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Land Rover

Land Rover Published: 7th Mar 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any SI/SII
  • Worst model: Naturally aspirated diesel
  • Budget buy: Santana
  • OK for unleaded?: Some yes, but others no
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (110) 4440 x 1790mm (LxW)
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Generally good
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes apart from newest models
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Unbeatable off-road, can be hard-going on-road
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Recently killed off 4x4 by Land Rover that will always live in our hearts. Crude to drive and live with but a magnificent all-weather classic that makes super sense. Fantastic specialist and club support but be careful when buying

When the final Land Rover Defender was built at the end of January it truly was the end of an era. The last link to the very origins of Land Rover is now history, but for 67 years you could buy your own piece of history whether that was on a new, used or classic basis.

One of the most easily recognised classics anywhere in the world, the Land Rover looked as though it barely changed in six decades of production – but under that boxy skin there was an ongoing series of changes that made the car increasingly reliable and usable. So if you’re after a true go-anywhere classic that can take you off the beaten track for some real adventure, look no further than the best thing to ever come out of Solihull (apart from the A41).

However, unlike most other classics save your money, buy an average example, and just enjoy using it the way it was designed to be used to the full!


1947 Work starts on the first Land Rover, an idea drawn in the Anglesey sand by Rover technical director Maurice Wilks, with his Willys Jeep hack that resided at his holiday home acting as the first Roverpowered prototype. In the same year, a centre-steered prototype is constructed.

1948 First pre-production cars are made; 48 in all, each powered by a 1.6-litre Rover P3 engine. Then, the initial production cars start to roll off the lines after the Land Rover makes its début at the Amsterdam motor show on 30th April. All these early cars feature an 80-inch wheelbase.

1951 The 1600 engine is swapped for a 2.0-litre unit, for easier towing; these cars still have an 80-inch wheelbase.

1953 Still the Series I, but the standard wheelbase is now upped to 86 inches, which also increases luggage capacity by 25 per cent – although the quoted payload remains the same. A long-wheelbase (107-inch) edition is also introduced.

1957 The first diesel model goes on sale; a 2052cc four-cylinder unit. Because the diesel unit is two inches longer, the car’s wheelbase also grows by two inches, to 88 or 109 inches across all models.

1958 Series II is introduced, still with a choice of 1997cc petrol or 2052cc diesel engines, then a 2286cc petrol powerplant becomes available in 88 or 109-inch wheelbases, while body styles consist of a pick-up (with or without truck cab and/or canvas tilt), a hard top (with no side windows) or a Station Wagon (with side windows). There’s also now a ‘shoulder line’ running the entire length of the car, level with the top of the front wings.

1961 Series IIA boasts a significantly upgraded diesel engine, displacing 2286cc and 62bhp, ten more than before; the 2286cc petrol powerplant is unaltered.

1966 The 500,000th Land Rover is built.

1967 The Series IIA is now available with a 2625cc six-cylinder petrol engine.

1969 The revised Series IIA has its headlights in the front wings, but otherwise things carry on much as before.

1971 The Series III makes its début, with a plastic grille instead of the previous wire mesh item. But there’s also an all-new dash while an all-synchromesh gearbox makes the car much nicer to use. This edition would go on to receive the classic Rover V8, in 1979.

1976 The millionth Land Rover is built.

1979 A 3.5-litre petrol V8 taken from the Range Rover supersedes the old trusty six-cylinder 2.6-litre engine.

1982 The range is now bolstered by the County and high-capacity pick-up.

1983 The Series III is replaced by the 110 (and from 1984 also the 90), with a fivespeed gearbox, servo-assisted front disc brakes and coil spring suspension. The 2286cc diesel engine is replaced by a normally aspirated 2495cc unit.

1985 The V8 gets an LT85 five-speed gearbox and the 2286cc petrol engine is superseded by a four-cylinder 2495cc unit.

1986 The diesel unit gains a turbocharger at long last, which boosts power by a useful 30 per cent.

1990 The Defender arrives, a new name but the vehicle is little different from the 90 and 110 that it replaces but power steering is now standard and the diesel option becomes the 200 TDi 2.5-litre unit.

