If you read issue 006 of Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures, you might have come across my usual 4X4, a 1971 Land Rover Series IIA SWB. Despite fantasies of keeping the old girl as my only mode of transport until I draw my last breath, the last six months of daily driving have slowly brought that lofty dream into more of a fizzling idea.
My first 4X4, a 1971 SWB. Owning an old 4X4 and using it every day gives you equal amounts of pleasure and pain.
Constant maintenance of an older 4X4 showing more wear and tear than Keith Richards took away the fun that comes with driving an old 4X4. No windows is a glorious thing, allowing you to take in the natural world much better than any insulated cabin. 40mm of rain quickly takes the shine off of that though, seeing you turn up to work looking like you swam through a river, rather than drive across the bridge. Leaving stains the size of a dinner plate on friends driveway isn’t a way to cement a friendship either, just so you know. So it goes without saying that a new 4X4 was on the cards for me.
If you are anything like me, purchasing a new 4X4 can become a really emotionally draining and stressful experience. Searching Carsales, eBay and Gumtree every free moment of every day takes it out of you, and the many options seem to blur into one.
After surveying the options in my market, I had quickly set my heart of a Land Rover Defender 130. I am already aware of their quirks like water dripping into the footwell (usually directly over the accelerator pedal) and spartan setup that usually drives away potential buyers, and my time in the saddle has left me with a fondness for their seating and demeanour. It was settled.
I looked and waited, reminding myself that patience is a valuable virtue when it comes to buying second hand. Good examples turned up, but were either out of my price range, too far away to be feasible, or both. Then one turned up on eBay, located in Young, in New South Wales’ South West Slopes. It was a busy week at work, and I wasn’t able to look at the car before the auction ended. It read well and looked the goods, but I couldn’t entertain the idea of buying sight unseen (despite many haggard attempts at convincing myself). It was a stressful wait, but the auction passed in with no bids. I spoke with the seller, and organised to have a look the following week.
Before travelling down to have a look, I did my research. The Australian Land Rover forum AULRO provided me with many pearls of wisdom, and I went armed with a list points to check. As with any 4X4, rust is a big killer. Areas of the firewall, the bottoms of the door and chassis outriggers are common places for rust to turn up, so are good spots to check out. Each model is different though, so do your research beforehand. A noisy or notchy gearbox can foresee an expensive bill in the future, as well as whining differentials and general rough running. There were some minor oil weeps underneath, but it wasn’t enough to turn me away. I was in luck though; the car was honest, as was the seller. A deal was made, and I drove away with a $14,500 grin on my face.
Land Rover used the Salisbury rear differential from the late 60’s up until late 2001. I was very glad to see this diff perched underneath, as it has a much better reputation that the differential that replaced it.
My Landy is a 2001 vintage Defender 130. 1999 saw the introduction of a new motor for the Defender, with new technology. Despite a lot of campfire talk that specified German origins of the TD5, it was a Land Rover design (and the last, in fact). Manufactured between 1999 and 2006, the 2.5 litre, five cylinder turbo diesel develops 91kW @4,850 rpm and 300Nm @ 1,950 rpm. Using ‘Unitary Injectors’ to build fuel pressure with the injector (compared to the more popular commonrail setup), the TD5 using basic electronics to control fuel timing and injection.
While the rear diff is strong and able, the front is not so much. A design that is as old as the car means that rough driving and abuse would make for a good chance of breakage. Thankfully, upgraded aftermarket components are available to beef this up.
Like Jeep’s Wrangler and Toyota’s 70 Series LandCruiser, Land Rover’s Defender is a model defined by its heritage. Things haven’t changed much, especially when compared to the evolution of other models. People who don’t like this are often heard saying “it should belong in museum”. Others, more fond of the older style retort with “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “you can’t improve upon perfection!”. Who’s right, we’ll never know. Does it matter?
Many Defenders were fitted with air conditioning when they landed in Australia. Its not great, but its better than nothing!
Coming from a vintage three seater SWB with something like 50Kw on a good day means I was looking forward to some big changes. The 5-speed gearbox is up to the task of cruising pretty comfortably at highway speeds, and a low ratio of 3.3 is great for offroad work. The TD5 can be a fuel miser, my first tank returning just below 10 litres of fuel consumed per 100 kilometres travelled. Noise, vibration and harshness is certainly up there on Defender. It lacks many comforts that most motorists would expect or are used to, but there is a certain charm in its simplicity.
Would you believe a $200,000 Range Rover Autobiography and this car share showroom floor space?
Dual cab 4X4’s have been bought up with gusto by Australians in recent times, owing to their versatility. Three of Australia’s best-selling vehicles for 2013 can be bought as dual cabs. They can serve well as a working vehicles whilst also able to function family and recreational cars. They have good payloads, can tow well, and are well supported by the aftermarket industry. Whilst being able to achieve all of the above, they can also become wonderful touring 4X4s, thanks to options offered by the aftermarket game.
Typical Defender luxury in the rear of the dual cab.
Along with typical additions like dual battery systems and bullbars, the dedicated load areas that a dual cab sports is perfect for building storage solutions, whether they be tray or tub based. One big reason why the 130 appeals to me is its suitability for this; with a payload of around 1,400 kilograms, depending on the weight of the tray and other accessories. I haven’t taken the car over the weighbridge yet, but intend to do so in the future.
Storage compartments on each side of the tray are perfect for things like recovery equipment and compressors.
I was fearful that the Defender would drive like a rickshaw with such a payload, but was surprised to find it quite agreeable. Whilst it does pale in comparison to the independently sprung offerings of other 4x4s, my expectations aren’t set too high, and am happy so far. Time will tell how the Landy handles a good load, but I’m hopeful that it will do a sterling job.
The antiquated design of the Land Rover means there is usable storage space underneath the driver and passenger seat. The ECU is on the driver’s side, and the battery under the passenger side.
There is a bit of money left over in the budget that will come in handy. Despite temptations to start modifying, I will knock over as much preventative maintenance on the vehicle as possible to start with. A poorly running cooling system can become a real weakness for this motor and can lead to catastrophic failure if left unattended, so that will be the first area to receive attention, along with a major service on all oils and filters.
After I am mechanically happy with the car, i will use the acres of space underneath it to increase fuel range and carry water, and concoct some kind of storage setup with the tray. I am still unsure of how to tackle this. While I want as much comfort as the next man, I also want to keep the setup as simple and straightforward as possible.
I am also yet to take the Landy off road, and am really interested in seeing how the long wheelbase fares. I am used to a wheelbase some 100 centimetres shorter, leaf springs and an carb-fed petrol, so the new Landy will take some getting used to.