Saturday, March 22, 2014

Frame Rust in Land Rover Discovery II models - an Achilles' heel?

NOTE:  I have an update to this essay describing a repair technique we are using successfully on many trucks beginning in the summer of 2015.  Read more here

The 2003-4 Discovery was one of Land Rover’s most successful models.  Unfortunately, significant problems have begun cropping up as the trucks have aged.  I’ve written quite a bit about the engine block problems, which got a great deal worse in the late 4.6 models.
2003 Discovery fording a stream in Western Massachusetts
Now we are seeing a new problem – frame deterioration.  This is a particular concern in trucks that are driven off road in mud and then on road in winter New England. The frames of these “affordable” Land Rovers are suddenly rotting out.  My investigation of frames was precipitated by one truck that came here with rust after we’d looked at it and seen nothing at all the summer before.  The rust that came through this winter was so severe that the owners (and myself, frankly) had a hard time understanding how it could appear so quickly.

I looked into what went wrong with that truck, and compared it to six other Discovery II models at Robison Service last week.  What I found is, to say the least, troubling.

Take a look at this photo of the rear underside of a typical Discovery II.  You can see some surface rust in this photo, but it’s nothing alarming.  Yet a closer inspection reveals cause for concern.  If you look at the frame rails you see they have a weld running down the bottom centerline. This weld is rough on the inside, so it can trap debris if it gets into the frame.  The next problem is the braces for the trailer hitch.  The points where they bolt to the frame rails act as barriers, also trapping dirt inside the rails.

Underside of a 2004 Discovery showing beginnings of chassis rust
Now we get to the hidden part of the problem . . . I took this situation to our Land Rover tech support contacts, who told me something pretty surprising. It turns out Land Rover reduced the frame thickness of Discovery II models by more than 30% as compared to the Defender and earlier models.  So the frame in these vehicles is significantly lighter than the frames of earlier Rovers, which were themselves no paragons of corrosion resistance.  This was done to save weight and gas but it has had the result of making them weaker and less durable.

To add insult to injury, it turns out Land Rover decided not to galvanize these frames so there is little to prevent them from dissolving if corrosives get inside.

Corrosion inside a Land Rover frame, see with an inspection camera
Another unpleasant result of this weight reduction is that the thinner frame rail walls are now fracturing from metal fatigue up front where they are exposed to heat cycling from the catalytic converters.  The shock towers are another weak point.  The truck we got in last week announced its problems by breaking a rear shock mount.  But an examination of six other DII examples at our shop showed stress cracks in the same location is three more vehicles – this is a problem that will rear its head for lots more people soon.

Note the vertical line of fatigued metal to the left of the upper shock bolt.  A breakage waiting to happen
Off road enthusiasts have long known that mud can accumulate in frame rails, and they should be washed clear after driving in mud.  In fact, Land Rover frames have holes in the low spots to allow mud to drain.  Unfortunately, the DII frames don’t drain fully because of the rough welds on the bottom, and the passage of some bolts that act as barriers.  When a frame gets filled with mud, and the truck is then driven on salted winter roads, the salts get concentrated in the mud and they destroy the frame from inside faster than I would have believed possible.

This is a serious weakness that is made very apparent with the increased use of liquid snow melter on snow country roads.  When that stuff gets into the mud inside a frame it stays damp and its incredibly corrosive.  And the inside of the frame typically has no protection.
This frame rotted at the weak points I describe after filling with mud and winter salts
The ultimate cure for these trucks is going to be the fitment of heavier galvanized frames, like we to with Defenders today.  However the lower value of the Discovery II models is going to make that decision a tough one for many owners.  I suspect frame rust will send quite a few of these trucks to the scrap yard.  But there will be enthusiasts who fix them, just as there are enthusiasts who pay us to rebuild engines, transmissions, and everything else on these trucks.

