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Living with a Landie

Is a Land rover for you? Advice to potential Owners

Thinking of buying your first Landie? Well here's some food for thought.

Living with a Landie is different for everyone, it really depends on which one you bought and why. The first thing though is that a Landie is a specialist vehicle. A modern 4x4 may not be that much different to an ordinary saloon car, but the 'utility' Land Rovers, Series One's, Two's and Three's, 90's, 110's, and Defenders are a slightly different kettle of fish.

A long time ago, some-one described the first Range Rover 'Vogue' as a Jaguar on stilts. The later Discoverys, and its counterparts may not be so opulent, but can be considered in a similar vein. They are like ordinary saloon cars, except they are a foot higher and have a fancy drive train.

But, there is still little to compare a proper Land Rover to. They are part tractor, part truck, part bulldozer and part car. A very old, budget car at that. This individuality is part of their charm and their appeal, but it's also one of the things which can make them difficult to live with.

So the first thing to get straight is that utility landies are crude, basic and uncivilised. I don't care how far people tell you they have come in recent years, they were so far behind to start with, they still have a long way to catch up. A brand new Defender, a £25,000 car, is about as refined and civilised a road car as a £4000 Fiat. A Series 3 Landie, was just as crude in comparison to its contemporaries, and today, you really have to redefine your ideas of basic.

If to you, basic implies that you have to wind a handle to open the sunroof and use a key to open the door, you are going to be in for a culture shock, because in a 'period' Land rover, basic means no carpet, no sound proofing, no sun roof and windows that don't even wind down. There isn't even a cigarette lighter socket to plug your mobile phone into!

Some people may actually appreciate this spartan simplicity, but for most its something that they will tolerate because of the vehicles other virtues. And virtues it has in abundance.

That part tractor, part truck bit of its genetic make up makes it one of the most versatile and adaptable vehicles on the road. From the factory, you can get short and long wheelbase variants, and a whole range of body styles: Pick up; Flat bed; Van back; Estate car; Crew Cab or Soft top. They get specialist bodies as fire tenders, ambulance or tow trucks, and they can all venture far off road.

As commercial vehicles, the Land Rover excels. With a power take off to drive farm or plant machinery, they get equipped or adapted for a huge variety of work, from cutting the grass on an air field, to constructing power pylons over the mountains. With winches, compressors or generators fitted there is almost no end to what work a Land Rover can be adapted to do.

But in civilian life? Well, there are plenty of people who couldn't think of having a different car. People whose work demand such a vehicle obviously, but also people who's life style or interests warrant one, or even those people who are merely attracted to them.

Any way, that's about it; You either NEED a landie, or you WANT a landie, its not a car that you just happen to think looks quite nice, or which came in the nicest colour or had the best finance package. You have to consciously CHOOSE a landie, the question is, can you live with that choice?

For my part, I have a 1978 S3 109 2.25 Diesel hard top. My choice of this particular model was made for a number of reasons. The first reason was I needed a family car. As I have six children, I needed one more seat than 90% of people movers. Adding to that the desire to carry the odd bit of luggage and occasionally an extra passenger, there was little other choice except a minibus. But it wasn't just necessity that made me choose a Landie.

A family vehicle must be pretty tough, versatile and rugged. There's not much chance of keeping the upholstery in concourse condition given kids, on a long journey, with opal fruits, muddy feet and travel sickness.

Then there's jobs like recovering them and their bikes when they get a puncture six miles from home, that somehow has managed to buckle their wheel; Carting rotten fence panels to the tip and fetching bulk loads of DIY materials.

And then there's towing the family caravan.

With a landy, its NOT a case of attacking it with a tool box full of valeting materials and a Hoover so much as getting out the pressure washer!

Any way, I figured that if a Landie can survive for twenty years being bashed about the African savannah with little more than a Swiss army Knife and a few quarts of coconut oil for service, it might stand some chance of lasting more than three or four years with my kids!

Why a series Landie? Well, that was a difficult decision. A 110 or defender would have probably made more sense. Ultimately, the cost wouldn't have been much different, and I'd have had a bit more sophistication and a bit less hassle buying a newer vehicle, but I'm an engineer, and I enjoy 'playing' with my cars, and the Series Land-Rovers have that stepped front that I grew up with and think of as defining the marque.

So, just how easy was it for me to live with? Well, first off, reliability is an issue. I must confess that I knew that mine was going to be a rolling restoration project from the beginning, and I probably should have budgeted more time and money for fixing things than I did, but then I was starting with a £250 'spares or repairs' project. The steering was shot, it had no seatbelts, the tyres were below the legal limit, the door tops were strapped up with bungees and the whole thing looked like it was about fit to fall apart.

