxes are extremely tough but the lack of refi nement means they’re noisy even when new. Checking means using all the gears (high and low box) and listening for undue racket from the ‘box and the front/rear differentials. If you’re unsure, take along an expert. Repair is possible for any problem, but the gearbox has to come out which in turn means taking out a fl oor panel, so £20 worth of bearings will cost hundreds more to replace.
  • Rear axles can be noisy and leak, while halfshaft breakages aren’t unknown. Salisbury axles fi tted to late SIIs are much tougher. Although the front wheel freewheeling device was ditched in place of selectable AWD, many later cars have them fi tted.
  • Check the leaf springs for obvious breaks and rust damage – looking to see if the car stands all-square is the simplest test. Look hard at the spring hanger mounts, again rot being the big issue. The dampers are conventional and should allow the vehicle to settle in two or three actions after the bounce test and not show any signs of leaking fl uid.
  • Even when it’s perfect, the steering can feel a bit woolly. There’s a plethora of linking rods and six ball joints to check, in particular the solidity of the rubber bushes. Check the steering balls, which should run in a bath of oil, but leaking seals and owner inattention can allow them to run dry. The result is rust, even bigger leaks (contaminated brakes, usually) and fairly complicated replacement required.
  • Brakes were drum all round until the One Ten and work okay if in good order. The handbrake operates on its own drum by the transmission. Later discs can be swapped using relevant hubs if desired.
  • Electrics, like the rest of the car, are simple in the extreme, though on older cars, the loom may be getting a bit tired. Check for hacked wiring where previous owners have added a stereo, spot lamps, CB radio etc. Bear in mind that certain models – such as ex-military – may use a heavy-duty 24V system.
  • Leaks? We’ve yet to fi nd a Series Landie that didn’t leak somewhere. Plugging one whilst another springs up is part and parcel of Series ownership. Most interiors will be well worn, but its super simple to renovate with new covers around £100.
  • Rare spares? Almost everything is available, though the single wiper motors for the SII cars are like hen’s teeth, with new components often fetching upwards of £200. It is sometimes possible to recondition a problem motor. Equally, sill covers for these cars are tricky to fi nd new, so take care when off-roading. Some very early 2-litre diesel parts are tricky to fi nd, but this affects very few buyers.
  • Thanks to excellent club support, owning and running a Landie is very easy plus there are two well known specialist monthlies on the bookstalls. Land Rovers were working mules and most have been modded and altered to suit an owner’s needs. Finding a totally original model may be harder than you think – if that’s important to you.

Three Of A Kind

Austin Gipsy
Austin Gipsy
A poor man’s Landie from BMC rival Austin, who hoped to cash in on the success of the original. Looks very similar but only ran from 1958-68 and very rare – most used by authorities. Initially the Gipsy used a special rubber suspension before reverting to conventional springs. Austinpowered in petrol or diesel form, but all very slow. Lacks charisma of a real Land Rover but value is on the Austin’s side – pay no more than £3000 for one.
Jeep CJ/Wrangler
Jeep CJ/Wrangler
The car that inspired the Land Rover is still also alive and well to this day. That unmistakable shape survived until only recently and being US meant a surplus of power. Wartime Jeeps now command fi ve fi gures but late Wranglers can be had for a few grand. A fi ne no nonsense off roader, they somehow lack the special aura of a Land Rover and are only available as a two-door with a fi ddly hood.
Range Rover
Range Rover
For the price of an old SII you can have the posher alternative, an original Range Rover, which used a lot of Landie DNA but packaged in a more stylish and civilised manner. Early Range Rovers are now fi nding their niche in the market and enjoy the same classless nature. Many have been bodged to the hilt so beware when buying and that V8 will always be thirsty. But as an occasional third (working) car they’re great!


A great way to get into classic motoring, the type of car you really can sort out with a Swiss Army Knife and a piece of string and offering the added incentive of off-roading, which is great fun. There are also the benefi ts of cheap spares, easy maintenance and the camaraderie of dozens of UK clubs to keep you on the right track even when you’re off-road.

Classic Motoring

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