1992 The V8-powered 110 is available only to special order from now on; the 90 V8 had been killed off in 1987.

1993 A more muscular belt-driven 300 TDi 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is now fitted, which is cleaner, more refined and that bit smoother. The 300 TDi engine is mated to a slicker five-speed gearbox dubbed R380. Disc brakes are also now fitted at the rear.

1998 The all-new TD5 engine replaces the 300 TDi unit, and modern wizardry such as electronic traction control plus anti-lock brakes are now fitted as standard.

2006 There’s now an all-new, Ford-derived, 2.4 TDCi engine, six-speed gearbox and a heavily revised interior.

2012 A new 2.2-litre diesel engine offers the same power and torque as before, but with far greater refinement.

2016 The last Defender is built that January, but not until Land Rover has offered three run-out limited editions. These are the Autobiography Edition (80 built at £61,845 each), Heritage Edition (400 made at £27,800 apiece) and Adventure Edition (600 produced at £43,495).


The Land Rover’s dual-role nature was immediately apparent when it was unveiled in 1948, but nobody expected it to stay in production as long as it did. Its capabilities in the rough never diminished which is why when Motor pitted a 2 ¼-litre Series II against rivals such as the Austin Gipsy, Haflinger, Mini Moke and even a Snow Trac tracked vehicle, it was the Landy that was judged the best all-rounder, with the Gipsy not far behind.

The same magazine revisited the idea in 1976, this time with a 2.6-litre Series II pitted against a Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser, Pinzgauer and a Unimog. The latter two came out tops for serious off-roading but they were so compromised on-road they could never make sense in the real world. The conclusion (40 years ago remember) was that “the Land Rover is the grand old lady of cross-country travel but is no match for its more expensive offspring and seems in need of some drastic rejuvenation… The star performer among cross-country vehicles remains the incredible Range Rover”.

In more recent years the press have just accepted that the Land Rover is an anachronism, but a hugely endearing one at that. Noisy, dynamically compromised but still the master off-road, the Landy has become something of a fashion and style statement – especially when modified with costly paint jobs, leather trim and modern alloy wheels for instance.

When Autocar ran a long-term test on a Defender 90 TD5 for a year and 17,000 miles, it was an instructive experience. The verdict came: “To drivers who never investigated its awesome towing and off-road potential it was never better than a characterless truck; to those who towed boats and caravans or needed to traverse boggy terrain, it was always a dependable and versatile friend – and quite capable on the road… Don’t even consider one unless you honestly need, and truly understand, the serious 4x4… If you even suspect that the Defender is not your kind of vehicle, it almost certainly is not”.

The earlier cars (Series I and II) are for collectors only. The Series III is more usable but if you want to go green laning or use the car regularly we’d suggest you start with a 90 or 110 or perhaps a Defender. With coil spring suspension they’re better on-road and significantly more talented off-road too. The later the car the more usable it is, especially in diesel form; the 200 TDi and 300 TDi are far better than anything that came before, while the TD5 taken from the Discovery is even better still. Cars built within the last decade are even more usable, especially those with the 2.2-litre diesel engine. But they’re also invariably very costly to buy and some would argue that they’re not a classic. We’d disagree however; all Land Rovers are classics in our eyes!


Richard Eacock runs MM 4x4, one of the UK’s biggest independent Land Rover specialists. He comments: “There’s a buyer for any Land Rover, but people will often be drawn towards a particular engine, wheelbase and generation. There are the die-hard fans who want a classic Land Rover for showing or using only occasionally; they’ll typically buy a Series I, II or III. Anyone who wants to use their car every day is more likely to buy a newer model with a more efficient engine. Then there are those who want to go ‘green laning’ and will typically buy a 90 or 110, or maybe a Defender TDi or TD5. However, if someone can’t find what they want it’s not unusual for a suitable car to be bought so its owner can fit the engine of their choosing – often a 200, 300 but not the TD5 unit”. Eacock continues: “Pricing older Land Rovers is pretty much impossible as they’re such individual vehicles. The condition and specification can vary enormously but it’s the latter that tends to make the biggest difference to a car’s worth. Short-wheelbase cars are less practical but many buyers gravitate towards them all the same; the 110 is much more usable but less sought after by hard-core off-roaders”.

