This time last year I was spending most of my days sitting in a small office in the Gambia, thankful on the days we had electricity so that we could benefit from air conditioning in the otherwise stifling heat. This December has been rather different.
On Wednesday I began the task of dismantling my old Land Rover prior to a rebuild. I have been thinking about it for over a year – after all the old girl is 23 years old and showing signs of age. She spent the first fifteen years of her life on a farm, not being particularly hard worked, but neither was she particularly well maintained, and since I acquired her in 2006 I must plead guilty to continuing this treatment.
The Defender is like a big Meccano set with everything bolted onto a steel chassis, and this is one of the weak points as unless it is well protected the chassis is gradually eaten away by rust and mine is no exception. It has had repairs over the years to enable it to pass the annual Ministry of Transport roadworthiness test, but I knew it was getting very thin in places and had finally decided to fit a new one. Fortunately there are now a number of independent manufacturers who will supply Land Rover parts, and I ordered a new galvanised chassis from Richards Ltd. It wasn’t the cheapest on the market, but I was assured by my adviser/project leader that the extra cost is justified because their product is better finished than some of the other suppliers.
I should admit at this point that although I have acquired some useful mechanical skills and knowledge over the years working with plant and agricultural machinery I would not have had the confidence (or the metal working skills) to tackle this project unaided so I enlisted the help of Dunstan Greenbank who runs a small garage business (DPG Defenders) nearby specialising in Land Rovers, and who after 26 years repairing and maintaining them for the British Army knows every nook and cranny on the vehicle. When we first looked at the project back in September he took the vehicle in for a couple of days and compiled a schedule of repairs/parts needed and suppliers/costs. Needless to say my initial vague thoughts of spending a couple of thousand pounds soon disappeared as we looked at the details and having taken the plunge I decided that it was pointless only half doing the job, so we will end up doing a complete nuts and bolts strip down (apart from the engine and gearbox which are still good), shot blast all parts as necessary to remove rust and then following a repaint, rebuild them to the original factory specification, but with a few improvements. I have decided to make the vehicle a little more comfortable so will be fitting rather more sound insulation than on the original with carpets and rubber matting throughout, a heated windscreen (Land Rover heaters are notoriously bad and so very poor at demisting/defrosting on cold mornings). I will also add central locking with a Thatcham security alarm – after all, the project will probably end up costing as much as the original owner paid for the vehicle when he bought it new in 1991! (Hopefully my investment will be worth it in the longer term too as Land Rover are ending production of the Defender in December 2015, to replace it with what looks to be a leisure vehicle rather than a true workhorse. I don’t know whether it will be as capable as its predecessor but no doubt it will be more expensive both to buy and maintain than the model it replaces!)
So I have acquired a new job over Christmas and into early January, and spent three days this week on the workshop floor removing the body and freeing the nuts on the suspension and running gear prior to their removal from the chassis. Some of the fixings were well and truly seized and had to be drilled out or cut off with the angle grinder, but so far we haven’t had any major problems, it’s just a case for patience and perseverance!
It wasn’t until we had removed the body however that I realised just how bad the old chassis was – it certainly wouldn’t have passed the next MoT test and was beyond repair.
While I have been doing that, and after we got the body off Dunstan has been painting the new chassis (5 coats of satin black and a good covering of Waxoyl sprayed into all the apertures to cover the interior surface. The factory galvanising of the metal should give it good protection, but it seems sensible to give it some more).
He has also stripped everything from the bulkhead ready for shot blasting. The bulkhead which holds the windscreen, and to which many more components are bolted, is the first part we need to fit onto the new chassis, but is prone to corrosion so he will have to do some metal working – cutting out and replacing sections as required. Fortunately now he has seen it stripped down, he says he has seen far worse and doesn’t seem too worried about the extent of the repairs.
First though it will have to be shot blasted in order to remove any rust and bring it down to bare metal. This is a job which has to be out sourced and we have already sent quite a number of parts to be cleaned, so they can now be collected and primed ready for painting and at the same time the bulkhead will be dropped off. Hopefully this can be returned, repaired and put into the paint shop before the holidays so that we are not held up the week after Christmas.
Perhaps the most tedious job is removing glue from body panels where foam or sound proofing has been fixed. I had thought the tar/glue remover would make the job easy, but although it dissolves the glue, it leaves a kind of soft stringy mess which takes time and several applications to remove completely. It won’t stick to your thumb and roll up nicely like taking the label from a bottle, but only partly clears leaving a gooey smear just where you thought you had cleaned. The panels have to be completely degreased and I don’t envy Rob the painter as he then has them all to rub down to create a key surface prior to spraying. I never have liked painting – all that rubbing down and countless coats, but at least when painting a room at home there are not so many awkward corners and funny shaped bits as on a motor vehicle.
I am now having a weekend off and not sorry to do so. A few days on a cold concrete floor has made my joints ache, especially the knees, and it is good to sit in central heated comfort with a glass of whisky as I finish writing my Christmas cards.
A Happy Christmas to you all!