10 September 2022
These pre-Defender classics are relatively simple to maintain and rebuild, but condition and originality need careful scrutiny
These trucks are ideal for anyone new to Land Rovers and the classic car scene. Most parts are in good supply, and the design simplicity means they are relatively easy to maintain and restore. The only question is how to buy a good one, or at least know exactly what your getting into when buying a truck that needs work or even a full restoration or rebuild.
Corrosion of the body and chassis is the main concern because mechanical and electrical issues can be fixed relatively cheaply and easily (except engine and transmission rebuilds). Body corrosion can require new panels and a repaint, and a bad chassis can involve replacement or significant dismantling to effect proper repairs. Prepare for reality by assuming corrosion will always be worse than it looks.
On a truck with appreciating historic value it’s great to have the original chassis, even though outriggers and rear crossmember are likely to have been replaced at least once on these 30+ years old vehicles. A replacement galvanised chassis will be long lasting and has value, though I would argue not as much value as a properly restored/repaired original frame. Check the chassis number matches up.
This rear crossmember is obviously deceased, though replacement is a standard job. But expect similar corrosion throughout the chassis. Properly executed repairs are quite acceptable though
But these chassis do rust badly, especially the upper central, hard to reach section on the earliest One Tens. All chassis frames need a careful and thorough inspection, so remove mud from the top of the front outriggers and extremities of the rear crossmember to check for corrosion underneath, and don’t trust thick underseal. Don’t get over-excited if a new rear half chassis has been fitted, regardless of how well – instead, concentrate on the remaining old front half that hasn’t been replaced. That said, it’s all doable on a DIY basis, all the outriggers and rear crossmember can be renewed with good aftermarket sections, though alignment is important.
These trucks can suffer badly from white spot corrosion of aluminium door skins and front and rear wings. It isn’t really repairable, so factor in the cost of new panels and repainting. Paintwork can be difficult to match due to fading over the years, though it’s surprising how colour restorer polishes can bring back the original hue, and a good paint shop can disguise much of the difference by blending into adjacent panels. But there are situations where a full respray may be warranted, in which case, the loss of the vehicle’s original patina becomes a consideration. Beware of chequer plate kits which were often fitted to hide lower body corrosion.
Don’t miss this bulkhead/footwell top corner corrosion. From inside the engine bay, feel down between the bulkhead and wing
The steel front bulkhead is probably the most difficult part to repair properly, meaning many have been botched, and all need careful inspection. A magnet is useful to check whether there is steel under the paintwork. Check between the front opening vent panels and the A-posts for pinholes of rust (which will knock into something bigger) and evidence of repair. Check down the sides of the bulkhead between wing and door. There may be serious corrosion at the bottom of the A-post (and B-post on One Tens). Rust falling from above when opening the doors suggests upper bulkhead corrosion behind the interior trim. Pull floor coverings away to inspect the footwells thoroughly. In the engine compartment, check the upper outer corners of the bulkhead just above the footwells. From under the wheel arches, scrutinise the lower parts of the footwells above the chassis outriggers, and feel the outer vertical sides of the footwells (behind the wing).
Beware of unprofessional rebuilds and restorations on which the doors do not align correctly. This is not due to aftermarket panels, as is sometimes suggested, it’s poor build alignment that may need a fair amount of dismantling to put right. However, panel alignment was never a strong point on these vehicles so don’t expect perfection. Water ingress to the interior is likely to be due to defective panel and glazing seals, but also due to poor body alignment if the vehicle has been dismantled and rebuilt in the past.
Bulkhead upper repair panels are cheap to buy, but fitting them can be a complex job. Check the bulkhead upper outer face carefully for rust, and filler
This door bottom corrosion is messily filled and painted; the only answer is a new door. It’s also ruined the County graphics, which are getting difficult to source
Worn or rusted door hinges are easy and cheap to replace. But look for a faint vertical crease line in the door panel just back from the lower hinge. This can be caused by stress from a partly seized hinge, though more seriously the lower forward corner of the door’s inner steel frame may have rusted apart – check inside. Check along the underside of the door to see if there’s any metal remaining. Wind-up windows (earliest examples had sliders) may be loose in the frame as they are wound down. A new winding mechanism is needed.
Taildoors suffer under the weight of the mounted spare wheel, usually cracking the inner frame. The wheel should be firmly fixed, with no panel flex when the wheel is levered by hand.
Early models had galvanised rear tub cappings, as per Series III. Later cappings were painted and tend to rust and, while replacements are available, factor in removal of the hardtop and re-painting.
Dampness from standing idle (and from sunroof leaks)causes headlining material to fall away from its rigid backing. It’s difficult to repair or source replacement
Headlining fabric that has come loose from its backing is difficult to repair and replacements are elusive (later Defender coverings are not quite the same and are expensive). Check seats for distortion, stains, tears and failed stitching on vinyl versions – all replaceable. If non-standard seats have been fitted, they are probably an improvement, but check they are secure, and also easily removable if you want to return the truck to original seating.