With restored Defenders costing over $100,000 and scruffy examples selling in the $40s a Discovery II with a rebuilt motor and galvanized frame starts to look like a more comfortable and good performing alternative that's almost as trail worthy and a lot more road worthy.  Doing a frame in that context, along with a top hat or flange liner engine makes a lot of sense.  Add some trail mods and you are still under $40 with both usability and a lot of capability.

Rovers North has just started selling galvanized DiscoveryII frames.  It will be interesting to see how the changeover works out.  These trucks have more “Stuff” underneath than a Defender.  I would not be surprised if a frame change takes 100 hours and a pile of bushings, mounts, lines and pipes.  Frame replacement is likely the most expensive repair one could undertake on these vehicles, potentially exceeding the cost of a flange liner 4.6 engine job.

(c) 2014 John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent Land Rover restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Inspecting a 1980-1999 Rolls Royce or Bentley - what to look for

Things to look for in a Rolls Royce or Bentley
1981-2000 4-door sedan models – Silver Spirit, Silver Dawn, Silver Spur and 2 door models – Corniche, Continental, Azure
(c) 2014 John Elder Robison -

In this essay I'd like to show you a few things to look for in 1981-2000 Rolls Royce and Bentley motorcars. I hope you'll be able to use this information to inspect your own car or avoid unexpected surprises when buying a car. In addition to studying this article, I strongly suggest you retain the services of an expert to inspect any Rolls Royce car prior to purchase.

To find a Bentley or Rolls Royce workshop near you, look under the "services" tab on the home page of the Rolls Royce Owner's Club, I recommend joining the club if you plan to acquire a car.  The Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands were built under common ownership from 1931-1998.  At that point the companies went into a process of sale that culminated with VW taking the Bentley name, the Crewe factory, and support for all over cars.  BMW took the Rolls-Royce name, designed a totally new car, and now builds it at a plant in Goodwood.  Some Bentley dealers retain staff who were trained on these older cars, which are now referred to as "Crewe built vehicles."  Most dealer staff are trained on the new cars, which are VW/Audi designs from a mechanical perspective.

Prices quoted here are for general guidance only and are current as of spring 2014.  Complete restoration of a 1980s or 1990s Rolls Royce or Bentley motorcar will run well over $100,000.  These were expensive cars when new, and they remain costly to keep in top form.  As they get older more and more owners are facing extensive repairs.  Keep that number in mind for perspective as you read the costs of some system repairs described below. 

Remember that owners have varying standards.  Work that’s done to a show-willing level will cost more than work that “just gets the job done.”  Terms like “engine rebuild” mean different things to different people.  One shop sells a rebuild for $7,000 and it has new rings, bearings, and gaskets – nothing more.  Another shop does a rebuild for $40,000 and every part is both refinished better than new and mechanically restored to as-new or better condition.  There’s a buyer for both engines, but don’t buy the first and expect the second.

These are collectible cars, and you always have to consider the appearance of systems when they are serviced.  If you paint or replace chassis assemblies when they come apart for service the time and cost will rise, but that sort of work is what separates repair from restoration.  Think about your goals – which do you want to be doing? 

The worst problem with 1980s-1990s Bentley and Rolls Royce cars is owner neglect.  These are expensive cars to maintain, and they depreciated very quickly in their early years.  By the time these cars turned 20 years old most had lost 70-90% of their value.  That caused people to decide it was not worth putting money into them, and it led to cars being sold to people who lacked the resources to care for them no matter how they felt.

How do you tell if a car has been neglected or kept up?  The first sign of a neglected car is its cosmetic appearance.  How is the paint and brightwork?  These cars have a mix of stainless steel, chrome, nickel plate, and anodize trim.  Trim parts are getting scarce and repair costs can be high.

If you have access to a paint gauge, see how thick the finish is on the panels.  Readings over 12 thousandths suggest future trouble, and big differences between adjacent panels suggest repairs.  Most of these cars have been repainted – some more than once.  Quality varies widely.  Can you live with the finish you see?  Think carefully because painting one of these cars properly is costly. 