It wasn't. It ran, and it still had some MOT left. New door tops and a new set of tyres and wheels, tackled the obvious faults, fairly easily, but it took about a month working evenings and week ends on top of a weeks holiday to get the thing ready for its MOT. Most of that was cleaning tidying and checking. The steering gear was the biggest job, and with a new steering box, all of the parts cost more than the car had to start with, but I figured it was worth it. I could have done it cheaper with second hand parts, but as I was intending to keep the vehicle some while, the extra life of new parts would save me work in the future. There was some welding to bulkhead and chassis needed and a new exhaust too. And then, the gearbox went. I chose to overhaul it myself. Why? I still ask my self that. Because I can. Or at least I thought I could. It would have been as cheap to get a second hand or exchange gearbox, but like the steering I figured that doing it myself would be fun, and give me a box with more life left in it. It took, for various reasons - mainly that I had used up all my spare holiday allocation, far longer than I expected. And I had to rush things I had wanted to do, like fit seats and rally harnesses in the back for the kids.

Any way, the first thing I learned was that my Land Rover was not going to prove a viable every day means of transport. I drive 12miles to work and back each day. About 2 miles to get out of town. Six miles to Coventry and then four more around the outskirts of that metropolis.

There are two blokes at work who also have Land Rovers, and who do commute in them. One is an old 90, the other is a Defender 110. The 110 is only practical because of its TD5 engine, power steering and its driver's reserved parking space. For me, driving the 109 in rush hour traffic was too stressful. Yes, other cars are more considerate in giving you their right of way, but getting it into a gap on a busy ring road roundabout takes a lot of patience and faith. And when you get to work, there is no where big enough to park it. On the street, you have to hope that there is a very long gap that would take two small cars.

Car parks are a nightmare. A landie is often at or close to the maximum height restriction for a lot of council car parks and getting under the height restriction barrier can be frought, especially if they have put speed bumps in!

Next, car park planners must all drive 1.2L Micras and have an inferiority complex, because it's often bad enough trying to get a Montego sized car shunted into one of the narrow marked bays in the room they give you between the rows. With a landie, itís a right royal pain. Especially given a limited steering lock, a long wheel base, big wide tyres and no power steering.

And if you succeed, you can't open the doors, and the back sticks out about a yard from the row.

For me, that problem was solved by buying a 1.6 Montego estate for £200. Which left the Landie free for fun, and to earn its keep hauling the family around. Which is fine. Its a solution some may have problems with, but for me the saving in fuel for commuting more than pays for its tax and the Montego's insurance is little more than the saving I make taking the 'Including Commuting' clause off the Land Rovers policy. So in reality, running both an old Land Rover and an old 'banger', works out about as expensive annually as running a four year old family saloon, given HP charges, depreciation and all that.

I still have to live with the cars natural handicaps in heavy traffic and the parking problems, but they donít seem so important when your not worried about the hassle you're going to have to deal with when you get to work or the disapproving looks from your colleges or boss as you hustle in, ten minutes late with your hands covered in oil.

Given other circumstances, it may be different. I wouldn't even nightmare at the thought of using a 109 as an every day driver in London traffic, but if I worked in the countryside or didn't have to commute through rush hour traffic, or if I had an 88, it might not be so bad.

Any way, pressing the old 109 into family service is practical, and it is tolerable. I was actually pleasantly surprised. It isn't amazingly comfortable, but it isn't uncomfortable either. That sort of unremarkability permeates. I've fitted new seats all round, and new seatbelts, but haven't got round to much in the way of soundproofing or trim. Considering the spartan-ness of the interior, it wasn't half as bad as we expected, and the kids didn't actually grumble as much as they had when squashed in a 7-seater people carrier. It is not the fastest thing on the road, or the most economical, but again we were pleasantly surprised.

The only real gripe was towing with the caravan, where the combined weight and drag conspired to bring speeds down to 30mph on some motorway hills, and it wasn't unknown to have to select 'Low' ratio for a hill start in a country lane, but that is with a LOT of load. For the number of instances where it happens, it's not a big problem.

In normal driving, a 60mph top speed is reasonable and a good average can be maintained - you just have to plan your journey a bit better and give yourself the time.

As for servicing and maintenance, well. Mine is probably not a good example, because what I was starting with was essentially knackered to start with. A 'Good' landie should be a lot more reliable, as I expect mine to be when I've finished the major fettling. Realistically, they are about as reliable as any other car on the road of the same age, possibly a bit more so.

