Work in Progress: 1981 Series III 109 Pick-up

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Finally finished? Never say never.. : credit: © Matt Hamilton
Matt Hamilton, from Nashville, USA, talks us through his project...

How long have you owned it?

It was imported from Australia in July 2015.

What made you want to buy this particular Land Rover?

This truck was a surprise gift from my brother who is a rural and remote emergency medical doctor in Australia. He sends me things all the time, but when I enquired a few weeks after he told me something was on the way, he said that I’d have to go to the port of Savannah to get it. Yeah, he’s a good brother!

What’s the story so far?

I immediately fell in love with its utilitarian simplicity, but the more I investigated the condition, the more things I saw that I just didn’t like. Specifically, the wiring.

I started the process of learning the basics of electrical systems and wiring diagrams and everything I could find on automotive electrical systems. I knew very little about the basics. Meanwhile, I was also evaluating the engine and drivetrain to see just how roadworthy the truck was in its current state. I could tell immediately that at a minimum all the rubber hoses needed to be replaced and the Zenith Stromberg carb needed adjusting.

After more research I began to see that the truck was complete and had not been compromised with sub-standard parts, but it had lived a journeyman’s life and was well used. The evaluation became disassembly, and due to my OCD nature, this quickly became a restoration project to make this a reliable weekend vehicle. The goal was to restore it as a civilian model and to restore, versus replace, as much as possible.

Other than the shocks and leaf springs, wiring harness, and other parts I consider consumables (brake/clutch masters, brake shoes, tyres, etc) almost everything was useable. The engine crank, cam, pistons and cylinder walls all were right on-spec. What a relief, since parts for the 2.6-litre six-pot are getting harder to come by.

What has the biggest challenge been?

I think the biggest challenge was learning how to weld repair sections to 45-year-old thin Birmabright aluminium. This took lots of experimenting with various types and thicknesses of modern aluminium and various types of welders and welding techniques. Prior to this project, I had only occasionally used a stick welder, so MIG and TIG were all new to me. Large sections of the tub panels were badly damaged and apparently the ‘military fix’ was to cut the sections out and rivet replacement sections over the holes. There were simply no replacement sections available for purchase for a 109 tub so I knew I had to become very proficient in my welding technique. But the reward of properly stitch-welding a replacement section and making it look like new is huge.

Matt certainly has the interior sorted

Any other areas that needed a lot of attention?

As previously mentioned, the wiring was a real problem. Lots of ‘bush repairs’, and even though I could tell that the repairs made to the wiring loom followed the military revised supplemental repair guidance, the technique used was a ‘this will get us by’ kind of mindset. As I began to get more comfortable with how the system was designed (many hours learning how to read and understand automotive wiring diagrams) I quickly made the call to simply replace the entire wiring harness. Autosparks UK had exactly what I needed and were so helpful with my questions. Word of advice; when restoring a project to this degree, keep all the old parts and wiring harnesses. You will need them to compare to any new parts you purchase. If I had not saved the old wiring harness, I would have had many more hours determining proper connection types and fittings.

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How long has it taken?

The restoration has taken almost eight years and 1800 hours.  That said, I really could only work on this project on weekends, and I was learning how to do everything as I was going.

What are your plans with it?

At this point, I think Matilda, as I’ve named her, is complete. I have a 1993 200Tdi Defender 110 and a 1995 300Tdi Defender 130 that need my attention now.

Who has helped with the project?

I did this project on my own. I relied on my own ever expanding knowledge base, vendors like John Craddocks, Rovers North, Autosparks, AULRO Forum (Australian Land Rovers Owners), magazine articles from Land Rover Monthly, Classic Land Rover and YouTube.

Any advice for anyone doing something similar?

Pay to have the body panels media blasted as this will save enormous amounts of time that can be spent on other pieces of the restoration. Do your research on the model you are restoring and determine if there are any issues getting parts, and specifically OEM parts.

When it comes to mission-critical systems – so engine, cooling, transmission, etc – buy OEM where possible.

How can readers follow what you’re doing next?

I’m on Instagram at @DMattHamilton if anyone has other questions.

 

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