Land Rovers and Motorbikes; once you get one, almost immediately you become an 'enthusiast', and almost instantaneously, start contemplating how to make your vehicle that little bit ‘better’, more suited to your taste or ideas of what you want from it.
A long long time ago, in the days when I was tweaking motorbikes and mini's for sporting use, my Granddad & mentor, an aged and time served engineer used to say; "You know, Sir Alex Issigonis, when he designed the mini, had access to millions of pounds worth of computers, and the services of hundreds of engineers and technicians to try out all the possible variations and come up with the best possible design he could. Why do you, a spotty faced oik, without even an O-level to your name, think that you can build it better than him, eh?"
He was a miserable old bast'd! though, but that didn’t make the question any less valid.
We are all to quick to grab spanners and start doing stuff to our Landies, without even questioning why it didn’t come like that from the factory. But it’s worth a thought, because they aren’t Stupid in Solihull, y’know!
Err…….. I’ve hardly typed that, and am already questioning it! I was born in Solihull. I bought my first ever tool kit there. I have spent a lot of time in the town. Intriguing to note that one possible origin of it’s name is ‘Silly Hill’….. And talking to people of the town, you MAY question if it’s something ‘in the water’, but that aside; you have to admit, when it comes to building 4x4 vehicles, they obviously know a thing or two!
So it IS worth having a thought before you begin, that you do know what you are about.What's a Mod?
Technically, almost ANYTHING you may want to do to your Land Rover is likely to be a modification.
A lot of people argue that taking a later 2.5l engine from an early 90/110 and fitting it to a Series 3 is actually an 'upgrade', because it is merely substituting a better specification assembly for the original. And others would argue that fitting something like a rear fog light is merely 'accessorisation' not modification. And to some extent, they are right, and they are wrong.
Ultimately there are three authorities that matter here.
The first is DVLC. Really, they aren't that bothered about specification, and any modifications from the manufacturers specs, until they become extensive enough to bring into question the matter of the vehicles 'Type-Approval' or identity. Here they have laid down some guidelines for at whet point a 'modified' or 'rebuilt' vehicle should be subject to Single Vehicle Approval, but their main concern is not so much with conformance to manufacturer's specification, as vehicle safety and the legitimacy of it's registration.
The second are the police, who again, aren't all that bothered about manufacturers original specification, but are concerned with your vehicles compliance with the Road Traffic Act and the Construction & Use Regulations.
The third 'authority' to worry about, are the insurance companies. This really is important, and they really are concerned with the specification of the vehicle. Most will ask 'is the vehicle modified in any way?' when you apply for your insurance. You need to know the answer, because if you give them false information, knowingly or not, you could find yourself 'uninsured', even though you have a current insurance certificate.And don't think that I'm scare mongering here, or that it isn't that important. A few years ago, there was a watch-dog report of a woman who had had an accident in a Fiesta, and her insurance had refused to pay out, leaving the other drivers insurance company pursuing her personally for compensation. The sole reason her insurance wheedled out of paying? Her Fiesta had a sun roof, and though she had declared that it had a sun-roof when she insured it, the insurance company had discovered that the sunroof was dealer fitted, not factory fitted, so constituted a modification. The presence of a sun-roof, or the structural integrity of her roof, actually had no bearing on the accident in which she had damaged another vehicle.
Not all insurance companies are that harsh, but be warned, better to tell them about everything, and let them refer it to the under-writer, than risk not having cover. Even if it is something as daft as having fitted your own rear wash wipe.
But, be warned, insurance companies don't tend to be very imaginative, logical or reasonable.
For example, if you have an early 88" S3 with non servo brakes, it might be quite reasonable and logical to 'upgrade' the braking system to that of the last 88" S3's with LWB twin piston drum brakes and duel circuit servo-assisted master cylinder.
It is nothing more than an 'upgrade', as it is the specification as applied to the later models - but, a lot of insurance companies will consider it to be a modification, and they will see that it is to a safety critical system and not be very happy about it.
