Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

Bentley archives

Land Rovers

In the beginning, Brad had a dream.  He found a Land Rover out on the Cape, worn out and in pieces.    For thirteen years he picked away at the project.  He found someone to paint the body panels, and stored them in his barn.  He bought a new 109 frame, and stuck some axles underneath.  By and by, he assembled some of the body and set that on the frame.

It looked like a Rover, from the rear, except it was hollow.  Nothing inside.  No hardware, no sound deadening, no trim panels, no wiring, no seats.  No doors and no body in front of the firewall.

And when you got to the front . . . no engine.   But he had an engine!

He had a lot of parts in boxes, some more useful than others.

That was where things stood when we got the call, from one of his friends.  "My buddy has a Land Rover in boxes.  Can you assemble it?"   I told him to bring it out.

The rolling chassis arrived on a trailer.  Other loads brought fenders and doors, glass, and box after box of parts.

Assembly of the vehicle took 1,000-some hours, and included rebuild of the engine, strip and reseal the transmission, clean, service and paint all the driveline components, and a hundred other little details.  The scope of the job went far beyond "assembly."

Some of the mechanical parts he had were wrong, or no good.  Whatever was left needed overhaul or repair.  Many key systems were completely missing.  There was no steering box or linkage.  No heat. No wipers.  The big parts were all easily sourced.  It was the little bits that slowed us down. In some cases we waited a month or more for pieces from the UK, or pieces that had to be custom-made.  That's pretty typical in the restoration world but it was hard for this owner, as he was increasingly anxious to drive his car.  The more real it seemed, the more that became true.

One lesson this truck showed clearly:  Restorers should fit the body together before they paint panels.  This truck arrived with the panels painted, and the client was determined to use his painted parts as they were.  One consequence was doors and other parts that didn't fit very well, and could not be aligned better because we would have needed to cut and shape the underlying structure, would would have required repainting.

This truck included a hodgepodge of Series I, II, and III parts, some of which came from an 88 and some from a 109.  Multiple 109's, most likely.  They all had historic significance to the owner, so keeping them together took precedence over making it all the same or matching some purist's definition of correct.  In that sense, this truck remains true to many others in the field, with decades of vernacular repair with scavenged parts.

Here's the result, one year later.

He had an engine, but it had been left out in the rain. Luckily we looked inside before bolting it in place.  Of course the giveaway was that it didn't turn with a wrench on the crank pulley, and when rolled on its side water came out the spark plug holes.  Hence the full rebuild.

In a funny twist, our machinists found that the original rebuilders put the pistons in with less than .001 clearance.  If the motor hadn't been rusty, it probably would have seized the first time it was started and gotten hot.  As it was, we had enough liner thickness to bore what was there and put it all back together with minimal new parts.

It's also got a new carb, new distributor, new water pump and alternator upgrade.

The truck had axles from an 88, but we tracked down the correct 109 running gear and went through it before fitting with new springs and shocks.  All the steering linkage had to be built also, as did the brake and fuel piping and wire harnesses.

We used dual circuit brakes, the Rovers North harness, and a Kodiak heater.  The exterior is completely period stock. The interior is significantly improved but still looks right.

Defender seats were a major upgrade for the interior.  The owner found this set at a special markdown on the Rovers North website.  We added a locking storage box and reading and overhead lamps.  The basic metal dash remains, as does the bare-bones body interior.

My opinion is that these Defender seats are too high for a Series truck, but the owner is shorter than me, and pronounced his selection "just fine."  If I were doing this for another client, I'd find a way to mount them lower, or raise the roof, or use them in a topless design.  Yet they came out just fine here.

This Land Rover ended up looking pretty sharp, and it's as good as one could wish for from a mechanical perspective.  There is always more one can do on a vintage Land Rover but all the foundational elements are there for this truck now.

It was pretty cool to see what arrived in boxes start and run, and drive out the door.  Getting license plates and an inspection sticker definitely made it real.  This job took one year and two months to complete.  We delivered the truck on a below-zero day the first week of January.  

Its owner is very proud!

John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Land Rover, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, BMW/MINI, and Mercedes restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick. 

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