A factory tilting/lift-out sunroof was standard on County models and optional on others. You may find that no amount of re-sealing and adjustment will stop water leaking in.
Apart from being dependable, the early diesels (this is a 2.5D) actually look like proper old-school engines. It’s a pleasure to lift the bonnet
All the original engines are simple to maintain and service, and they’re all good, solid reliable units, given proper servicing and use. If the engine (or any other major component) has been rebuilt, scrutinise the receipts because build quality and extent varied widely.
The 4- and 8-cylinder petrol engines and the early 2.25-litre diesels all had timing chains (on four cylinder engines a tinny rattle from the front cover suggests a worn chain and/or tensioner issue), but the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated and turbo diesels used cam belts, so check the belts have been replaced at the stipulated interval of 60,000 miles for normal use.
Many of these vehicles have received replacement engines and gearboxes over the years, mainly 200 and 300Tdi diesels, but also V8s including carburettor and EFi fuel injected versions. So confirm which engine is fitted and, if a later V8 or Tdi is installed, use the tips in our Discovery 1 Buying Guide technical supplement (LRM April 2021).
4-cylinder petrol engines: The 2.25- and 2.5-litre petrol engines are very similar: both surprisingly smooth running and reliable, though delivering only around 20-22 mpg. A healthy petrol engine should accelerate easily with gentle throttle application. If not, or the idle speed is unsteady, the carburettor may be worn or incorrectly set (assuming the ignition timing is correct).
4-cylinder diesel engines: Expect around 26 mpg from these inherently noisy diesels. The naturally aspirated 2.25- and 2.5-litre engines are relatively bullet proof, but 19J turbocharged versions developed bottom end problems back in the day, earning a reputation for catastrophic failure. Later turbo engines had a strengthened bottom end and became reliable. They are rare now because, even those that didn’t fail were often replaced by later Tdi engines. Any now remaining are likely to be in good order and quite desirable, given their rarity and the extra torque they produce. The turbocharger is a basic trouble-free unit but, like any turbo, the shaft bearings wear (especially if engine oil changes have been ignored) producing a high-pitched sound of varying intensity.
A relatively slow but regular tapping from a diesel may be caused by a loose hot-plug (pre-combustion chamber). These are pressed into the underside of the head and can work loose, causing a tapping sound when the relevant piston rises. The head needs to come off to replace them.
The 2.25 diesel is a five main bearings engine and was known as the 2.3 when fitted in the Series III to distinguish it from the SIII’s earlier three bearing engine, though capacity remained the same.
The V8 petrol: The twin carburetter 3.5-litre Rover V8 will give smooth running, but at a cost of 16 to 20mpg. The V8 doesn’t make it a road burner, but it’s the quickest of the bunch. It’s also rare and worth having for the sake of itself. It’s a good solid and reliable engine and, given proper servicing which includes regular oil and filter changes with quality products, it lasts well. Without this, expect a worn camshaft and associated valve train components which will be noisy and tappety, even knocking at the top end in extreme cases. LPG conversions give the V8 models diesel-type fuel costs, and originality is not a concern here because the LPG system can easily be removed. But it’s important to know the LPG system has been properly installed, maintained and checked, so expect to see paperwork confirming this.
There’s plenty to look out for on the test drive
Drive the vehicle far enough to see the temperature gauge needle rise and settle to normal. When you’re confident of the safety of the vehicle, take it up to around 60mph, noting any vibration as road speed and engine speed increase. Drivetrain vibration feeding through to the cab may be due to out of balance propshafts and/or partly seized universal joints. A sudden rear end noise on overrun can be caused by a seized sliding joint in the rear propshaft.
Checking the ride and feel: Steering vibration is usually due to tyre/wheel imbalance, but also worn or poorly adjusted swivel bearings, especially if the steering feels a tad wobbly over potholes. Underside knocks and bangs suggest worn suspension bushes, though even good bushes can be audible over poor road repairs and potholes. The Panhard rod bushes, if worn, will allow the steering to wander.
Directional changes when braking may be caused by partly seized or inefficient front brakes. Locking up of a rear wheel under heavy braking points to poor rear drum brake adjustment or a single inefficient brake, possibly oil leaking onto the brake shoes. The latter is common if the axle seals are worn and the vehicle is parked on a side slope, allowing axle oil to flow out into the brake drum.
A slight directional change (corrected at the steering wheel) can occur during gear changes when accelerating hard, and also when suddenly backing off the throttle. This is typically caused by movement in the rear radius arm bushes allowing the rear axle to move slightly out of line as engine torque is applied and released.