An unreasonable insurance company will tend to presume that anything to the braking system is risky, and that your motives for wanting better brakes are because you drive fast.It is unlikely that anyone with any decision making authority at an insurance company will have driven a Land Rover, let alone a non servo-braked series model, or ANY non servo braked vehicle for that matter, so the idea that you want servo brakes so that you don't need to develop calf muscles like Arnie just to get a bit of retardation will be completely lost on them.
In fact, a lot of ideas are lost on insurance companies, so if you want an easy time and don't want to have to explain ideas in great and tedious detail to people, think carefully about any mods you might want to make first.
Which is the next point. Why would you want to modify your Land Rover in the first place?
OK, I know that Land Rovers are basic, crude and rudimentary, and the possibilities for modification and adaptation are endless, but fundamentally, a Land Rover represents a pretty darn good all round package, out of the box.
Back to old 'Pops', and his pearls of wisdom; Land Rover have been building Off-Road vehicles for half a century or more.
Until BMW and Ford came along; it could be said that they didn't rely on sophisticated computers and clever designers quite as much as the rest of the industry, and that a lot of their 'development' was done for them by their customers 'in the field'.
But even so; fifty years and however many million vehicles; they PROBABLY have a pretty good idea of what they are doing by now!A lot of engineering effort has gone into a Land Rover, or any other vehicle for that matter, and you really have to be pretty confident about what you are going to do, and what you hope to achieve if you don't want to make the thing worse than it was to start with.
So, I'll give a little illustration. Way back when, I had a rather smart hopped up MG Metro. It looked absolutely show room standard and there were few give-aways that it was anything special - which was quite intentional.
Underneath, however, was virtually a full Metro Challenge spec race car. It handled amazingly and made about 30% more power than it should. It was very quick, and very understated. Just the way I wanted it.
Left, is how it looked when I got it, though the pic doesn't show the blistered paint and hidden rust too well! Right is how it looked three years later, and apart from the wheels, which still look standard, it seems completely unchanged!
A mate of mine had a very stock looking Vauxhall Chevette. Basically because it was, very stock. Now, he was going through a magazine one day, and looking at Kent camshafts, Webber carburettor kits, big bore exhausts, and mini-lite wheels etc.
"Why do you want all that stuff?" I asked.
"Well, I was thinking of trying to make it a bit quicker, wasn't I." He replied.
Now, the lad had been drooling for months over photographs of HS Chevettes, and telling us all about their prowess in rallying. For any-one not familiar with one, an HS Chevette, was basically a hand built homologation special, built by Vauxhall's competition department. It used a big engine and a modified body shell, and lots of special parts to make something that didn't actually have much in common with the standard 1256cc slant four push-rod engined production models.
So, I told my mate to do some sums. To start with, I suggested he list all of the bolt on goodies that would go into his dream 'Not an HS' Chevette. Then I got him to call his insurance company and find out what they would charge him each year, if he did all the mods he intended.
Then, I asked him, if he sold his car, as it stood, how much he thought he'd get for it, and how much he would have to find to buy a genuine HS, then call his insurance company back, and ask them how much they would charge him to insure that.
As I predicted, it would actually have been cheaper for him to trade his car in for the one that he really wanted, both to buy and insure, than to mess around spending lots of money to make a stocker a bit quicker and less valuable.
Well before you start ripping things apart and trying to make them better, have a look around and find out if there is anything already on offer that will do the job you want, because if there is, chances are, it will be a lot cheaper and easier in the long run.
Now, a lot of us are 'enthusiasts' and look on our cars as a hobby, not a means of transport. That is fine.
Some people spend thousand of pounds each year to watch a bit of string dangling into a bit of water in the hope of catching a fish, that they probably wont even eat. Others spend equally ridiculous amounts of money on green fees and club memberships to go knock a little plastic ball around a field in the hope of loosing it down a hole. As long as they enjoy it, and can afford it, where is the harm in it?
