Patina is a word I generally dislike. It tends to be used by people to describe old concourse cars and get really anal about the history, or to defend a car that’s a complete shed through neglect. But I cannot deny that in the case of this car, there really is no better word to describe it.
This is Alice, a 1978 Land Rover Series 3 Long Wheelbase Van back that’s owned by one of my housemates, Will. She’s old, battered and absolutely full of character!
The exterior hints at the hard life this car has lived. The brush-painted Marine blue is slowly peeling away, revealing the multitude of colours the car has previously been.
When he washed the car for the first time to remove the layer of algae that had formed while sitting, the distinctive Sandstone paint literally fell off of the roof under the bristles of a scrubbing brush. Photo of original condition below:
Now, alongside the bare aluminium patches on the roof edge, the black streaks are due to the rubber roof seals deteriorating and being washed away with the rain.
Looking along the sides, the famously boxy Land Rover exterior has a surface texture more like the moon.
Not a single panel on the car is straight, and years of hard use have left the panels dented and cratered.
Even the Land Rover badge itself is bent, a feat that we can’t quite understand!
These Land Rovers were designed as workhorses, and this car is no different. An enormous NATO hitch was recently added to allow towing of a Sankey military offroad trailer.
They are also often popular as vans, and it’s easy to see why! With a 109 inch wheelbase and no rear seats, this car will easily carry pretty much anything you could ever need.
A roofrack has been added to increase carrying capacity even further, and some powerful spotlights light up the trail at night, as well as coming in useful for light night garage sessions.
Aside from the hard work in restoring the car to full working condition, there are a few little personal touches that suggest its owner’s personality.
(And yes, you definitely can slide this thing!)
Steve, ever watchful, safeguards the rear tow ball and step, which are the first objects to ground out when used offroad.
And used offroad this car certainly is!
Underneath, a mixture of mud and rust is almost indistinguishable from eachother as Will likes to use this car for its primary purpose:
Going wherever the hell you like.
The solid axles sport new parabolic leaves, which are a welcome improvement over the tired old springs that came on the car. Axle check straps were added to help the dampers in cases of extreme wheel eversion, and the blue remote breather tubes that snake down the chassis allow for deep fording up to the air filter line if needed.
Meaty towing points bolted straight into the chassis provide a means of recovery in the event that the car gets stuck.
While the 15 year old Deestone tubed tyres, 100% profile 7.5 inch section width off-road rubber, try to ensure that doesn’t happen in the first place.
Turning hard left, the wheels rub slightly on the suspension despite a turning circle of a pitiful stated 15m. And there’s us drifters complaining about not having enough steering angle! There is also, of course, no power steering provided, and the combination of these two factors makes car park manoeuvring somewhat of a nightmare.
The exhaust system makes a rather strange path from the engine to the back of the car, snaking around trying to stay as close to the chassis as possible for greater clearance, and containing some very questionable bends. The original rubber strap hangars remain, albeit very perished.
Will actually got this car partially by accident; a longtime fan of Land Rovers, his gran called up one day to say that a neighbour of hers had an old “1998” T-reg Defender for sale that’d been sitting for years. It was dirt cheap, and by the maths it could only have been the V8 version… so naturally he jumped at the chance and bought the car without even going to see it. A local farmer friend was called in for backup, as the car had to be dragged out of the bush it sat in with a tractor and towed home.
Unfortunately, it turned out not to be a Defender at all, and certainly didn’t have a V8. Still, he fell in love with the car as soon as he saw it! Since then, he has set about making the car his own, repairing and restoring the worst bits and making her more capable of the goal: a go-anywhere utility mule.
Originally, this car came with a 2 ¼ litre diesel which made for a very effective rolling road block, producing all of 50 horsepower and topping out at 45mph. The previous owner, however, has swapped it for the identically sized petrol, which makes a grand total of 75 horsepower from new.
Sadly, this engine isn’t new. There’s no indication of when the swap was done, but it has a mish-mash of different parts, and has certainly seen better days. The rod knock is audible at most RPMs above anything else, and the car gets around 15mpg petrol, and 300mpg on oil, needing regular top-ups with Wilko finest 20w-50. A rebuilt 200TDI engine is ready to go in the car, but the insurance costs mean it’ll be a little while before it can be fitted. Until then, the plucky 2 ¼ will be run into the ground until it has no more life to give…
A high mounted oil-bath air filter means deep water isn’t a problem, and the car is capable of operating in the most horrifically dusty conditions (if it is ever needed!) The electrics have also been waterproofed with copious amounts of Vaseline.
