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Land Rover

Buying… Land Rover (Up to Series III) Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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What’s the attraction of a Land Rover?

If you want a commercial vehicle to last and last, then what better than a classic Land Rover? Introduced more than 60 years ago as a take on the famous WW2 Willys Jeep, it’s reckoned that some 75 per cent of all Landies are still in use in some shape or form. They may not be the biggest van or pick up around, or the most civilised, but nothing beats an old Land Rover for usability and character, which is why values are always on the rise. Let’s also mention other benefits such as a great specialist back up and an equally excellent social scene, and this also includes motorsport.

Dates to remember

It was launched in 1948 with the P3 1595cc engine with an 80in wheelbase; this was one of many aspects it shared with the 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 by modern telescopic dampers and semi-elliptic (cart) springs. Because of costs, the chassis sections were made from sheet steel welded together to make the ‘boxes’ while simple shaped aluminium body panels were used. Between 1948-1958, three short wheelbase models (80, 86 and 88in) and two long wheelbase (107 and 109in) models were produced. The Series I sold like veritable hot cakes and by 1958, a new model was required. The Series II was launched and, as previously, there were two models, both relating to the wheelbase length in inches - the 88 and the 109. The first 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 cars were stuck with the 2-litre engine until the advent of the (virtually unchanged) IIA models in 1961, when the engine’s 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). As for any luxury items – well, you got seats and a floor! In 1967, the engine line-up was enhanced by the option on LWB cars of the 2625cc, six-cylinder Rover unit although its thirst made it a rare pick. The SIII arrived for 1971 and was effectively just a facelift, albeit a fairly successful one. The wheelbase options remained the same, though the track was widened to add stability. Doubledeclutching became a thing of the past as the gearbox became fully synchromesh. For the 1990s the range was renamed Defender and the Range Rover’s V8 was just one of the new options.


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 so expect minimal refinement. The ride is jolty, the cabin is noisy plus early engines are extremely lowpowered for the weight they lug around, meaning that it’s working hard to maintain a sedate 50- 60mph cruise. V8s are better of course but naturally juicy. Diesels are better but very slow. 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 worthy advantages include strong club and social scene support and a totally classless, honest-to-goodness image. And if some lunaticfringe, 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 probably wouldn’t stick there in the first place… Even the latest Transitderived Land Rover feels refreshingly classic to drive as it retains the car’s innate character.

What to Pay

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 and style. Series III cars are the ideal as a first classic however; they’re younger, generally in better nick and, because they haven’t quite reached total classic status, they’re more affordable. Later 1980s cars can be had for a few grand but be warned, there’s a lot of bodged rioted 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.

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, such as oil leaks, 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 very carefully, particularly the rear cross member and various outriggers; careful welded (NOT pop-rivetted!) repairs are usually acceptable and almost inevitable. But you need to check.
  • Front footwells always rot through – repair is either by a specific 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 flowing out of the bank account.
  • Cruddy inner wings are another worry with some bolt on sections sometimes missing. Check the spring hangers and main chassis legs for rot and repairs. The spring hangers, lurking behind the front bumper, are a prone rot spot.
  • Apart from rot you need to check for chassis damage and distortion due to serious offroading or crash damage. Frankly, anybody buying a Landie without first crawling underneath is simply asking for trouble…
  • The aluminium body will probably suffer from a multitude of sins including corrosion, dents and dings pus its harder to repair then pressed steel. Door rot common. If you don’t mind a less than showroom finish, 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 tricky to set and adjust properly and so many run under par as a result.
  • 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 (as many do). Spares are not a problem and it’s our favourite pick for petrolheads – apart from the V8 of course.
  • The 2.6 ‘six’ was also found in many Rover cars and while it provides little improvementin pep it was as smooth as silk. Still an IOE, the unit gained a reputation for unreliability but this was blamed to its car origins and abuse from Land Rover drivers!
  • As ever, the diesel unit is more complex, especially setting it up and is more difficult 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 later TDi unit isn’t that good and has a reputation for eating its pistons and blowing its turbocharger. Many may have a later Discovery unit installed.
  • The V8 is so well known. Excessive tappet noise leading to cam wear is mainly due to infrequent oil changes causing sludging. Head gasket woes are not unknown. Bear in mind that it’s detuned – but it’s easy to fit a fuller fat one from a Range Rover or Disco.
  • Gearboxes are extremely tough but the lack of refinement 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 floor 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, 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 fitted.
  • 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 and signs of repair welds being the big issues. The dampers are conventional and should allow the vehicle to settle in two or three actions after the famed bounce test and not show any signs of leaking fluid.
  • Even when it’s perfect, the steering can feel a bit woolly and sloppy. 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 and adjustment. 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 repaired over the years. 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 and so special accessories and bulbs may be needed.
  • Leaks? We’ve yet to find a Series Landie that didn’t leak somewhere! Plugging one whilst another springs up is part and parcel of Land Rover ownership. Most interiors will be well worn but its super simple to renovate and with new covers at around £100 hardly expensive either.
  • 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 when they crop up. It is sometimes possible to recondition a problem motor and save some money. Equally, body sill covers for these cars are tricky to find new, so take care when off-roading. Some very early 2-litre diesel parts are becoming tricky to find, but this affects very few buyers.
  • Thanks to excellent club support (parts, advice and the social scene), owning and running a Landie is very easy plus there’s two well known specialist monthlies on the bookstalls that cover all you need. 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 – so decide what you want from one.
  • Once upon a time the Government used to sell old military and municipal stock off via dedicated auctions at good prices but that’s all changed now although you still see them at specialist dealers.
  • 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…
  • Such is the massive range of Land Rover derivatives produced over decades that’s impossible to mention them all in this feature. The best model manual around comes from Dove Publishing. It’s called the Land Rover File: ISBN 0-9534142-8-0.
Classic Motoring

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