Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Should You Rebuild or Replace Your Land Rover V8?

Thanks for checking in to John Elder Robison's Land Rover pages.  Look here for my latest story, on collectible Land Rovers from the 1990s.  And now, on to my thoughts on rebuild or replace for V8 owners . . .

That is the question facing more and more Discovery II owners as their engines age.  Land Rover’s Buick-designed aluminum V8 engines were never paragons of reliability; engines in the last P38 Range Rover and Discovery II models are arguably their worst.

There are three common failure modes.  Most common is the overheating failure, where the engine consumes coolant for a while and then overheats whenever it’s driven. Sometimes people fail to catch this in time, and the engine is driven till seizure.

Land Rover V8 with block failure behind the liner.  Coolant scours the piston clean
I've got several articles on liner failure online.  Here is the latest one.  This story explains the process in detail.

The next failure starts with oil pressure loss. The post-1998 oil pump is integrated into the front cover, and it’s prone to wear out over 100,000 miles.  If the pump merely wears you get low oil pressure, and a light at idle.  That can actually be fixed with a new front cover.  However, it’s often accompanied by worn main and rod bearings.  We’ve also seen the thrust faces break off the center mains, and either of those failures will necessitate engine overhaul.  If the pump actually fractures internally you can get total loss of pressure, and engine failure if the warning light is ignored.

The gear in this oil pump broke into pieces

The final failure is unacceptable motor knocking.  Sometimes this comes from lifters or rocker shafts but more often the noise is deeper inside - in the pistons.  We’ve also heard heavy noises from the lower end. The piston skirts wear and the motor starts knocking, first when cold and then all the time.  There’s no cure for this short of complete overhaul.

The only cure for excess piston skirt clearance is new pistons

It’s said that the production tooling had worn out but Rover continued to use it.  However it happened, the result was a series of engines whose internal clearances were at the wear limits before they even left the factory.  Internal balancing was abandoned to save costs, and finish quality dropped. Internal stress increased as the rated power was raised; first in 1999 and again in 2003.  The final straw was extra heat from leaner running; these motors were beyond their limits to achieve post-1997 emission compliance. 

Where the engines in older Rover models often went 200,000 miles or more, these final series motors seldom hit that mark. Most fail by 120,000 miles and a few don’t even reach 60,000. They seem to have gotten worse with age.

So what do you do about it?

Over the last decade, used Land Rover values have fallen and repair costs have risen.   Short block engines cost just $1,000 in 2004; by 2013 they were $6,000+ if you could find them. Long blocks - with the oil pump and heads - are closer to $8,000 Even so, the repair decision remains easy on a Defender, where vehicle values are usually above $50,000 and holding.  No sensible person would scrap a Defender for mere engine failure.  The situation is different for Range Rovers and Discoveries because those vehicles may be worth less than $10,000, and total repair costs can easily exceed that number.

If you’ve got a Rover whose engine is on its way out you basically have three choices:
  • Scrap the truck;    
  • Install a used motor;
  • Rebuild your motor, or buy a rebuilt motor.
Some people will read this and ask, what about a different motor, a Chevy or Toyota conversion?  If you've got an old Rover, and you live in a place that does not have emission testing, that is an option. Unfortunately most 2000-newer Rovers in America are subject to emission test, many through the OBD port, and an engine conversion will not work for them.  Your conversion options are mostly applicable to 1995-older trucks without OBD II.  It's also worth noting that a high quality engine conversion is often 100+ hours of work, so there is no cost savings to this route if you pay to have the work done.

If the Discovery is “just a car” to you, the scrapyard option may look attractive; people in that position tend to move on to other brands of car.  Major repairs are what separate the serious enthusiasts from the weekend dilettantes.  The weasels get a can of gas and a match, and get ten grand from the insurance company.  A few good men take their own ten grand, and do a proper repair.  Then they go out and burn the gas, chasing action through backwoods and beaches. 

If you are dedicated to Land Rover, and like the separate frame/live axle design of these trucks, you know there is no present-day equivalent.  As an off-road platform the built-up Discovery II outperforms the Defender in many situations, with vasty improved civility and much greater family acceptability.  If you agree with all this, and your truck is in good shape otherwise, the most sensible option may well be repair.

That leaves you with a choice of engines.  I’m often asked about used motors for these trucks, and I am never in favor of that idea.  The reason:  any used motor you find is going to be 10 years old at least.  If its not worn out, it’s going to be well on the way.  Worst of all, any used motor is going to retain all the design flaws the motor you have now has, and it may blow up a month or two after installation.  When I look at the cost of used motors and the effort it takes to put them in I think you’d be nuts to choose that route.