A “budget” paint job will approach $10,000 and a top quality job – with all the trim removed, the car stripped to bare metal, and all new rubbers and seals – can easily cost $40,000.

1996 Bentley stripped for refinishing

If you are looking at a convertible pay close attention to the condition of the top, and the tightness of the attachments where the top meets the rear body.  Tears or gaps mean it’s time for a new top.  The top consists of an outer cover, inner padding, and a wood headliner.  The rear bows and tack strips on pre-95 cars are wood, and subject to rot.  A complete new top will cost over $10,000.

Pre-1995 convertibles had simple top hydraulics.  The 1996-newer Bentley Azure and Rolls Royce Corniche had much more complex systems with multiple lines, valves, and rams.  Those systems are now aging and we see cars needing new lines and rams throughout. Such a job will run into five figures so beware of that possibility on later dropheads.  An Azure that needs top hydraulic lines and actuators and has worn canvas or a bad back window is a car that needs $25k in work.

How about the interior?  Faded and split leather, cracked and peeling woodwork, perforated or worn carpets and faded and damaged paint are all signs of a car that's been allowed to run down.   You can dye faded leather but leather that is cracked and broken may need to be replaced.  A good dye job can run $3,000.  A new leather interior can cost ten times that.

A clean interior 
A damaged interior

Wood is also fragile in these cars, and it too is costly to restore.  If you see a lot of cracking in the wood door caps, or on the dash, plan on $5-10k for that repair, and more if you need new veneers.  Will Rau and others make wood steering wheels and shifters for these cars if you are willing to pay for them.

Most of these cars came with sheepskin floor overlays.  New overlays are about $1,200.  Look at the underlying carpet – are they faded, worn, or damaged?  New carpets will run into the middle four figures.

When I evaluate cars I try to distinguish between natural wear of original finishes and materials, quality restoration or repair, and shoddy re-dos.  I also distinguish between wear that is appropriate and wear that signals neglect or abuse.

Whenever you see cosmetic neglect you can be virtually certain there is mechanical neglect also. It's just harder to see. Visible tip offs are enough to make me steer clear of 75% of the examples in today’s used car marketplace.

What do we look for mechanically?

I start by looking at the tires. Every modern Bentley or Rolls Royce was originally fitted with tires carrying a V or higher speed rating. Speed rated tires have stiff sidewalls, and those stiff sidewalls are what make heavy cars like this nimble. Non-speed-rated tires will give a mushy ride and mushy handling.

However, proper tires are expensive and they are becoming hard to find for some models.  Avon and Goodyear made most of the tires fitted to US market RR/B cars.  Avon tires are still available but they can cost $2,500 a set for some models.  Good tires are a sign of a cared-for car.  Crummy tires may indicate indifferent care, or they may mean the owner could not find anything better.

Open the hood and see how things look.  Is it clean? Is the paint peeling or does it look intact?  Peeling paint can be a sign of overheating and high under hood temps.  Does it look clean and cared for, or is it a mess?

A well cared for car may have a dusty motor, but it should not be oily or filthy. Look for signs of oil leakage around the valve covers and in the center of the engine. Look under the car for signs of leakage, too. There should not be any substantial fluid leakage, but all older cars do seep some oil. Fluids should be reasonably clean and the levels should be correct. Belts and hoses should not show signs of deterioration.

Open the oil filler and check for sludge, foam, or gunk. The cork gasket should be reasonably clean as shown in the photo. If the car passes the cosmetic inspection and it has decent tires we can move on to the other areas. We'll start by checking the braking system.

Some turbocharged cars have seen hard use.  If you are looking at one of them pay close attention to the motor.

Before starting the vehicle from cold, turn the key on and make sure BRAKE 1 and BRAKE 2 warning indicators light up. These lights have had different names through the years but there are always two of them, and they should both light if the vehicle has been sitting more than a day. If they don't light up when you switch the key on, give the brake pedal 10-20 quick pumps. If that puts them on, fine. If not, you have a problem with the warning lights. They are either broken or disconnected. I advise you not to drive any Rolls Royce whose brake pressure lights are inoperative since the brakes could completely fail without any warning.

