Ten Land Rover Restoration Tips and Tricks

Restoring classic cars or tackling a Land Rover restoration project is a labour of love. Unless you are in the business of doing it it is something that comes from the heart. That means that logic and common sense have gone out the window. The dream of times gone buy and the enjoyment of driving a piece of automotive history fill your mind with romantic images. So it is unlikely that you will take any of the advice that I have here. But if you want to save yourself some time , pain and frustration then maybe some of these Land Rover restoration tips will help.

1. Are you up to it – Take a good long hard look at yourself in the mirror

If you scroll through the adverts for used vehicles you will often come across half Land Rover restorations or even unstarted restorations. Many people start these projects without knowing what to expect. The dream of a fully restored classic car and the excitement of the finished project is what gets them started. But between the beginning and the end there is a minefield of hard work, frustration  and money spent. A restoration will almost always turn out to take longer and cost more than you think. If you have never done one before then this is a serious consideration that you need to make.

Spend the time to understand exactly what you are in for and how long it will take. The best strategy is to expect the worst case scenario so that you can prepare yourself mentally. If you are in a rush to do it then you need to be able to put in the time to get it finished. But don’t be unrealistic with that time expectation otherwise you will become despondent. It will cost more and take longer than you think

2. Decide on a timeframe and a strategy and budget

It is also not a good idea to have endless time. My recent project has not really been timebound as I decided to tackle it as a long term project. The reason is that I only have so much time to allocate to it and it would help to spread the cost out over time. The risk with this approach is that it takes so long that you lose interest. So I have had to find that sweet spot between having enough regular progress without making it feel onerous. As I have started to get into the assembly process I can feel the pace picking up. I think this is natural as you start to see more and more progress and the dream becomes more of a reality you feel more motivated.

One of the biggest considerations about outsourcing the time factor. Doing everything yourself will take a lot of your own time and make your restoration take a long time. In previous rebuilds I have done everything myself. However when I tackled my Land Rover restoration project I eventually realised that if I don’t outsource it is going to take me too long to do it. Also if I want better quality work then it will be better for someone more skilled to do it. This has increased the cost significantly but also decreased the time. So I have focused mostly on disassembly and reassembly.

The cheapest way to do restoration is to do everything yourself. Not just the assembly and disassembly but also the repair work. Assembly and disassembly are easy for anyone who has the tools and experience of working on cars. Repair work to the chassis, firewall and body parts is another level and requires additional skill and tools. If you can’t do this yourself then you will have additional cost.

3. Choose your vehicle if you can

I am sure you have a vehicle in mind or maybe you just want an old Land Rover? Choosing a vehicle is not usually the problem. In fact you probably have too many choices. The real choice to make is finding a suitable candidate. Often you don’t have a choice as something just pops up or you get this amazing opportunity that seems fantastic. But always know that you do have a choice. And you must make that choice because if you don’t it could mean wasted money and an unfinished project.

To choose a good Land Rover Restoration project vehicle you need to know about the make and model you are choosing. I am very familiar with Land Rovers but still I had many surprises with the Series 1. Despite the similarities there are just as many differences. Obviously I was not completely unaware as my Dad had told me that they were very different. I was adamant that I wanted to do a Series 1. But if I had a choice I would lean towards a Series 2 or Series 3 or Defender.

The most important part of the choice is the completeness and originality of the vehicle. This is more important than the actual condition. If you are doing a chassis up restoration then you are going to fix and repair everything anyway. So the condition is less important. But if you are sitting with missing, broken or modified parts then things get complicated and expensive. When items are broken or missing do some research to understand if they are easily available to be replaced.

Doing a proper in-depth assessment of the condition of your project vehicle is also important. The more assumptions you make the more you will be surprised by work that needs to be done and its cost. My project vehicle I got for nothing. It was about 80% complete. Turns out that the chassis was recoverable with quite a lot of work to be done. I thought the firewall was also recoverable but closer inspection revealed that maybe it wasn’t.

If the vehicle is running and complete then it is a much simpler task to restore it. All of the parts can be dismantled cleaned and then reassembled. Perhaps some worn items could be replaced. Building engines and gearboxes are a bit more complicated again so if you can’t do it yourself then outsourcing will cost you a bit more.

When you have a vehicle that is not running or worst case has been abandoned then you have a real challenge. This will usually mean that the disassembly is a lot more difficult because there could be severe rust or even damaged items. The repair of these items will again require specialist tools just to remove them and then to restore them. Sourcing replacement parts can be both difficult and expensive.

4. Learn and research the vehicle

In order to choose a vehicle properly you really need to know what you are looking at so learning about the vehicle is crucial. Once you have decided on the vehicle that you want to restore you need to start learning about it. I have rebuilt many series 2 Land Rovers but never a Series 1. I thought that I knew a lot which I did but I also realise there was a lot that I didn’t know.

Through the rebuilding process you will learn what you didn’t know but the sooner you can do that the better. Now that I am trying to source parts to put it together again I am learning what all the parts are and realising what I have and don’t have.