If you’re still thinking about that notion, just remember that your late-series Land Rover V8 was a fatally flawed design.  What sense does it make to put another flawed motor in your rig?

To me, the only option that makes sense is the fitment of a flange-liner motor with a new front cover; one where the late series design deficiencies have been addressed.  That is the solution that leads to long term reliability.

I’ve written several articles about the use of flanged liners to fix overheating in these engines.  When that technique is combined with new pistons and an updated front cover, and the motor is blueprinted and balanced you end up with a rugged and smooth running engine that will last a long time. 

A rebuilt Rover engine, ready to install
Robison Service has been rebuilding engines like that for several years; it’s the only way we do Land Rover V8 motors now.  Other companies in the UK and the USA are offering engines with various combinations of parts and technology.  In my opinion that is the way to go.

There are still a few “old style” short blocks in the market with the original Land Rover tube liners.  I suggest avoiding those motors as they have all the flaws of the original engines.

Now for the final question:  What will it cost:

*** SPRING 2016 UPDATE: The total cost, parts and labor, to rebuild one of these Land Rover V8 motors, including removal, teardown, overhaul and refit; fit flanged liners, and do all the other work that's typically needed runs $12-15,000.  It's a significant commitment and there are no good shortcuts.  ***

A set of pistons, flanged liners, bearings, and other parts to rebuild a short block will run a bit more than $3,000.  The machine work to rebuild a short block is substantial.  Here is what we do in our shop:
  • ·      Tank clean and bead blast the block
  • ·      Remove the old liners and check for cracks
  • ·      Repair the cracks
  • ·      Check the block for straightness, corrosion, and other damage
  • ·      Machine the block to accept flanged liners, and install the liners
  • ·      Bore liners to match the new pistons
  • ·      Rebuild crank and rods
  • ·      Line bore block if needed; deck cylinder head surfaces;
  • ·      Balance rotating mass
  • ·      Assemble short block
We can change displacement from 4.0 to 4.6, or something a bit larger.  Upgrade costs can be anything from $1,200 up.  Other shops may follow different steps, or a subset of these steps.  Not all blocks are rebuildable; a few are too damaged from overheating.  Expect the total cost for a rebuilt short block to be in the $5,000-6,500 range; more for custom work.  You can rebuild the block you have (that's what we do most of the time) or you can buy an exchange block, already built.  

Then you get into the rest of the job . . . 

Add a couple thousand more to rebuild the heads, replace the front cover and take care of the other rebuilding work.  That gives you what rebuilders call a "long block" - a complete motor less the covers, accessories, brackets, hoses and wiring.  Those too can be purchased or made.

A wise owner looks at the ancillary items – things that should be attended to when the motor is out. New water pump, hoses, motor mounts are just a few possibilities.  You may need a radiator, or AC work, or a steering box and lines.  Those costs should be added in for a first-rate job.  You should also consider cosmetics - do you care how the engine bay looks?  If you do, this is the time to refinish or re-plate under hood pieces while they are all out and apart.  The change may be striking:

A restored D90 engine bay
Finally there is the labor to do the job; expect this work to consume 30-40 hours at whatever labor rate prevails in your area; more if you get into detailing or custom work.  Jobs like this typically cost $11-14,000 in my part of the country, as of fall 2016.

It’s expensive, for sure, but it’s the only repair that’s going to last.  If you have a Rover V8 and you want to preserve it I suggest giving this plan serious consideration.

1995 Range Rover Classic atop Killington Mountain
Note:  The advice in this article applies to any 1987-newer Land Rover with V8 engine.  If you have a pre-1999 engine you may not need the flanged liners but the rest of the job is essentially the same.  Owners of older cars should also consider a diesel conversion, something that is not possible for those of us with newer vehicles in states where emission testing is a requirement.

Here are three articles about internal problems in the V8s:

V8 engine failures - slipped liners and more - from 2009

Should you rebuild a failed Land Rover motor? I have an article about that situation here that covers the decision process

What's the latest on top hat or flanged liners? This article tells all you want to know about the flanged liner overhaul

Discovery II models also have a problem with frame rust.  We first began to see this in the spring of 2014, when we saw several trucks whose rear frames rusted right through over the winter.  These vehicles seemed more vulnerable to rust than the earlier models.  Read this article to find out why, and what you can do about it.

Are you thinking of restoring a Land Rover?  This article shows some of what's involved.  This article explains the difference between repair and restoration, two very different processes.

