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Land Rover

Back To Basics Published: 19th Jul 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 – it needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): Most are no problem
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Usually splendid
  • Club support: Brilliant
  • Appreciating asset?: Certainly early S1/SIIs
  • Good buy or good-bye?: You have to like them…
Country estate models (Below) are the most family friendly but lack civility and passenger comfort – you sit sideways! Country estate models (Below) are the most family friendly but lack civility and passenger comfort – you sit sideways!
Luggage capacity on swb models is meagre; interior always sparse Luggage capacity on swb models is meagre; interior always sparse
There’s a massive choice of variants – canvas pick-ups being one of the most fashionable. However, condition is the most important aspect when buying any old Land Rover There’s a massive choice of variants – canvas pick-ups being one of the most fashionable. However, condition is the most important aspect when buying any old Land Rover
Panels couldn’t be easier to fabricate and switchgear still remains rudimentary – even on new on Panels couldn’t be easier to fabricate and switchgear still remains rudimentary – even on new on
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It’s rough and ready, slow, noisy and uncomfortable. And that’s the real attraction of the evergreen Land Rover!

Pros & Cons

Versatility, ruggedness, image, off-road ability, value, club/aftermarket back up
Crude nature, rust problems, suspect oily bits, on-road performance, expensive OE parts

If your idea of a classic is something that’s sleek, speedy and sophisticated and something that’s bound to impress the neighbours, then a geriatric old Land Rover really isn’t for you! If, however, you yearn to get back to basics and own a vehicle that’s as practical as it is entertaining, and just as iconic as any Ferrari or E-type, then the go-anywhere, in any weather, Landie needs to be given some serious thought. As a second car for household duties, or as a short haul daily driver Landies make immense sense and are good fun as well as value too. So long as you get a good one that is. 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’… But more importantly, there was 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 one to replace it. But then 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 was decided upon early on) began in 1947, with a simple sketch drawn in the beach sand by Maurice at his Anglesey home, so folklore has it. Amazingly, the brothers only saw the Land Rover as a stop-gap car for Rover and thought it wouldbe dead and buried by the 1950s as Rover’s new car range took over. Well, they got that bit wrong at least didn’t they!


The original Land Rover was introduced in April 1948 and retrospectively labelled the Series 1. Certainly the design was as simple as deck chair – it would use a Rover P3 engine, gearbox and back axle and there was no need for expensive body dies as the entire body would be made from sheet aluminium. Unlike today’s swanky 4x4s, the Land Rover was purely a working vehicle to complement a tractor. It featured a power take-off to enable it to use a range of existing farm gear. 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 still has a lot of the old DNA and character of the original. The Land Rover was launched with the P3 1595cc engine with an 80in wheelbase; this was one of numerous aspects it shared with the wartime 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 produced! 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 ever expanding range of derivatives and options. A decade on, 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 fi tted as standard (and that with an exposed motor) and virtually everything in sight being painted metal. 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, these models have no centre diff, 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, sixcylinder Rover unit, which naturally gave much better performance, but at the expense of fuel economy – something that’s always 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, it was around even back then!) required that the headlamps to migrate from their home alongside the radiator into the wings. Export models got them in 1968, but the 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, though there were a few important upgrades. 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 old 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 got the V8 engine 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 waspar with the 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 vehicle’s wheelbase (92,9in to be precise). Transmissions were now permanent fourwheel 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… but it’s still a fantastic machine!


Landies are tough – and you need to be equally hardy to drive one. Only a true enthusiast – better make that a masochist? – would say that driving one is a comfortable experience. It’s a rough and ready machine which treats refi nements and modern conveniences with the contempt the sometimes deserve. The ride is jolty and fi rm, the cabin is noisy and draughty, plus early engines are extremely low-powered for the weight they have to lug around. This means that a 50-60mph cruise is bloody hard, noisy work – as for motorways… try not to bother. Yet, that’s part of the appeal of an old Land Rover. As a main car they are a non-starter for sure. But as second or even third car, kept for occasional use, a classic Landie provides a wonderful antithesis of any modern cosy little Eurobox being totally involving and demanding real skill to get the best from it.