Buy an early Series I and you can pay £40,000 for it if it’s mint, but a project Series II can be picked up for under £1000 – although you can then spend many thousands making it really good. This is what many fans do; they’ll buy a project for peanuts then spend money on it over many years, building the car to their own specification.

It helps that early Discoverys featured the same 200 TDi, 300 TDi and TD5 diesel engines as contemporary Defenders, and with Discovery values now very low, they’re often broken for parts. Cars with the 200 TDi engine are generally the most sought after as it offers the best balance of reliability, refinement and efficiency of all the diesels.


The sky is the limit here. MM 4x4’s Richard Eacock comments: “The most popular modifications are for off-road preparation. This includes suspension lifting kits, longtravel dampers and dislocation cones to give greater axle articulation. Also popular are under-body protection, winches, wheel spacers with extended wheelarches and body protection. Other big sellers include twin battery systems, more supportive front seats and dashboard upgrades”. While these modifications are popular with those keen to go off-roading, a lot of Land Rover owners prefer to stick to driving on-road.

Eacock has noticed a trend in recent years towards styling upgrades. He adds: “Interior retrims, grille conversions, bigger wheels and tyres plus suspension lowering kits are all popular. The same goes for engine upgrades, although these tend to be in the form of chipping or remapping”.

What To Look For


  • A lot of Series Is have now got more recent engines fitted, as the early units were fragile; those early powerplants are now scarce.
  • Parts for the 2286cc diesel engine are scarce. Watch for cracked cylinder heads and problematic injectors, both of which are likely to be tricky and costly to fix.
  • The six-cylinder petrol engines are durable and easy to maintain, but the valve gear is fiddly to set up so these engines often sound rather tappety. However, it’s something that can be done on a DIY basis, as long as you’re patient.
  • Oil leaks are par for the course, but don’t expect to see lubricant being thrown out of the engine in great quantities – anything more than a slight weep and some TLC will be needed before long. The most common place for oil leaks is from the flywheel housing; if there’s much oil coming from here, it’s going to be a costly exercise putting everything right.
  • There also shouldn’t be any coolant leaks, but the core plugs can weep and so can the water pump if it’s due for renewal. Also take a look at the temperature sensor at the back of the cylinder head; if it’s wet, there’s a good chance that the head gasket has failed.
  • 200 TDi is the most reliable; 300 TDi is easier to service, but there’s a gasket at the front of the engine (known as the p-gasket) that fails leading to coolant leaks, overheating, then head gasket failure.
  • TD5 is Ok but suffers from problems with the fuel system. Common issues include weak fuel pumps, fuel pressure regulators, fuel injector O-rings etc.


  • Until 1983, all Land Rovers got a four-speed manual gearbox; it was an all-synchro unit on the Series III and later, but the Series I and II didn’t get synchro on first or second. It’s possible to fit the later box to an earlier car; whatever is fitted, expect it to be agricultural and noisy as a result.
  • The five-speed gearbox fitted from 1983 is strong enough but suffers from a notchy action and eventually second and third-gear synchro wear out. There’s some debate over whether automatic transmission fluid or manual transmission fluid should be used; officially, it’s the former but the latter seems to work better.
  • If you’re lucky you’ll find a car with overdrive, although this wasn’t offered until 1974. It’s not common but it’s worth having. However, overdrive oil leaks are common, which leads to the unit running dry and failing. Spare parts are expensive which is why few owners embark on a rebuild; they generally remove the unit instead.
  • There are differentials front and rear; the latter is the one most likely to give problems. The pinion seal tends to leak, allowing the diff to run dry, which leads to rapid wear or even seizure. The squarer Salisbury axle that came in with the later Series II 109 is much more durable than the earlier Rover alternative. The two are interchangeable, so it’s worth swapping a tired Rover axle for a Salisbury unit. It’s a common modification (a shorter propshaft is needed), so bonus points if the car you’re looking at already has the stronger axle fitted.
  • The Land Rover’s steering box can wear, although there’s a certain amount of adjustment available to tighten things up. However, there’s an idler (or steering relay) which also wears, along with six ball joints. While the latter are cheap and easy to fix, the box and relay are more costly.
  • The front hubs leak oil onto the brakes, so look for signs of lubricant everywhere. Also check the state of the swivels, which should be shiny rather than pitted; replacing these is an involved (but DIY) job. A kit that does both sides doesn’t cost much, but don’t be tempted to fit ultra-cheap pattern parts – they just won’t last.
  • Drum brakes were fitted front and rear until the arrival of the 90 and 110 in 1983; the Series cars also have a separate drum for the handbrake, located just behind the gearbox. If the gearbox leaks badly, oil can get into the handbrake drum; if this has happened it’ll be all too obvious.