So, spending huge sums of money on modifying your Land Rover, your Range Rover or any other vehicle, is not abhorrent - but realise it for what it is, the cost of your hobby.
One BIG mistake that a lot of people make is that they justify the spending on their hobby, by convincing themselves and their partners and their friends that their project is 'worth every penny'. Which is true, to them it is. However, any-one else in the street will value their project against what they can get else where, not the amount of parts and accessories and man hours that has gone into the 'projects' creation.
Few modified vehicles are worth as much as their factory standard peers, let alone worth that plus the cost and time of modification. And Land Rovers and Range Rovers are no exception.
Converting Land Rovers to V8 power may be quite popular, converting Range Rovers to Diesel, may also be quite common. Adding suspension lifts, under-body protection, or whatever may be quite common, but few people who have converted their cars so have seen an increase in its resale value from doing so. They have only gained from the use they have had from the vehicle.
So the moral is think about the real costs and risks before you start changing anything.
Some things are easier to live with than others though. For example, if you fit a Perkins Diesel engine and five speed permanent four wheel drive transmission to a series Land Rover, then you are only going to be able to sell that to some-one who wants a converted car.
Fit eight-spoke wheels and oversize tyres, and if the buyer don't like the non-standard parts, its no great difficulty for either of you to change it back to original.
So, you have to think about what you want to do, and decide if it is worth it all round.
Last thought, be clear what you want to achieve, and make sure you have identified THE problem before you try and fix it. Second don't get carried away.
What Can You Do?
Any way, what can be modified on a Land Rover, or Range Rover? In short, almost EVERYTHING. From fitting different tyres, to adding electric windscreen washers, to big engines, suspension lifts or drops, transmission changes, gearing changes, styling changes to completely re-bodying the things.
The scope of what you can do with a Land Rover or Range Rover is almost limitless.
To be honest, that is actually true of most vehicles, I mean have a look at what people do to poor unsuspecting Morris Minors, Reliant Robin's, or humble Ford Cortinas in the boundless world of the Custom & Kit Car builder.
But, Land Rovers are more suited to it - they have simple, rugged, robust and modular construction, which makes a lot of things a bit easier, or at least more tempting.
So, rather than starting from the question, "What can you do?" it is probably better to start from the question "What do you want"
Going back to the example of my old Metro, I had some very considered ideas from what I wanted to achieve.
If I had merely wanted something blisteringly fast with amazing handling, I could have built a pretty impressive Westfeild kit car based on a 2.0l Cortina, for the same money.
If I had wanted something with the same level of practicality and reliability, then I could have done as well to spend my money on a stock MG Turbo variant, or even one of the other hot hatch backs of the era.
As it was, what I wanted was something that was as every day useable as a standard hatch back, as fun to drive as a dedicated sports car, like a Westfield or a tricked up mini, but something that LOOKED like something your blue rinse auntie would drive.
And I succeeded. The thing hauled me and all my belongings between countless 'digs' and rented accommodation in those few years that I was at college or just left. While it was smart enough to park up outside a fancy restaurant, if I was trying to impress some young lady. But it was at its best outside the pub, among the local boy racers, with old 1.6 Sierras with a few coils cut out of the suspension springs and the stick on rally sport graphics and spoilers, the de-badged Renult 5 turbo's and the roll cage filled mini's. Where it looked like I had turned up in 'mummy's' car. Hehehehe......... The poor dolts!
Any way, that is the trick. That metro was a brilliant example of a custom car. I achieved everything I set out to with it. It cost me about three times what it was worth to build, but there was just nothing else available that would do the same job, or do it so well. I enjoyed it, and I could just as easily spent just as much money back-packing across Europe or wherever, in my college holidays.
So, that is the first lesson. Look carefully at the car and decide what you want to achieve in the final vehicle.
Remember that it isn't just an engine or a suspension system or whatever, the whole lot has to work together as a package
You cant look at modifications in isolation, you have to look at what effect that that modification will have overall, to performance, reliability, practicality, and cost.