The brake pressure lights should not be on in a warm car or one that has been run recently. Once you start the car, both lights should go out within 30 seconds. Lights that stay on indicate weak accumulator valve blocks, a $1,000+ repair. You should be able to shut the key off on a warm car, turn it on again without cranking the engine, and pump the brakes at least 20 times before the BRAKE lights illuminate. If the lights come on in less than 20 pumps, that's a sign of weak accumulators.

A car whose brake pressure lights come on within 10 pumps may be unsafe to drive. A car whose brake pressure light flashes when you jab the brakes once of twice as the engine idles is definitely unsafe to drive.

Having passed this test, start the car and let it warm up. Do you hear any exhaust leaks? Are there any tapping noises from the engine? And strange smells? Take note of anything out of the ordinary. The car should start and run smoothly, with no smoke from the exhaust.

How does the engine idle, especially with the air conditioner and all accessories off, when fully warmed up? Roughness can signal clogged injectors or other engine management problems. You should see the check engine lamp illuminate when cranking the car and it should go out when the car starts. If you do not see a check engine lamp at all it may have been disconnected (a sign of concealed trouble.)

1993 and newer cars seem especially prone to injector problems. To address any of these engine running problems I recommend finding a shop with the old Rolls Royce Mastercheck test system or the new Bentley Omitec legacy tool as the cars are not compatible with generic OBD II test gear.  These same cars are prone to failure of the o rings in the fuel injection system; leaks create fire hazards.  This has become more of a problem with the proliferation of ethanol fuel.

Bentley and Rolls Royce used an electric gearshift system. The shift level in the car is not connected mechanically to the transmission. Instead, it's connected to a group of switches that operate a motor on the side of the transmission that does the gear shifting. With your foot on the brake shift the car through the gears and make sure they all engage. The contacts in the shift mechanism can become flaky and the car will fail to change gears if this happens. If the engine is running well and the gear change is working normally you're ready to drive off.

Pay close attention to the ride - a mushy, floating ride can cost several thousand dollars to correct, as can a hard bouncy ride. Cars built before 1990 get mushy when the shocks wear out or leak. Each shock costs several hundred dollars, and replacement of the front units requires a special Rolls Royce tool and takes half a day per side.  

In 1990, Bentley and Rolls Royce added electronic ride control which consisted of a control box in the dash that sent signals to electronic dampers. These electronic dampers are over $1,000 each to replace, and when the first systems failed they defaulted into a rock-hard ride mode. This system, called auto-ride, made its debut in Spur/Spirit serial numbers above 30,000. Corniche cars did not get auto ride till later.

For 1993 the electronic ride system was altered to default into soft mode if it fails. If either system fails you'll need a shop with the Rolls Royce or Bentley special tool for diagnosis. There is no way to fix auto-ride with generic shop tools.

Drive the car on a mildly rough road and listen for clunks in the front end. The most common source of clunking is worn out front shock bushings and compliance mounts. Replacement of these bushings is an all-day job that requires a special Rolls Royce spring compressor.

These cars are heavy and they tend to beat the front end bushes to pieces quickly. It's not unusual to need several bushings in a car that's only covered 20,000 miles.  A complete replacement of front end bushings will run over $10,000.

Try the brakes. Are they smooth? Try braking from highway speeds and watch for vibration or roughness. That's a sign of warped or rough brake rotors. When these cars sit for long periods in humid climates, it's common to get spots on the rotors where the pads were in contact. This results in rough braking when the car is used again. Replacement of brake rotors on the front of most models is a 4-6 hour job. Replacement of rear rotors requires a special hydraulic hub tool and takes two days of labor.

When you are moving on the highway step on the gas and feel how the car takes off. Shaking or shuddering can point to problems with the driveshaft or drive axles. Driveline problems are fairly common on older cars. Stumbles or lack of power may point to troubles in the engine. Make sure the gearshifts are smooth and there are no slips or bangs.