Excessive lean in corners, especially coupled with front dive when braking, suggests the dampers need renewal. There’s little to go wrong with coil springs, though they can become slightly compressed with age.
Listen for worn front wheel bearings when gently cornering; rears will be heard rumbling when driving straight on a light throttle. Also listen for the tick sound of failing CV joints in the front axle when turning slowly on full lock. Transmission bearings can whine, but the sound isn’t usually transmitted through the chassis/body so can usually be pinpointed to the gearbox, transfer box or differentials.
Testing the drivetrain: It’s always worth seeing how the truck copes with a long steep climb (if there is one locally). Check for exhaust smoke under load which can suggest general bore/piston ring wear, and confirm the coolant temperature stays down. If a diesel begins to run out of puff, it may just need a new fuel filter cartridge.
Grey smoke from a diesel engine, especially coupled with a reluctance to stop when switched off, suggests a failed head gasket is allowing lubricating oil into a cylinder where it is burnt, thus keeping the engine running. Blue smoke suggests serious bore/ring wear and any other smoke is usually due to incorrect injection pump timing, though also pump and injector wear. Beware a rattling injector pump – rebuild needed.
Transmission: The more common five-speed manual gearbox has synchromesh on every gear, so expect it to change freely and quietly, and to stay in the selected gear, especially on the overrun when decelerating. If the gearbox is noisy when in neutral with the engine idling, notice if the noise disappears when the clutch pedal is pressed, which suggests the layshaft bearings are worn and a rebuild is due.
Always check that low ratio and diff-lock work okay and are easy to select (the vehicle may need to roll a little to fully engage). The diff-lock warning light will show on the instrument panel when engaged, and you’ll feel the steering pull a little when testing a short distance on tarmac. When deselecting diff-lock, the light might stay on initially, and sometimes it’s necessary to reverse a little to remove any axle wind-up.
Note that early V8 models had a four-speed synchromesh transmission known as the LT95 which combined the gearbox and 2-speed transfer box in a single unit (also used on the early two-door Range Rovers). 1983 and very early 1984 vehicles had selectable four-wheel drive (similar to Series III). So, no diff-lock fitted, but check it all works. It’s very rare.
Expect a fair amount of slack in the drivetrain, which is normal; for example, after applying the transmission/hand brake with the gearbox in neutral, the vehicle may roll a little when the footbrake is released.
After the drive: After the test drive, and with the engine switched off, check the engine bay for oil and coolant leaks, and for oil film deposit over the top of the engine suggesting cylinder wear and/or head gasket failure. Look for leakage from the coolant pump shaft and manually test it for looseness.
When the engine has fully cooled and the coolant system depressurised, check the coolant level. Also remove the oil filler cap – white fluid on the underside suggests a mixture of oil and water which could be due to a head gasket leak or just condensation in the engine, depending on its condition.
The steel support beams across the underside of the rear tub can be replaced, but it usually needs the tub off to complete the work properly
Check underneath after the test drive because if any leaks have been previously cleaned up, they are likely to now be visible again. The timing case at the front and the bellhousing at the rear of the engine have tapped holes to fit wading plugs which should only be fitted for the duration of wading. If oil is leaking from either, or diesel fuel from the timing case, urgent work is needed before the oil contaminates the clutch or the diesel timing belt, or fuel dilutes the sump oil.
Check the steel battery box carefully from underneath, poking through any clarted underseal. Aluminium replacements in kit form are available to rivet in place
The two body sections of most concern are the battery box which is a fairly complex little structure that can rust badly, and the steel transverse supports under the rear body tub.
At the front, inspect the front suspension turrets under the wings. Check the front axle swivels for corrosion and pitting on the machined spherical face, which will damage the seal and allow fluid to leak out. While you’re here, inspect the front brake discs for grooving and pitting, and always check the condition of visible brake pipes and hoses – fuel pipes, too.
The simple circuitry lends itself to additions and repairs of varying quality. So check the harnesses are secure, not frayed, and with no loose or unprotected wires hanging around. Crimped connectors look bad on any classic vehicle and they trap moisture causing circuit problems in addition to the contacts vibrating lose. Bullet connections are original and more reliable, though not perfect, so check everything electrical works – there’s not much, mind.
Roof rack and ladder is a nice period accessory on this Ninety Turbo D. Rare Rostyle wheels (similar to early Range Rover) are correct for this model
A main attraction of these trucks is their peculiar place in between the Series III and Defender models. As such, there is a value in originality, leaving highly modified versions less desirable. Somehow, period mods, of which there were plenty, don’t add value. That said, the perennial question arises again as to whether typically period modifications are an asset. They can certainly add to the character, usability and enjoyment of the vehicle, which is surely what it’s all about.
Want to read more about the Ninety/One Ten? See our Buying Guide here.
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