Keep those four factors in your mind all the time.
Just as an example......
A Roof Rack
You probably wont even think of fitting a roof rack as a modification, but take note, many insurance companies do.
A roof Rack for a Land Rover is about £150, or there about. Now, is it economical to fit one? Will you get your money back when you come to sell the car? Well, it probably wont hurt. At the very least, you can take it off and not see any value taken off the vehicle. In the mean time, will it cost you anything in running costs or maintenance? Well, it isn't exactly likely to mean you need to service the car more often, though it might make cleaning the roof a bit more difficult, but it will add to wind resistance and reduce your MPG.
Can you live with that? Is the cost worth it? And what about performance? Well, again, the extra drag is going to knock a few points off your top speed. Can you live with that? Is it worth it? And Handling? Also a factor of 'performance', just on its own the weight of the roof rack is not insignificant, and it is a long way from the vehicle's centre of gravity. It will make the car roll more in corners, and be less stable on side slopes, and that is before you load it up with whatever luggage you want to carry on it.
What about practicality? Sure, adding a roof rack increases the amount of stuff you can carry, but what about other considerations? Will you still be able to get in and out of council car parks with their height restriction barriers, or even your own garage? What about climbing up to get stuff on and off the thing? Are you going to fit a ladder on the back, or stand on the wheels or bonnet? Is that really ideal or practical?
Do those practical considerations have any cost or maintenance implications? I mean it may not loose you any value of your car by fitting the roof rack, but scuffing the coach-work or denting the panels by standing on the bonnet to get stuff on and off might.
And what are the alternatives? Perhaps a trailer, or a different vehicle. If you have a short Wheel Base model, and need a roof rack to carry so much extra load, would it be better, weighing all things up to maybe trade it in for a long wheel base model. Or even a different type of car altogether?
I think you get the idea. There is a lot to think about and weigh up even for the simplest of modifications.
And take a look at where you are. It is quite easy to start off with one modification, and go through all the processes of weighing it up and deciding to do it, then deciding that you want to do another mod, and that is going to have an impact on what you have already done.
Try and think ahead and keep your options open. It is very easy to keep convincing yourself that it is all worth it, simply because of everything you have done before, and you don't want to see all that effort go to waste. Its a thing called the viability threshold, and it is worth keeping an eye on.
It is very easy to waste a lot of money and even more effort, to retrieve or salvage something that really isn't worth it, merely because you don't want to throw it away.
When things are going wrong, don't be afraid to admit defeat and call it a day. It is often a lot better to take a hit, and throw something away as a bad lot early, and accept the financial loss and the effort loss and write it off against experience, than it is to try and work through it, wasting even more money and effort to end up with something even further from what you set out to achieve.
Last thought, but probably THE single most important, before you begin, make sure that you are addressing the right problem with a modification.
and ask yourself "What is the problem".
Then stop and ask yourself again, "FUNDAMENTALLY what is the problem?"
Then again, "Is that REALLY the problem?"
I'll give you another example. A common one...
'Lack of Articulation'
You have driven off road, and got yourself into an axle twister and stopped moving because two diagonally opposite wheels aren't touching the ground with enough force to give you traction.
Problem is simple, isn't it - its a lack of articulation? The suspension doesn't give enough travel to stay in contact with the ground.
Is that FUNDAMENTALLY the problem?
Is it REALLY the problem?
Well, yes, I'm sure of it.
OK - so modifying the suspension then is the way to solve it, right?
Well it's obvious isn't it?
Maybe, it is, but is it the ONLY solution?
Because fundamentally, the problem is not a lack of suspension travel, but a lack of traction.
You can see why you haven't got any traction so jump instantly to the conclusion that that is what you have to address. But there are other ways of solving the same problem
You have two wheels in the air. The REAL problem, is that with no resistance on those two wheels, even with the centre diff locked, the engines torque is taking the line of least resistance and turning the two air born wheels.