We always try to check these cars on a lift. Check for rust and corrosion, and any old collision damage. Look for evidence of repainting and body repair. Look carefully at any areas where fluid actually drips. Repair of leaks can be very costly on these cars because they are so time consuming to work on.

These cars are hard on batteries. Make sure the battery is less than three years old or it may fail without warning. A good shop should have a battery tester but we see plenty of "good" batteries drop dead at 4-5 years of age so I suggest timely replacement.

Look at the condition of brake rotors and pads. Grooving, ridges at the edges, or rust spotting on the rotors means it's time for new ones. Pads should have friction material that's thicker than the metal backing plate. Any less and you need new pads, too. The park brake pads in the rear are separate.

Look for leakage from the brake calipers.  If you see one leaking I suggests resealing them all.  If your car has see-though alloy wheels (as on a late 90s Bentley) consider refinishing the calipers in high temp powder or ceramic coat while they are apart for overhaul. 

Now that's a brake job!
All the rubber brake hoses should be replaced at least every 20 years, though Rolls recommends much more frequent service. Check yours.  Whole car hose replacement takes 2-3 days of labor and there are up to 22 hoses to be swapped.

Check the parking brake cables to make sure they're free. Check the motor mounts to make sure they are not flattened or broken. Check the rear sub frame mounts – the forward facing little shocks ahead of the back wheels – failed ones make a harsh ride.  On pre-1995 cars, check the spare tire carrier as I've seen them rust and drop the tire in the road.

While you're driving, try all the accessories. Is the air conditioner cold? Is the heater hot? Swing the dial from full hot to full cold and make sure the temperature actually adjusts. The system in these cars is slow to change, so be prepared for it to take up to a minute to swing from full cold to full hot. Make sure air blows from the correct places. Operate defrost and fascia vent buttons. All those functions are controlled by servo motors, each of which can cost several hundred dollars to buy and take several hours to replace. A special Rolls Royce climate control tester is required to work on these systems. Repairs to the automatic climate control can be costly.

Pay attention to the operation of windows and door locks. Open each door and make sure the interior lights come on. If they don't you should look for problems in the door latch, which contains the light switch. Window lift motors get tired and slow, and replacements run $500-1,500 plus installation. Power door lock solenoids are a common trouble spot - make sure all the door locks and windows work properly or discount your offer accordingly.

Power seat motors are another source of trouble on these cars. Try each range of motion as they use separate motors. Availability of replacement motors has been spotty as of 2006. If you are looking at a car with power rear seats don't forget to check them, too.  Try all the little gadgets - power seats, map lights, radio, trip meter, and anything else you see. Make sure it all works. Try the lighters.

If you are looking at a 1990 or newer car make sure the electronic multi function instrument panel unit is fully functional.  If it’s not a new one will set you back over $3,000 – if you can find one.

The electronics are increasingly problematic in 1990 and newer cars.  Parts are no longer available for many of the pushbutton entry systems.  Fobs are long gone.  Memory seat controllers are no longer available but we do have repro units without memory.  Alarm controllers are getting scarce as are the other controllers in the car.

Check the stereo – these cars are old enough that most have replacement speakers, which may be very good or not so good at all.  Most cars came with Delco, Pioneer, or Alpine stereo gear from new, and most cars have been updated with highly variable results, both from a cosmetic and functional standpoint. 

When you come to a stop it's time to walk around back and bounce the rear suspension. If it feels rock-hard you probably need gas springs in the rear. That's several hundred dollars in parts and half a day's work on most sedans, a day or more for some convertible and coach built models.

I suggest you check to make sure the car includes all its little goodies. You'll be shocked what it costs to buy any that are missing. Here are some of the things that should be included with a Rolls Royce or Bentley:
  • Sheepskin overlay carpets for front and rear passengers;
  • Owner's manual, service booklet, and various other paperwork (varies by year);
  • Two sets of keys with remote entry fobs (after 1993);
  • Keys to unlock the wheel covers and wheels;
  • There should be a tool kit/jack in the compartment at the top front of the trunk;
  • There should be two bottles of mineral oil in a storage compartment in the trunk.
  • The spare tire should be under the car or under the trunk floor.