If you drive a Range Rover Sport or LR3, read this story on differential failures

And if your supercharged Rover is losing power - read this

Programming keys for your Land Rover is here

(c) J E Robison Service

John Elder Robison is the founder of J E Robison Service, independent Land Rover specialists in Springfield Massachusetts.  John has been part of the Land Rover community for 28 years; since the marque’s 1987 return to North America.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rolls-Royce engine compartment restoration, Part 2

Earlier this month I began a series of stories chronicling the restoration of a 1970s-era Rolls-Royce engine compartment.  This second installment takes us a bit farther down the road to restoration.

Looks good at a distance but you see the age up close

We talked about removing the engine, and all the associated pipes, plumbing, and wiring.  A Rolls-Royce is like any other car in this regard, only more complex.  The owner of this car wants to restore it to new (only better) so we are following the original Rolls Royce conventions as close as we can, when it comes to refinishing parts.  We’re using modern techniques like powder coating but we are doing our best to stick to factory color and look. 

You'd follow the same steps to properly restore a V8 Cadillac, Gran Torino, or Mercedes 450SL.

With that in mind, once the engine came out of the car, and got torn down, we sorted everything into several piles.  Each pile got indexed and photographed.  Here’s what we ended up with:
  • One pile had parts that get cad plated (nuts and bolts, linkage rods, and some of the pipes)
  • Parts that get painted silver. (much of the cast metal on the engine, and some of the brackets) went into another pile. This pile has small parts like the alternator bracket and big pieces like the intake manifolds and the brake reservoir.

  • Parts that get painted black were sorted out. This includes the cylinder heads, calve covers, and most of the engine parts that are not silver or cad plate.

Then there were some smaller piles
  • Exhaust manifolds got finished in black ceramic, which is not original but is in keeping with the design and an improvement over rusty iron.  When you restore a car you have to decide what to do with parts that were originally unfinished metal.  You can blast them clean and just return them to that state, but they will start rusting immediately and most owners don't want that.  You can coat them in a clear finish or you can choose a color.  We are doing some formerly bare parts in clear ceramic, and others like the manifolds in matte black.
The aged exhaust manifolds will be finished in black ceramic
  • These Rolls Royce brake pipes were originally finished in zinc chromate primer.  That surprised me but I discovered the original finish on some segments of like-new line on the subframe.
  • We had a few pieces that were finished in zinc (galvanize.)

Rolls Royce brake lines finished in zinc chromate

The piles get sent out to several refinishers who will sandblast, walnut shell blast, tank clean, and otherwise prepare the various pieces. Then they will apply whatever finish was selected and send them back to us, renewed.

In some cases the parts are then ready to put back on the car.  Other pieces go from refinishing to the machine shop.  Heads and block are examples of that.  The lead times on refinishing vary quite a bit, and we want to coordinate the jobs so the work progresses smoothly.  Project management is a big part of any restoration

Then there are the internal parts of the engine that do not get refinished at all; they get renewed by the machinist. The image below shows this engine's tappet gallery where we are starting to get wear on the cam and lifters.  You won't see repairs in this ares but you will certainly notice them if you drive the car!  This engine didn't have any failures inside but it was starting to age.

In total, we are sending out over 400 large and small parts, and a similar number of nuts, bolts and clips.  Why would we send out nuts and bolts?  Because some have a distinct look, one that is not easily matched with the hardware available today in America.

This is a big task.  But it’s the only way to restore an engine right.  The more common technique – cover it all in glossy wet paint – is not a restoration.  It’s a concealment of problems.  It may look good till it starts, but things will go bad quickly and you’ll wish you’d never made the painted mess.   A truly restored engine is a joy to behold – every part individually restored and then assembled into a complex whole that runs with precision, for many, many years.

Now that the metal of the engine has been dealt with we have the rest of the engine bay.  Looking in we can see cracking flat black paint on both fenderwells.  Unfortunately, they are covered in pipes and wires, so we have more removal before we can address the paint problems.

Rolls Royce engine bay, less engine

The firewall area is a mix of rubber, gloss black, and parts. Once again we have a disassembly job ahead.   Looking down to the ground we see a dirty, greasy subframe.  We know it should be clean glossy black, and the only way to get it to look that way, is to remove it from the car and clean it up in pieces. 

That was our next task on this Rolls.  Here it is, dropped out below the nose.

Front subframe dropped out of a Shadow/Corniche series Rolls Royce
Here you see the whole assembly, on a trolley.  It weighs 2-300 pounds.  The engine and transmission were bolted into the subframe with rubber mounts, and the subframe itself was bolted into the unibody with more rubber mounts.  That is how they got such good isolation of vibration back in the 60s.  It's common today but unheard of then. 