First of all, is it really a problem?
I mean, could you have avoided the axle twister in the first place so that you didn't get yourself into that situation?
Could tackling the obstacle differently have avoided the predicament?
Do you REALLY need to do anything at all?
Maybe stick it down to experience and not do the same thing again, could be a pretty good solution.
OK, so we have thought about that a moment.
So, back up.
Right here right now, with the vehicle stuck, how are we going to get it out?
Tow it with another vehicle? As good as anything. If you aren't likely to get into that situation very often, then why go to all the trouble of modifying the vehicle if you can avoid it?
Maybe a bit of work with a hi-lift jack, or a bridging ladder would do the job of getting you out. You don't have either? Well stick them on the list to consider. Rather than modifying the Land Rover, just get and carry some extra recovery equipment. Just a thought, but you might be able to get the vehicle out just by getting a passenger to get out and sit on a wing to pull one wheel down - could it be as simple as that?
Next? Winch? Yes, that may get you out of the fix, would that work? All round, would that perhaps be a better solution to 'The Problem'?
And maybe a few others besides. I mean. A Winch would get you unstuck from that axle twister; it would also get you, and possibly others out of many other sticky situations.
Back to the work shop, and do some thinking.
Is it REALLY necessary to do a whole-scale suspension mod, just for this one little problem?
It could be tackled and addressed with a whole host of other solutions that don't actually need any modifications to the vehicle itself?
And then, if you do decide to modify the vehicle, a suspension mod is just one option. Another may be to fit locking axle differentials, or twiddle brakes.
But the point is, if you don't stop, at the outset, and really look at the problem and think about ALL of the ways that you can avoid it or solve it, you will go straight down one course of action that might not be all that helpful.
I mean, you have seen the wheels in the air, realised that it is a lack of suspension travel, so go straight ahead and try and get more. The end result would probably be that you end up lifting the body by 3", and fitting dislocation cones or something, and yes, you solve the problem, but the cost is that you have increased the vehicles frontal area, increasing wind resistance, costing you MPG and top speed, and now the vehicle rolls badly round corners and wont fit under the barrier in your local council car park.
If you had fitted locking diffs, you would have still solved the problem you set out to, because they would get you through the axle twister, but they would also come in useful when all four wheels were on the ground but in mud so soft that they were fighting for traction, and you'd still be able to get into carparks etc.
If you fitted a winch. OK, so you wouldn't be able to drive through that axle twister, but at least you'd be able to pull yourself out. You would not have adversely effected your handling or stopped yourself getting into car-parks etc, and like the diff-locks, if you were to get yourself bogged in some mud, or stumped by a slimy slope, well, that winch might come in handy there too.
Like-wise, having some decent recovery equipment. The bridging ladders, high lift, hand winch. All that sort of stuff would solve the same problem, and more becides, and wouldn't need any modification of the vehicle.
Because the Fundamental, basic problem, as I see it, is NOT, lack of articulation, its 'I got my Landy Stuck'.
Don't jump to conclusions, and think of EVERY way possible to solve the problem you are presented with.
And remember to think cause and effect, and consider anything you may think about doing in relation to everything it will effect, not just the problem it might solve, simply so that you don't make more problems than you cure.
At the end of the day, giving your Landy a suspension lift might still prove to be a worthwhile mod, or the way you want to go. You may like the way a lifted Landy Looks and not care about top speed or fuel consumption, or getting into car parks, and you may be able to live with a bit of body roll for the road miles you do.
And it may be cheaper than fitting locking diffs, and you might already have all the recovery equipment you can carry. In which case, fine, it is a 'considered' modification, and you know what to expect when you have done it. But if you rush blindly in, and lift the suspension, it might be a bit late to start asking if it was the wisest thing to do, when you are wedged under the car-park barrier at work at 8.55 on a Monday morning, with the security guard scratching his head, and all your work mates queuing up behind you papping their horns!