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

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Land Rovers

This article on Land Rover pushrod V8 motors is updated as of spring 2019. 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.

We've written some recent stories about head bold failures, and head gasket blowouts.  Read about that here at this link

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 now over $8,000, factoring in core charges and freight.  Even so, the repair decision remains easy on a Defender, where vehicle values are usually well above $50,000 and holding.  No sensible person would scrap a $100k 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 far exceed that number.

Yet we get those jobs all the time at Robison Service. As I update this for spring 2019 we have 6 Land Rover mechanical overhauls in house, including Defender 90, 110, Discovery, and Range Rover Classic models. People love these old trucks. Some said the new Range Rover and the coming Defender would change the market, but there seems to be zero overlap.

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 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.  It doesn't usually work out anymore because the engines are too old, and the junkyard stuff is, well, junk. 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 more than a decade; 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 2019 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 $13-16,000.  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 $4,000.  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 $11-16,000 in my part of the country, as of 2019.

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. With the advancing age of these motors we do flanged liners on them all now. We also use head studs instead of bolts. Owners of older cars can 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 32 years; since the marque’s 1987 return to North America.


Unknown said...

What do you think about fitting a 4.4 Leyland p76 motor in a 88 classic

Unknown said...

What do you think about fitting a 4.4 Leyland p76 motor in a 88 classic

John Robison said...

You must be Down Under. The P76 motor is not found in North America and it would not meet emissions rules in most states here.

If you have an older truck and you didn't have catalyst and emission worries the P76 is an excellent choice if properly rebuilt.

gsmac said...

What about other engine alternatives that could be shoehorned into place - perhaps a nice beefy diesel?

John Robison said...

If you have an older Rover diesel and other engine conversions are a possibility. For the folks in the USA with late model trucks the emission rules generally prevent those swaps.

Simon said...


How do you repair the cracks you may find in the block?

Anonymous said...

I am interested in this engine and the 215 Buick Olds engine it is derived from for experimental aircraft use, but this doesn't make it sound attractive.

I bought a Disco with some body damage and parted it out for the axles and transfer case for a Series swap/conversion. The engine seems to be in good shape but because of a minor fire in the wiring wasn't running.

My guess for thiose in environazi states is that one could do a Buick 3800 swap if the ECM could be replaced with the GM one and reflashed. Diesel or CNG conversions might be possible too.

Unknown said...

very interesting knowledge about land rover spare parts .thanks for sharing such a informative post

Unknown said...

Can you recommend a shop in the Northern CA Area?

Unknown said...

I have a 1998 land rover range rover with 173377mls. New exhaust system and brakes. Driving down the freeway had a backfire and after that car would not go past 30mph.
What, in your experience could be the problem?

Sebastian said...

That is the question facing more and more Discovery II owners as their engines age. Land Rover's Buick-designed aluminum V8 engines were ...

Unknown said...

So, for a Land Rover Buick what type of tool would you use to do the engine reconditioning? Just looking at the used Land Rover that my brother recently bought and how it's having difficulty running it sure is something that I would like to know more about. Something like this sure is new to the both of that we're trying to research the problems and even getting some tips about doing it.

Unknown said...

Hello. I have a 2004 land rover discovery with a serious problem. I had several repairs done on the car already costing me almost $5000 since I bought it. I really like my land rover. However, the most recent problem is possibly a warped or cracked cylinder head or a cracked engine block. I first heard a huge pfft pfft pfft sound that I thought was a loose spark plug although I've had a tune up less than six months ago. I also noticed an abundance of oil usage. When I looked under the hood, I noticed oil leakage at the rear of the engine on passenger side and no loose plugs. When I took it to a mechanic, my worst fear was real. I haven't allowed him to tear the engine down as of yet, but he used a feeler device to determine that there is a +30,000 gap between the block and cylinder head. I don't know whether I should scrap the car or try to repair. Please if you have any advice, please let me know. I don't have alot money for additional repairs, I'm now out of a car to travel to work, and I still owe on this one.

Unknown said...

Hello, I have a 2003 Land Rover Dico, But I would Like to replace the engine as well as the transmission from Auto to Manual. which engine do you advice to built and what transmission do you advice to use? . I would Like to use my car for off road usage, by the way it is a really hot here and I need them to suit hot weather.

Unknown said...

Do you think by any chance a 1999 land rover 4.0 engine will fit a 1999 range rover 4.6 hse?

JamesTslot said...

Hey how are you guys? I just bought my 1999 Range Rover hse 4.6, and I take it to silver lake sand dunes. Have not had it for more than a month and got the "3 amigos" I am currently under way replacing my rear differential, should I replace all 4 wheel bearings and sensors??

JamesTslot said...

I just bought a 1999 Range Rover hse, previous owner replaced the head gasket and put new headers on the motor. I bought it for 3800$ with 123K miles. I am currently undergoing an issue in the rear of the vehicles a shaking sensations when I accelerate at a speed of 65 mph and then immediately letting off the gas pedal it goes away?? I have the rear and taken apart, I did find gears eaten up. I don't know if I should spend the money to continue working on it. The other thing is, "3 amigos" is on my dash from silver lake sand dunes. Should I replace all 4 bearings and wheel speed sensors?? Help please!

Unknown said...

Amazing detailed info. No one can figure out what's wrong with my Rover. The dealer supposedly broke it down & found nothing. Howev, i did recognize a few things here. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

How can I sell my 1998 Discovery for scrap or parts? The body is in great shape. I also have the front safari brush grill.

Unknown said...

Are there any options to convert a 2005 LR3 to diesel (any diesel)? I am not subject to emissions testing.

Unknown said...

I have a 2000 range rover her thats been sitting in a garage for about 5yrs because of the air suspension went on it. No problems with the engine at all. I want to convert the suspension but have no idea how costly it will be. Any ideas?

BearPaw said...

I have a 95 discovery will a 2004 engine fit this vehicle

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