For anyone more used to performance cars, the tailpipe on this car seems quite pitiful. That said, I don’t think it poses much of a restriction as most of the exhaust gases exit from the joint between manifold and downpipe. However, the previous gaping cracks in the thick cast iron manifold have been sealed up questionably by preheating the manifold with the throttle and using an extremely powerful welder.
It’s very easy to spot the modern additions, which include a replacement distributor, new HT leads and the addition of later model twin-line servo assisted brakes… a welcome improvement over the old system, though they were an absolute arse to bleed.
Meanwhile, original peculiarities include the bizarrely routed crankcase ventilation system, which tees into the inlet both before and after the throttle, with no one-way valves to be found. For some reason, Land Rover decided that this was a good idea… To the right of the bay, the replacement heater system can be seen, using a bilge blower hooked up under the wheel arch to provide some welcome warmth in the colder months.
Inside, the fantastic array of “patina” continues. Air conditioning is provided via the local weather system, with these vents remaining open whenever the car moves, due to what is not a very well isolated engine bay, and a not very well sealed exhaust.
Gear selection is taken care of with three levers, as I’m told all good cars should be. Beside the gearstick, the red lever switches between high and low range gearing, while the yellow plunger alternates 4WD and rear wheel drive only, which is how the car is used on the road. Fairey locking front hubs allow the front driveshafts to be disconnected entirely from the wheels when on the road, allowing low-range to be used on the road, and also improving the horrific fuel economy at least a little bit!
Like the rest of the car, the dilapidated original dashboard oozes character and age of work.
The gauges themselves wouldn’t look out of place in a Spitfire, and remind you JUST how old this machine really is. No rev counter is provided, and none is needed as the RPM is limited naturally by your eardrums and an intense power drop-off. The throttle in this car has the most convoluted linkage I’ve ever seen, winding its way through the engine bay with a series of levers and pivots, and consequentially pedal feel is like trying to find a needle in a carpet while wearing work boots. Thankfully, it’s not needed as throttle control is ‘on’ if you want to move, or ‘off’ if you don’t. You really have to go everywhere flat out to get up any speed at all!
The odometer currently claims 14301 miles, but it only has 5 figures so this could easily be 114301, or even 914301. Judging by the general state of the car though, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the latter.
A simple household light switch toggles the front spotlights on and off, and interior lighting is achieved by jamming a different wire into the end of it. Will assures me that this arrangement is temporary, and is soon to be replaced by a custom built switch panel overhead, along with a fully ply-lined cabin.
Driving this car is a bit of an art-form. Aside from the switch-like throttle pedal, the play in the steering mechanism is so great that being overtaken by lorries has to have its own procedure, taking up the slack in the linkage as the lorry approaches, then in the other direction as it passes, to avoid being pushed out of your lane.
While moving it is intensely loud, and ear defenders are provided for motorway journeys. In 3rd gear and above, the driveshaft noise overtakes that of the enormous tyres, and the whole cabin is filled with a loud hum that resonates off of all the walls. The stiff leaf springs don’t offer much in the way of comfort, and most of the suspension is done by the foam in your seat.
Despite all of that, this is my favourite car to be around, and Will’s favourite car that he has ever owned. It’s loud, uncomfortable and potentially deadly in many ways, but this car ALWAYS puts a smile on your face, and genuinely hilarious to be in. As well, it’s incredibly useful, pulling load after load and happily eating up any job it’s asked to do. It is simple and easy to modify, something that Will fully intends to do.
Alice is destined to become a go-anywhere workhorse/campervan. A custom supply crate in the boot carries a host of spares, as well as camping gear and emergency supplies. The rear section is currently under refurbishment, with a fully panelled rear in progress, and overhead lighting and sound system planned.
I absolutely adore this car, and can’t wait to see what comes of it. Will is a man with a plan, and a drive to restore this car to its full glory, and really put his stamp on it.
List of Jobs to Date:
New shocks and springs
New brake cylinders
New servo-assisted master cylinder
New lights all round
New heater blower (bilge blower)
Rebuilt dashboard (and corrected all West-Country wiring)
New axle swivel seals
Dropper plate and tow bar (with NATO hitch added recently)