I hope this gives some perspective on evaluating these cars.  As always, I welcome comments, thoughts, and corrections.  Best wishes from New England!

And if you want more . . . here are some of my other RR/B essays

Things to look for in a Bentley Continental GT (the first VW era design)

Thoughts on buying a used Rolls Royce or Bentley - applies to Silver Cloud and newer series cars

More thoughts on Spur - Spirit - Turbo era car buying

Thoughts on restoration - applies to all cars

Evolution of the RR/B models - Silver Shadow through Arnage/Seraph - original article from the Robison Service website

Inspecting a Rolls Royce or Bentley - Applies to Corniche, Continental, Azure, Turbo R, Mulsanne, Eight, Turbo R, Silver Spur, Silver Dawn, Silver Spirit

More Things to Look For in a 1981-2000 Rolls Royce or Bentley - this is the original article from the Robison Service website

The last Crewe built Rolls Royce convertibles - applies to 2000-2002 final Series Corniche

Repairing convertible top hydraulics - Applies to 1996-2004 Rolls Royce and Bentley Corniche and Azure cars

Head gasket failures in Bentley Turbo cars - applies to Turbo R, Continental R and T, Azure, Arnage

Checking engines after head gasket failure - Applies to all cars

Checking and inspecting Rolls Royce hydraulic systems - all cars after Silver Cloud and print to Silver Seraph. Applies to all Shadow/Spur era vehicles

Case Study - brake failure in a Shadow - Silver Shadow era cars with RR363

Rear suspension gas springs - Applies to all 1981 - 1999 cars prior to Silver Seraph

Changing batteries in seat and ECUs, Applies to 1980s-1990s Silver Spirit / Silver Spur / Mulsanne /Eight / Turbo R

Changing alarm ECU batteries,  Applies to 1980s-1990s Silver Spirit / Silver Spur / Mulsanne /Eight / Turbo R

Servicing Shadow and Spur series brakes - applies to 1966 - 1999 cars after Silver Cloud and prior to Silver Seraph

Alcon racing brakes for Continental and Azure - Applies to all 1990s cars but most particularly to the final series Azure, which had these brakes fitted at the factory - a unique variant

Fixing Power Steering Leaks - applies to 90s cars with the reservoir above the alternator

Questions and answers on collector car storage - Applies to all cars

Evaluating paint - Applies to all cars

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rebuilding Brakes on Vintage and Collector Cars

The last of the Crewe-built Bentleys
Rebuilding a rear brake caliper on a vintage Rolls Royce 

Brake jobs used to be so simple!  Pop a set of pads into the calipers, and you were good to go.  No more, especially on high end cars like this Rolls.  Let’s look at what goes into a quality brake job on a classic high end car like this, using a 1980s Rolls Royce as an example.

When a car is new, everything moves freely and it’s easy to do routine service.  For the first service you can often still do pads only, but it gets more complex from there.  By the second pad change the car is certainly ready for new rotors.  When do you need rotors?

There are three reasons you may need new rotors:
1 – They are worn below the minimum safe limit, as marked on the rotor
2 – The rotors are out of true, and the car shudders when stopping
3 – The rotors are glazed with rust, so braking effectiveness is lost

Here is an example of a brake rotor showing both wear (1) and rust glazing (3)  This deterioration is all on the inside. The other side - facing the wheel - looked remarkably good.  Don't be fooled.

Rust on a brake rotor makes it slippery

When working on vintage cars 2 and 3 are common, but you see cars with 1,2, and 3 all together.  Rarely do you see (1) by itself. 