If you can put it through its paces off-road (and you should as its brilliant fun), you’ll come away amazed how this old timer handles it all. The reason why so many Landies 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 down. Other advantages include strong club and social scene support and a totally classless image. And after the early December shutdown of the UK due to snow, don’t you now wish that you had something on hand to keep you mobile?


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 on condition rather than year or mileage but as rule expect to pay around £500 for a basket case SIII and around £6000 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 dross around. Unusually, the larger engined, six-cylinder cars will often be worth less than their four-cylinder counterparts. Diesels are liked for economy while the V8s are great, save the running costs!

What To Look For

  • Landies are a contradiction in terms of durability. Whileas 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; careful 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 blackspot, 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 (see news pages). 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 prone spot.
  • Apart from rot you need to check for chassis damage and distortion due to serious off-roading or crash damage. Quite 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 pus it’s 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 lasts 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 OHV 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 though.
  • The 2.6 ‘six’ was found in many Rover cars and while it provides little gain in pep it is as smooth as silk. Still an IOE, the unit gained a reputation for unreliability but this was blamed to its origins and abuse from Land Rover drivers!
  • The diesel unit is more complex, especially when 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 not so common and are more complex, but are relatively few and far between. The Tdi unit isn’t that good and has a reputation for eating pistons and blowing turbos. May have later Discovery unit installed.
  • The V8 is well known. Excessive tappet noise leading to cam wear is usually due to infrequent oil changes causing sludging and blocked oil ways. Head gasket woes are not unknown either. Bear in mind that it’s detuned to 91bhp – but it’s easy to fi t a fuller-fat unit from a Range Rover or Discovery.
  • Gearboxes are tough, but were always noisy even when brand new. On a test drive use all the gears (and this includes the high and low boxes) and listening for undue racket from the front/rear differentials as well. If you’re unsure, take along a Land Rover expert. If the gearbox has to come out this in turn means taking out a floor panel, so £20 worth of bearings will cost hundreds more to replace due to the stripping involved.
  • Rear axles can be noisy and leak, while halfshaft breakages aren’t unknown. Salisbury axles, fitted to late SIIs are much tougher. Although the front wheel freewheeling device was ditched in place of selectable AWD, many later cars have them retro 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 in design 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 or off-road damage.
  • Even when it’s in perfect condition, 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 (contaminating 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 and past it. Check for hacked wiring where previous owners have added a stereo, spot lamps, CB radio etc. And 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 ship in water 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 ever ything 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 said to 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.
  • Such is the massive range of Land Rovers produced over decades that’s impossible to mention them all in this feature. A dedicated On Your Marques reference guide will fi gure later this year but, for £25, you can buy the best model manual around from Dove Publishing. It’s called the Land Rover File: ISBN 0-9534142-8-0.


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 similar but only ran from 1958-68 and very rare – most used by authorities. 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 at £3000 tops
Jeep CJ/Wrangler
Jeep CJ/Wrangler
The car that inspired the Land Rover is still also live and well to this day. That unmistakable shape survived until only recently and, being from the 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 no nonsense off-roader, they lack the special aura of a Landie.
Range Rover
Range Rover
For the price of an old SII you can have the posher alternative, an original Range Rover, as it used a lot of Landie DNA but packaged in a more stylish and civilised manner. Early Range Rovers are now finding their niche in the market. And many have been bodged so beware when buying, plus that V8 willalways be thirsty.


Landies are a great way to get into classic motoring. They are the type of car you really can sort out with a Swiss Army Knife, plus offer the added incentive of off-roading as a sport, which is great fun. There are also the benefi ts of cheapish spares, easy maintenance and the camaraderie of dozens of UK clubs to keep you on the right track in every sense. But, as one magazine put warned back in 1976, “Don’t buy one on a fancy. Once hooked you’ll stay hooked.” Heed that advice!

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