In the image below you are looking at the top of the subframe after we used a power washer to remove 40 years of grime.  See all the yellow spots?  Those are critical fasteners that the subframe assembler painted yellow to show he checked them for tightness, because they cannot be seen once the subframe is in the car.  These parts have not seen daylight in 40 years.
Power washed subframe showing yellow inspector paint marks
When we put this back together we will replicate those yellow marks on a glossy black background.

Here's the subframe turned upside down, which is how you see it looking at the car from below  It's uniformly black because we treated it with Waxoyl several years ago.

This is a better view of the top of the subframe.  The bottom center is the front of the subframe.  The three yellow bolts hold the front of the main suspension arms.

The yellow paint is broken off the compliance mount nuts, because they were replaced:

The front lower suspension arm mounts are rusty but appear original:

Here's one of the broken rubber couplers in the steering column.  This part is also invisible and as you can see it was at the end of its days

Note the original yellow paint on all safety-related bolts that would be concealed once the subframe was installed.

This looks like the assembly code for the subframe.  It's painted on in back, under where the engine would sit

These brake pipes were painted in light green primer, some of which is still visible.  The clamp was white zinc.

Here you can see that the suspension was all painted gloss black. They don't do that anymore. That kind of detailing is lost on newer cars.  Even new Bentleys use bare metal on their suspensions today.

As the car's owner observed, a job like this is like an archaeological dig, on a car.  We take pride in doing work like this, knowing it’s the best it can be.  The finished product is not a repair; it’s a work of functional automotive art.

Stay tuned for the next steps . . .

John Elder Robison is an independent Rolls Royce and Bentley specialist in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com and on the phone at (413) 785-1665

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Restoration of 65-newer Rolls Royce engine compartments

It looks beautiful on the outside . . . .

But what about under the hood?
1972 Rolls Royce engine compartment

That’s where this car shows its forty-some years.  There’s no rust or corrosion, and no damage, but everything looks tired.  This car is better than 95% of its peers, but still . . . Even when clean, the engine bay never really looks good.  The rubber is faded and spotty.  Paint has begin flaking from stress points in the fender wells, and there are chips on the painted parts of the engine.  
Stress cracks and aging in the inner fender wells
Cad-plated pipes have aged unevenly.  The painted silver intake has lost its gloss, and acquired a permanent tint of grease,  New service parts stand out against a background of age.  Under everything there is the engine long block, covered by a patina of hardened grease and grime.
The deeper you go, the more hard-to-remove dirt and wear you see

This is the situation for most pre-1994 Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars.  It actually applies to later cars too, but the appearance of plastic covers in 1994 hides the problem from casual viewers.  The complexity of these engine compartments makes it almost impossible to keep them truly sparkling.  Even cars with show-winning paint and interior usually fall short when the hood is opened.

Most owners address this issue by keeping the hood closed.  But what if you want the engine area to look as good as the rest of the car?  You restore it, just as you would any other component or system.  That’s what we are doing here . . .
Master Technician Robert Toti prepares the engine for removal
We started by making a plan.  We knew the inner fenderwells needed paint work, and that could not be done with the motor in the car.  Underneath, the subframe and suspension members really show their age.  There’s only so much you can do to clean them up, with a motor in place.

We began by removing the driveshaft and transmission to facilitate engine removal. 

Next, we removed the engine in order to address its problems on the bench.  This motor will be restored internally as well as cosmetically.  We will address leakage from the liners, and all the accumulated wear.  Engine removal revealed a number of problems – wear in the cam lobes for the hydraulic pumps; a crumbling steering coupler; and a cracked exhaust manifold.  
A crumbling rubber steering coupler, hidden by the engine
All that will be fixed to a better-than-new standard.
The Rolls Royce long block out of the car
The disassembly we’ve done revealed more hidden issues in the hydraulics so this car will get its pumps, accumulators, and valves rebuilt.  Luckily those parts are still available.
Brake fluid leakage has turned the silver engine block finish greenish
We’ll send hundreds of little bits out for refinishing – cad plating, zinc plating, powder coating in silver or black, ceramic coating, etc.  There’s no other way to do a repair that lasts.  Most of these parts (brackets, throttle rods, etc) are not subject to wear but they have suffered cosmetically and they make up most of what you see, as you look under the hood.

The "easy way out" would be to spray paint all these parts just as you see them (hopefully after they were cleaned.)  I see that done all too often, even in so-called professionally restored cars.  But the fact is, these parts were not painted spray can silver when new, and that kind of finish won't last.  Nor will it hold up to close inspection.

Refinishing the pieces individually, and then putting them together, is the job that lasts.  It's also the job that matches how the factory did it and offers the chance to truly do it better than new.