Measuring a brake rotor to see if it's too thin.  The numbers tell the story.
On most mass produced cars the rotors pop off with a few minutes work.  Not so on a Crewe-built (pre-1999) Rolls Royce or Bentley.  To get the front rotors off you are looking at a few hours work to remove the two calipers off each side, then the pipes and then the hub.  Once the hub is off the rotor itself can be removed with the whole thing clamped in a vise.

Separating brake rotor from hub - Rolls Royce Shadow
The rear hubs are a much more complex affair.  You need a special RR/B hydraulic puller to get the rear hubs apart, and to get them off the car.  Once they are on the ground the disassembly requires a press and various accessories.

Don’t be surprised if you find years or decades of neglect when you pull rear hubs.  Totally rotted rotors, and ruined bearings and races are common because some less-service-oriented people put difficult jobs off till “later” and later never comes.

On a newer car you’d just pop a rotor on at this point, but these Crewe RR products are old enough that shortcuts will come back and bite you.  We suggest removing and examining the wheel bearings, and replacing them if they are anything less than flawless.  In most cases, they are at the ends of their lives.  Don’t forget to do the seals.

Worn out wheel bearings and seals
We pack hubs with modern synthetic grease; all the hub rebuilding is done off the car on the bench.  Otherwise the process of bearing service is much the same as thirty years ago.  We use drifts to knock out the old races, and a press to set the new ones in place.

Rebuilt rear hub ready to install
We suggest splitting and rebuilding the calipers on any Rolls Royce that is more than fifteen years old because leakage is common when they get past that age.  And when one leaks, they are all ready.

Rebuilding brake calipers

When the calipers are apart consider refinishing the caliper bodies using the new hi-temp powder or ceramic finishes.  That’s what they do on newer high end cars and it’s a very attractive touch

Rebuilt hub, new rotor, and rebuilt and refinished brake calipers
If your hoses are more than 10 years old you should replace them.  Hoses rot from inside and old ones may blow with no warning.  

New brake hoses
Most owners of collector cars have paid for more than one brake job on modern luxury cars.  How does work like this compare, in terms of cost and time?  The short answer is . . . expect way more of both.

When you do brakes on a modern car the only parts are the pads, rotors, and ancillaries like anti-rattle clips.  On a vintage car the job may include bearings, seals, hoses, caliper parts, and even new hardware.  In addition, hard to get classic parts may be more expensive.  Finally, there may be quality problems.  You can be sure of getting quality brake parts for a late model Mercedes or BMW simply by going to the dealer.  For an old car that may not be an option, and the mail-order stuff can range in quality from wonderful to total junk.  

In general, you get what you pay for.  Here's my rule of thumb:  If you have to choose between five versions of a part (like brake pads) from known reputable vendors and the prices vary widely, the quality will vary just as widely.  You are a lot less likely to get burned buying the top priced part than the bottom priced one.  When prices for the same part range from $29 to $199 the $29 part is usually junk, and the $199 part is probably topnotch.  I know that's not what some people want to hear, but in my experience it's true.

When you fit low quality parts you are asking to do the job over, sometimes with additional damage.

The time to perform the additional steps I outline above can add up too.  Pulling and assembling the rear hubs on a 1970s Rolls Royce or Bentley is a solid two days of work.  And teardown can expose unknown problems, which may need dealing with now.  Rebuilding front hubs is more than a day's job.  Rebuilding the calipers will be another day and a half, plus the time and expense of refinishing the caliper bodies if you decide to do that.  

Rust and corrosion can double those times on cars that have run on salty winter roads.  On a classic car where parts are scarce you may spend days getting corroded stuff apart without damage because it's simply not replaceable at any reasonable cost.

And here's one more thought to consider:  Most people who service late model cars know the owners have limited ownership horizons. They will not own the car they' re fixing today in 1 year or 2 or 5.  Things that may wear out "later" will be someone else's problem.  Not so on the collector car your dad purchased and your son now dreams of owning, when you are old.  For that person, service must be done to a high standard, with a view toward a far distant horizon.

I hope this makes clear some of the additional challenges we face when doing a seemingly common service on an older car.  

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent restoration and repair specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665