They have their faults, but then they are generally fairly easy and cheap to fix. Well, that's bit misleading. Landies are a bit strange in that respect. They are strong, and the are rugged, and they are renowned for lasting 25 or 30 years where more ordinary cars or light commercials are expected to last not much more than 10. By the same standard, they hold their re-sale value better than most, so the economies of keeping a Land Rover running tend to be better. A Battery for a Diesel 109 for example is about £80 a battery for my Montego, for comparison is about £40. Lamps, for my Montego on the other hand are about £90 each, while for the Landie, they are about £30, a pair. So some parts are expensive, some cheap, but overall, they last well, so you can get your moneys worth from them, either way.

And working on a Landie is fairly straight forward. They are not for the feint hearted, because everything is BIG, and they are not that simple. Basic, low technology and rugged they are. Which means that its fairly easy for an amateur to tackle most jobs. Its Duplo Engineering. Series vehicles with leaf springs are a bit easier to tackle. A half decent tool kit and a Haynes manual, and you can do 80% of any job you'll ever need to do. If you cant, a good mechanic can, and shouldn't charge a fortune for the privilege.

What should be remembered is that a series Landie is essentially a 50 year old design. The fact that we can even envisage using one as a practical everyday vehicle is testimony to how good it is. And remember, the 90/110/Defender's design is not THAT much more advanced than the old series vehicles, and is close to a quarter century old now too. Yes they are useful, practical and versatile vehicles, but whether you can live with one depends on what you expect from it.

A few thoughts of caution:-

Coils vs Leafs.

Old Land Rovers, Series vehicles, are leaf sprung. Later, post 1983 vehicles, 90, 110 or Defender. are coil sprung. A few years ago, the coils sprung models were holding their value well, and if you were looking for a Land Rover on a budget, then you would have been looking at a Series model. These days, with the car market in general in a depressed state, early 90's & 110's are falling into the budget market. At the same time, the later series models are gaining a slight 'classic' status. Consequently, a 'Good' series three may fetch more than a 'typical' 90, and a with tax exemption, the value of a restored S2A may be more than a 'good' defender.

So, given a certain budget, you'll probably have a myriad of choices from fairly new to very old, all at the same price. Now, talking in generalities, Series 3 Landies offer the best value, and you can get one in better condition than either an S2 or a 90/110 offered at the same price. But.. If you want a real 'classic', the S3 is still a bit too common, and still a bit of a poor relation to the S1's and 2's, and is not really any more practical or useable, and no easier or cheaper to keep on the road. If you want an 'old' land rover, then paying that bit extra for an S2 or even an S1, may be worth while. If you want an everyday vehicle, then similarly, the bit extra for a 90/110 may similarly be worthwhile.

Buy or Build

This is a difficult one - given that an S3 has a number of known inadequacies, like its chronic lack of power, poor fuel economy and lack of creature comforts, and the fact that you know that it is fairly easy to work on and infinitely adaptable, you'll probably have the idea of buying an S3 - and "Doing it up". Be warned: First, it is never as easy as it first looks. Second, some mods like putting in a more powerful and more economical engine in may actually cost a lot more than you expect and take value off the vehicle.

Often buying a newer vehicle or one that has already been revamped may be more economical and a lot easier than trying to do it yourself. This is the spec of a really well 'sorted' S3.

To build one to that sort of spec would probably cost something like £5000, on top of the cost of the original car, and there would still be room for improvement, like halogen headlamps, carpet, headlining, and a better engine. On the second hand market, it would probably be advertised for about £2500. But, for that £2500 you could get a pretty good 90 or 110, that was just as fast and probably more comfortable. The trade off though would be that that 90/110 would have a little less life left in it, where a lot of the S3 had new or overhauled parts.

That is the economic truth. But, it needn't put you off going for a 'project vehicle'. Doing It Yourself can be fun, and provide a hobby interest - you could probably spend as much money playing golf or going fishing and not have as much to show for it. You can also build a car which you know intimately, be in better all round condition, or be to your own specific requirements, which you cant get from another second hand car. The thing to remember is that it is not cheap to do such work, and the resale value will rarely match the build cost.