A few of the brackets we'll be refinishing on this motor
We will clean up and service the transmission and electric gear selector while they are out of the car.  The GM400 is inexpensive to overhaul so we’ll fit new clutches as well as new seals.
The RR stamp on the bellhousing identifies this as an original Rolls gearbox, circa 1972
Next we will remove the subframe, strip it down, overhaul, and refinish it.  We will sandblast all the metal parts and powder coat them in gloss black.  Then we will reassemble them with new ball joints and bushings.  That’s the only way to get a result that both looks and performs as new.

The engine, mostly stripped to the block
Another Rolls Royce short block as rebuilt by our machinists
While this is underway we will put the car on a wood subframe and dollies so it can be moved from one area of the shop to another.  We hope to address some bodywork concerns while the engine bay work progresses.

We will clean up, repair and paint the fender wells and firewall as needed.  It’s fairly easy to do that now, with nothing in the way.  We need to move some AC lines, the AC condenser, and the brake reservoirs out of the way. Those parts will need refinishing too.
This Cadillac engine bay is much simpler than the 70s Rolls.  It sets a minimum standard for finish quality.
A restored XKE engine compartment
After that, we will assemble the subframe and install the engine and transmission onto it.  This is how the cars were originally assembled in Crewe.

Using a special stand we will refit the subframe – powertrain and all – back into the car, and we’ll do the final assembly.

When it’s done, you will be able to open the hood and see an engine bay that glitters just as it did in some long-ago Rolls-Royce showroom.

As you can see, this is a major undertaking but it’s what one must do, to bring any modern Rolls-Royce engine compartment up to the show standards used for pre-1965 cars.  We’ve done a number of older engine bays – which are much simpler under the hood.  We’ve also done simpler cars, like this BMW 2002. Newer Rolls-Royce/Bentley vehicles are daunting when you look at them, but the individual tasks are the same as any car – there is just a lot more to do!

The BMW engine bay - BEFORE
The BMW 2002 engine bay - AFTER 

Some owners will say, Why do it?  The fact is, work like this is what makes true works of automotive art.  Look at the late 50s Cadillacs or Chevies . . . Those cars were once treated like Shadows and Wraiths are today.  They looked good on the outside, but underneath they were old and tired.  That was good enough for the collectors of the 80s, many of whom were do-it-yourself hobbyists.  Then a new group of enthusiasts came on the scene.  These guys had experience with high-end restorations on old cars, and they applied those techniques to the domestic cars of the fifties.  Auction prices of those cars soared – 1000% or more in some cases – and the top models command strong six-figure prices at auction today.

Clearly, that would not happen if you opened the hood to see wear, rust, dirt and grime.

Will work like this transform the Rolls-Royce market?  That’s a good question.  Here at Robison Service we are asked to do more and more restoration of cars from the 70s 80s and even 90s.  That work goes well beyond regular upkeep, and puts those cars head and shoulders above their unrestored brethren.  What will happen when these vehicles begin finding their way to auction?  I suspect prices will rise, just as they have with more common marques.  Will they rise as much?  Who knows . . . Rolls Royce cars are certainly less common, but the pool of enthusiasts is smaller too.

The fact is, it takes $150-250,000 to do a first rate restoration on a late 1950s Cloud.  A simpler car like a Thunderbird can cost nearly as much, because the labor to do a body and frame has little to do with the brand badge it carries.  Older cars have considerably higher restoration costs.  Newer Rolls Royce cars are more complex to restore than the Cloud series, and they have the potential to cost more.  However you feel about that, it is reality.  That will eventually be reflected in the trading prices for these vehicles as we move from a market where most cars offered for sale are unrestored to a market where most examples are restored.

That’s the case now, with older vehicles.  For them, restoration is the rule – not the exception - and price is set by the quality of the restoration and the rarity of the particular example.

We are just beginning what I call a thinning-out period for the Shadow and its derivatives.  Most examples are unrestored; they are merely maintained to various degrees.  Every year, the rougher units are scrapped as repair costs overwhelm under-financed or under-committed owners.  It is inevitable that we will reach a point where some numbers of the Shadow-series cars on the road are properly restored.  When that happens their owners will expect a reasonable return on their investment.

It’s something for any of you to think about, as these cars age.  Restoration is one of those things that will not decrease in cost with the passage of time. For those of you who own other makes of car, remember that the ideas in this story apply to any newer V8 automobile.  A person who chose to restore the engine bay of a Mercedes 6.9 would face many of these same issues, as would someone doing a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

Follow the blog as we progress through this job over the coming winter.  You can read Installment Two here.  We’ll post regular updates and we’re happy to answer questions.

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent Rolls Royce and Bentley specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the RROC and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665