If you don’t research and understand your particular model in detail you may not fully understand whether the vehicle is original or modified. Once you are restoring you will land up buying or fitting the wrong parts which can be costly and waste of time.

If your Land Rover restoration vehicle is not 100% original or you are not going to keep it original then you really need to pay attention to the details. As soon as something is not original you will run into compatibility problems and they tend to snowball as one thing leads to another. Its not the end of the world but be aware of it and prepare for it.

5. Pay attention during disassembly

It would have been better for me to know this information before I started. Especially during the disassembly stage. If you know the value and purpose of the parts during disassembly then you will be more careful. I learned the hard way when I broke the steering control tube on the Series 1 because I did not understand how to remove it. It was an unnecessary and careless mistake. Also I seem to have lost some of the dash parts because I was thinking of replacement rather than restoration.

This is important because many of the parts can be restored if you treat them gently. Many of these parts are either difficult to find or expensive to buy. You might think that you will just replace it with new parts but this can really increase the cost of the restoration. Finding replacement parts can also be very difficult. Often the remanufactured parts are not as good as the originals. So if at all possible the restoration of the original part although time-consuming may be the best option.

Also you may have some parts that are not original. So taking all the care to repair them only to find out that they are not original is also a waste of time and money. The tricky thing with Land Rover restoration is that many of the parts are interchangeable between the models. But at the same time some of the parts look the same but are of different dimensions depending on the year model. So you need to carefully identify each part to know what it is. Initially it does seem very daunting but because the early vehicles are so simple it is easier than you think to become familiar with all the parts.

6. Label and catalog your parts

It is a good idea to start some sort of labeling and sorting method for all the parts that you disassemble. It may seem obvious or tedious when you are taking it apart but when you need to re-assemble in a couple of months or sometimes years time then you will be grateful for an organised labeled selection of parts.

Disassembly is the easiest and the fastest part of the restoration process, it will take more than double the time to put it all together again. It will also be worthwhile to get the relevant parts catalog or workshop manual so that you know how to take things off and how to put them back in the right place for a successful Land Rover restoration.

7. Disassemble and clean everything and then take stock

Take the time to do this because it can literally save you months and thousands. It is timely difficult and complicated but it is worth it

Once you have everything apart then you need to assess all the components and decide what you want to clean and repair and what you want to replace with a new or used parts. Sometimes though you do have to clean in order to access the condition properly This is also a good time to assess if you want to upgrade or modify anything on the vehicle or change the configuration.

Small inexpensive items should just be replaced with new because the time in cleaning and fixing becomes limiting. Larger more expensive parts can be restored to almost new if they are structurally sound and just need some cosmetic work. Chassis repair is often a big part of a restoration project to repair or replace rusted or damaged sections with new metal pieces welded into place for strength. During this period you need to stay motivated and keep your finished product in mind because motivation will be required as you spend hours, days and weeks working with almost nothing to show for it.

My experience has been to clean and paint everything first before reassembling. I initially did it piece by piece but then realised that I had missed some parts for cleaning or just simply had some parts missing. So my recommendation would be to strip everything down clean access and replace where necessary. Then measure and also a mock assembly to make sure you have the parts and they will all fit. Then only you continue to assemble.

8. Keep a record of everything you do with pictures or video

It is always nice to have a Land Rover restoration project like this documented in the end so that you can show people. But it is also very useful for you during the process. Especially recording the fitment and condition of the unrestored items. You will refer to these all the time for various reasons. Keeping track of your progress is also a big motivator and you can reflect on how much you have done.

Sharing this via social media is quite common and popular. This also helps with motivation because other people are following and asking about how it is going. It keeps you a bit more accountable. Also  you also make contact with others on the same journey. So you can share your battles and also get assistance when needed

9. There are good days and bad days

A restoration never proceeds according to plan unless you are professionally doing the same model vehicle over and over again. For the DIY restorer it is a true adventure rather than a slick production line. Some days you make a huge amount of progress and other days you feel like nothing happened. Like spending the whole day removing one or two bolts or fitting one or two bushes. Some days you even go backwards as you have to redo work that you have already done. I have had several days like this where I found myself disassembling and then reassembling again. Recleaning and recleaning. Removing the wrong part and refitting the correct one and so on.

As an example I decided to use a spare set of axles I had that were supposedly off a series 3 short wheelbase. I have ended up having to change the backing plates to fit the brakes for a LWB and have had to change the steering arms because they don’t fit the rest of the steering. What seemed like an easy change wasn’t.

You just have to smile, take a break, ask for help and get back to it. Eventually it will be done. It really is just a matter of time

10. Know what you are aiming for and celebrate the successes

The ultimate goal is to finish the rebuild. Make sure you have that clear vision in your head and in pictures. When you know what you are aiming for it keeps you focused. But celebrate the wins on the journey there. Every little step forward is a win to celebrate and to motivate. For me some of the milestones have been the painted chassis, fitting the firewall and fitting and starting the engine. Some others that I am looking forward to are completing the steering, completing the brake system, connecting the drive train and finishing the wiring. The first real big milestone is going to be the self-driving chassis. So break up that rebuild into small chunks of progress.

You can watch the full series on this restoration on youtube.

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