This is important if you are contemplating a restoration project. Rebuilding something from the ground up takes a long time and a lot of hard work. If you expect to see any return on your effort when you have done it, then you are best choosing a Series 1 or 2, rather than a series 3 or a 90/110, as they are that much more valuable to start with. BUT, if you go over the top using new or upgraded parts, accessorising or customising, then the overall build cast will still quickly outstrip the resale value. Few 'Restored' cars make their restorers money. The few that do are generally not over restored, but merely renovated to a good standard condition, replacing only those parts which really do need it, and as often as not, using good second hand parts rather than new. This can mean long hours scouring small adds, breakers yards and auto-jumbles.

Building your Land Rover, really is only worthwhile if you are definitely going to keep it and use it for more than just a couple of years. If its going to be your first Land Rover, then be cautious spending your money, because if you find out you cant finish the build, or you live with it once you have, you could en up wasting a lot of money.

Final thought. Having lived with the 109, for a couple of years, my wife was in need of a new car. Having the Land Rover, made us think about getting a Range Rover for her, which we did.

Now, if you look at a series Landie, and put together a 'wish list' of improvements that you would like, you would probably end up with the following:-

Now, if you look at an old Range Rover Classic, they have ALL of that as standard - well, except the economy, but with an LPG conversion on a V8, you would save money over diesel series 3 consumption. And you can buy an old Range Rover Classic very cheaply these days. So if you are thinking about something to drive rather than work on, a classic can make a lot of sense and be well worth a look.

Short 'Update'; to this article which I wrote about three years ago;

Prices of early coil-sprung 90's & 110's has dropped significantly. As have the prices of a lot of 4x4's. Most early Discoveries, are now nearing the end of their service life, and that model marked Land-Rover's resurgence, when they significantly ramped the production volumes. They say that 80% of all Land Rovers ever built are still in service. Absolutely true; what they don't tell you however is that 80% of all Land Rovers ever build, were made in the last fifteen years! And HALF of them are Discoveries!

But, 90/110's are still more sought after than Disco's & Rangie's; so they have NOT depreciated to quite the extent to make the budget choice between a Series 3 and a 90/110 so easy.

With a plentiful supply of Diesel Disco's & V8 Rangies hitting the breakers though; and demand particularly strong for 90's; there is a distinct trend for Series vehicles to get Hybridised with various Disco or Rangie bits; which is a mixed blessing. A full hybrid, running a shortened Rangie/disco chassis and the complete coiler drive train, but wearing series body work, is a good conversion, but also tempting to try dropping a Disco Tdi motor onto a series gearbox, which is not such a brilliant idea.

If you have that sort of notion, be warned, read the theory section very carefully, and think hard. Disco's offer an abundant source of upgrade's at little cost, but incorporating them into an older vehicle, even a 90/110, isn't as straight forward as you might think.

Also, the Range Rover 'Classic' is now out of production completely, as is the Disco2, that shared its 'platform'. Early Rangies are now seeing a slight resurgence; especially as the P38 that succeeded it has proved a mechanical nightmare, as second hand prices have fallen to real world levels. Classic Rangies are still cheap, but good ones are holding thier value slightly better than they were. and very early ones now attracting much more of a classic interest. Most that are around though are late eighties, early nineties variants, loaded with gizmo's and gadgets, which make them a bit daunting for the amateur mechanic, but not unduly so. They STILL represent the most Land Rover you can get for your money. Early Discoveries are a bit of a mine-field. They were holding their value well, and still do; except that there are now a lot more dogs out there, people are asking silly money for. Personally, until Disco Fever completely wears off, I'd still put my money on a Rangie. Last Note; see article on "Gas Guzzler". For ten years we have been lead to believe that Diesel is more economical and better for the environment, and people have been hauling four pots and V8's out of engine bays and dumping them in hedges in favour of AGA stoves, from anything from Jap 4x4's to Peugeot saloons to dumper trucks! Meanwhile, Diesel prices have crept steadily upwards, and where it used to be cheaper per litre than petrol, now it aint; AND its perilously close to £1 a litre! LPG, or Auto-gas, however, has remained at LEAST half the price of petrol. Round me at the moment, 95RON unleaded is about 95p/l. Most expensive LPG I have bought lately was 47p/l, less than half the price of petrol and at 39p/l at a lot of places, two fifths the price of diesel. THAT makes running a V8 on LPG look VERY much more realistic, especially as you can now get home conversion kits for probably less than the premium you would pay for an oil burner, and certainly a lot less than a diesel conversion. Again, debate over buy or build; BUT, think about it carefully, because I have shown that running a 4 litre V8 Rangie on Gas, is cheaper than running the 1.9l Diesel Renault Estate car, my mother has, and only pence different to running the 'economical' Metro, I had as a 'stop-gap' before!


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