  • Abused and rotten Land Rovers are common. The key area to check is the substantial chassis, which gives the car its strength. The box sections corrode from the inside out, so a visual inspection isn’t enough; tap as much of the metal as you can. There should be a bright, clear ring when you strike the metal; a dull thud means there’s either filler in there, or the metal is thinner than it should be, because of internal corrosion.
  • The spring mountings and rear crossmembers will probably have seen better days. Also check the shock absorber mountings and bump stops; it has been known for the rear bump stops to be pushed through the chassis on a really rotten car.
  • Chassis outriggers also rot badly; on short-wheelbase cars pay close attention to those on the right-hand side of the car, below the rear edge of the door. The close proximity of the fuel tank encourages a build-up of mud which doesn’t dry out. Repairs aren’t made any easier with the petrol tank being so close, while the wiring loom also passes through the chassis at this point.
  • The rear outriggers also rust, but the biggest problem at the back of the chassis is corrosion behind the spring hangers. Because of poor accessibility repairs are costly. Also, beware of corrosion in the rearmost crossmember. This gets plastered in mud then left to rot, with repairs potentially tricky – especially on longwheelbase cars, as the fuel tank has to be removed first. It’s especially important to keep this area strong and rust-free if the car is used for towing; it’s possible for a tow hitch to break away altogether if things are left to fester for too long.
  • The bodywork can also rust badly. Most external panels are aluminium, but some areas are steel, so look for electrolytic corrosion. The key area to check is the bulkhead, as this can be the trickiest to repair due to the limited access in places. It can be patched up, although if the top section has corroded badly, you’re better off letting in fresh panels.
  • The door pillars can also rot badly, but repairs here are easier than you might think. It’s the same with the footwells, which rot badly once they’ve filled up with water – also have a close look at the various mounting points, where the bulkhead is attached to the chassis.
  • Scrutinise the bodywork alignment too, as the chassis might be twisted because of poor repairs or a hefty shunt. Misaligned doors could be down to worn hinges which can be replaced, although this might mean having to cut open the pillar if the captive nuts have broken free.


  • The design and construction barely changed over the years; what separates one Land Rover from another is the body configuration and the engine fitted. In its 68-year lifetime a wide array of powerplants featured, including four-cylinder petrol and diesel units, a six-cylinder petrol engine borrowed from the Rover P4 100 and the classic 3.5-litre petrol V8. Later cars generally feature four- or five-cylinder diesel engines.

Three Of A Kind

The Champ’s failure galvanised Leonard Lord into action; he was determined that Austin should create a credible rival to the Land Rover. This time we got something that looked much like the Land Rover, with a choice of two wheelbases, petrol or diesel engines and various body styles. But the steel bodywork rotted badly and the lack of a Land Rover badge was a hurdle too big to overcome. Just 21,000 were made.
The CJ stands for Civilian Jeep but that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a tough go-anywhere 4x4 that’s short on refinement and dynamics. Things started with the CJ2 in 1945 and went all the way up to the CJ7 which was replaced by the Wrangler in 1987. There was an array of engines, bodystyles and wheelbases and while few were brought in when new, a handful were converted to right-hand drive. But not many.
Built under licence in Spain, the Santana was initially a copy of the Series II. Production started in 1958 but by 1968 Santana was fitting its own engines and creating its own variations on the theme. The deal ended in 1983 but it wouldn’t be until 1994 that Santana stopped building Land Rover lookalikes. All these Santanas have leaf springs and they’re rare in the UK, but they’re more affordable than a genuine Landy.


There has never been – and never will be – another car like the Land Rover. Basic to the point of being crude, the Land Rover is also one of the most capable cars ever devised if you want to venture into truly punishing terrain. It’s a classic set that attracts fierce loyalty from an incredibly enthusiastic fanbase, outsiders won’t necessarily understand why, but join them and you’ll soon be hooked.

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