Plus Ça Change………

When I wrote the last post back in January I was busy rebuilding my old Land Rover and I’m pleased to say the work is now finished and the vehicle has been back on the road three weeks.

I say it is finished, but in fact that is not quite true as I am still waiting for the manufacturers to supply the decal which goes on the driver’s door. The one originally supplied back in February, although part of a set, did not match up with the rest and appeared to have been printed on a slant, or cut out of line. When we reported this the main dealer supplied another complete set the following day, but it too was badly printed and would not line up and I am still waiting for the replacement. After about two weeks we were told that the entire batch had been removed from sale and would have to be reprinted. I suppose Land Rover are far more interested in selling new Range Rovers than supplying me with the necessary part for my old Defender so I will have to be patient as they are the only supplier, but I find it very frustrating.

The rebuild has taken about ten weeks altogether and I’m very pleased with the finished article. Dunstan Greenbank at DPG Defenders has done a brilliant job and has also produced a brief video about it which you can see here. I spent a lot of those weeks working alongside him stripping parts, cleaning, wire brushing, and painting, but learned a lot during the process. The vehicle was completely stripped down and all components were shotblasted and painted or replaced with new as necessary before being built up again on a new galvanised chassis. Along the way we incorporated a few “sympathetic improvements” including a heated windscreen and heated seats for those frosty mornings, remote locking, rather a lot of sound insulation and carpeting, and a number of security measures. Some body panels including all three doors (which were badly corroded) were replaced and Rob Leng has made a fantastic job of repainting them all so that now we have put them back together it really does look like a brand new vehicle straight out of the factory.

Now that this project is finished, and my garden brought up to date I’m at a loose end again and so will be going back to the Gambia shortly for a brief stay as a volunteer at MyFarm, a Norwegian educational charity which I wrote about following a visit there last December.

I’m looking forward to seeing the friends I made during my previous placement in Gambia with VSO, and to having more experiences which will give me cause to write rather more frequently while I’m there than I have done recently.

I hope you will join me…….

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Business As Normal

Christmas is over, the New Year has passed and life returns to normal both here in rural North Yorkshire, and also in the Gambia. For me this means more time spent in the workshop on the Land Rover restoration project, and now at last it seems we are about halfway. For a while it seemed that my days were taken up by degreasing and cleaning the various parts that had been removed from the vehicle ready for shotblasting to remove all traces of rust. Meanwhile Dunstan was busy replacing sections of the bulkhead that were badly corroded – a time consuming task, but there are no half measures here. The phrase “near enough” doesn’t appear in his vocabulary, so if the repair is not up to his exacting standards, work continues until it is. As a result, the old bulkhead has now come back from the paintshop looking like new with no visible seams to show where he has replaced metal, a tribute both to Dunstan’s metalworking skills and to the care taken by Rob the painter. If all the panels are to this standard I will be highly satisfied. He has also replaced some panels on the rear tub, and that is now ready to go into the paintshop.

Bulkhead with heater box refitted

Bulkhead with heater box refitted

I thought that my days of leaving work with fingernails black from the degreaser were over, but having spent yesterday morning spraying etch primer onto the newly shotblasted axle casings and a myriad of other smaller parts I found my left thumb completely black from holding small pieces so I could turn them as I sprayed. A rub with white spirit made no difference, but fortunately a few minutes scrubbing at home with a Brillo pad made my nails look reasonably presentable again, and I was no longer one of the Black Hand Gang! We have suffered a few delays due to holiday closures, waiting for parts, and some unforeseen problems. The rear axle tube when cleaned up was quite worn on one side and although it may have lasted for years, we decided to replace it rather than risk it cracking, so have found a good secondhand replacement from a military vehicle supplier. Similarly we found that the splines on the gearbox output shaft were very worn which has necessitated a gearbox rebuild.

Worn axle tube

Worn axle tube

Replacement axle tubes newly primed

Replacement axle tubes newly primed

More newly primed parts

More newly primed parts

Worn gearbox output shaft

Worn gearbox output shaft

Unfortunately the shaft in question is the very last part to come out when dismantling the gearbox, but at least it means that every part will be inspected, checked, and if necessary replaced while the gearbox is in bits. Currently we are delayed by the brand new front doors as it seems that some of the brackets which secure the window winder mechanism in the door frame are in the wrong place. I am now trying to source the necessary brackets so that we can weld them into the right place on the frame, but of course this means that the doors cannot go to paint yet, and unless we are lucky finding the necessary brackets quickly it will hold things up.

In the Gambia meanwhile there has been an attempted coup. It seems that during the night of 30th December while the President was enjoying a trip to Dubai, a group of armed men attacked his official residence, the State House in Banjul, hoping to take power, but were fairly easily beaten off. The plot seems to have emanated from a small group of Gambian dissidents, (some formerly in the Gambian army) based in the USA and financed by a Texan Gambian businessman who rather naively thought that if they mounted an attack, that other Gambian soldiers would rally to their cause and topple the current regime. In the event, several of them including their alleged leader Lt Col Lamin Sanneh were killed and the remainder fled. Two of the ringleaders are now back in the USA being held by the FBI and charged with trying to overthrow President Jammeh. This is a rather curious, not to say embarrassing situation as the USA is a strong critic of President Jammeh who is known for his repression of the opposition and his outspoken anti western views, and the Americans now find themselves in the strange position that they may well be helping him to tighten his grip on power

The President meanwhile has reshuffled his cabinet and declared that he is “going to get rid of these elements one by one until the last person”. He has denied that this was a coup attempt, just an attack by terrorists. Perhaps there is a difference between this attack and his own seizure of power back in 1994, but I find it hard to perceive, and hope he will not use it as an excuse for a clampdown and a further purge of anyone who opposes his rule.

And Now For Something Completely Different

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.

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Washed ready for the workshop

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.

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New galvanised chassis after initial painting

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!

Bulkhead and wings removed

Bulkhead and wings removed

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.

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Front chassis and cross member. Oh dear!

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Couldn’t see how bad this cross member was until we had removed the tub

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).

Dunstan spraying Waxoyl into the chassis

Dunstan spraying Waxoyl into the chassis

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.

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The bulkhead nearly stripped down

This will have to be cut out and replaced

This will have to be cut out and replaced

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.

The battery box was badly corroded and has been replaced

The battery box was badly corroded and has been replaced so is now ready to paint

The tub has also needed some repair

The tub has also needed some repair

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!