27 March 2022
LRM's Aussie correspondent, Jack Dobson, talks us through his first official restoration under the banner of Oliver and Dobson, which has been a steep learning curve to say the least
Three years ago, I went from Environmental Consultant to Social Media Strategist and ten months ago, together with business partner, Oliver, I launched myself full time into restoring Land Rovers. Transitioning something that has always been a hobby into a career has not been easy, but under the banner of Oliver and Dobson Ltd, allow me to finally introduce our first official restoration, ‘Build 001’.
Bodywork-wise, with the exception of the bonnet and radiator panel, everything else had to be replaced
Build 001 is a 1967 Series IIA 88 inch. Very little was known about the vehicle, it was a non-runner, rescued from a farm and purchased from interstate based on a handful of photographs. A big lesson here. If you cannot view the vehicle in person, make sure you request multiple photographs, or better still, video. When the Land Rover arrived it was disappointing to find the bodywork in far worse condition than expected. With the exception of the bonnet and radiator panel, everything else was so badly battered it would need to be replaced.
Secondhand panels are not entirely difficult to source but when you transition from hobbyist to making it a commercial venture you have to track all your time. A three-hour trip to pick up a new wing can easily end up costing several hundred dollars in time alone – that’s before you purchase the actual part. The same goes for all the sundries needed during a rebuild. Making multiple trips to pick up nuts and bolts can end up costing you hours and impact budget as well as time line for completion of the project. Tracking through the expenses accrued on Build 001 I can see multiple trips to the same place often on a daily basis. It all adds up.
Build 001 would be a transformation
With Build 001 then, what was the vision? From the get-go we knew we wanted to create a seven-seater soft top with subtle touches that would make it standout and set a benchmark for future builds. The quality of finish would need to be right up there – far better than anything I had previously achieved working on a driveway. What we did not want to create was a restoration to factory specification. Who needs another Bronze Green Land Rover with vinyl seats and skinny wheels? Build 001 was to be painted in Audi RS6 Nardo Grey, fitted with leather seats and decent sized wheels with chunky tyres.
Like any restoration, the process started with disassembly. All in, it took 22 hours to strip down to a chassis. Australian Land Rovers tend to be much less rusty than those in UK so it is rare you encounter seized fasteners, and it makes a big difference. One tip is to go round and douse every accessible fastener with WD40 before you start. In terms of sequencing the strip down, I started with the truck cab, then bonnet, front wings, doors, tailgate, rear body and went from there. Lots of people will fastidiously label up all the parts and fasteners but having done several rebuilds I now just rely on memory. All fasteners were collected up at the end of the strip down. Whilst we could have reused, tarnished bolts would not create the right aesthetic for Build 001. We would be fitting entirely new (imperial sized) fasteners.
With bodywork removed spirits lifted, the chassis was in superb condition and beyond surface rust it was very near perfect. The next big ticket item, the bulkhead, was also in great shape with the exception of the footwells which were suffering from rust and some distortion (I am being conservative here, the footwells were bashed to within an inch of their lives). Brandishing an angle grinder I cut out the damaged sections of the footwells then got repair sections welded back in. Most of the repair sections come without the ribs but for me that would have given the impression of a cheap repair. I managed to track down a local fabricator who was able to replicate the original style. Whilst it added significant cost I felt it was worth doing.
The chassis needed only minor work. Typical of Series Land Rovers over here, it would need a new gearbox crossmember. I am yet to see one that has not been caught on something. Replacing the crossmember really was not essential but I think left untouched would have suggested a less than thorough restoration to any future purchaser. With the chassis repaired it was then given a thorough clean of surface rust and hand-painted with Miracle Paint – this stuff bonds chemically to steel and skin. I ended up lathered in it and it took two weeks to come off. Hand painting the chassis was a mistake. Whilst it provided good coverage the aesthetic was not where it needed to be. Visible brush strokes on the rear crossmember? Come on, you can do better than that. I ended up sanding the paint back smooth, high build priming and finishing in gloss black using a paint gun.
The gearbox held a multitude of sins
The engine was stripped down, components were inspected and replaced as needed. The odometer was reading 59,000 miles. Based on the condition of the internals I think that is likely to be accurate. Minimal wear was found. All ancillaries were replaced, including the dynamo which was exchanged for a modern alternator. I think an essential upgrade when you intend to run modern lights and, who knows, perhaps even charge a phone.
We were less fortunate with the gearbox; upon removal of the inspection covers it was found to be full of grit and evidently had suffered from water ingress. In fairness, I likely would not have found this issue had I gone to inspect the car in person. The internals were too badly worn so a replacement would need to be sourced. Luck was on my side, a rebuilt unit was available to buy. A five-hour round trip ensued. Yes, more time on the project.
Land Rovers are not known for their chrome bling but there should be two chromed parts on all of them. I am of course talking about the front swivels. Both were badly pitted and would need to be replaced. Although I have done this job several times, Build 001 was a bit of a nightmare. I bought replacement kits from Bripart (they have always been really good and contain everything you need) and to avoid mixing up components I tackle one side at a time. You have to press in the pivot points. There is a right and a wrong way. You can guess what’s coming. For things like this I crawl about under my other vehicles for confirmation. Well, clearly this time I did not spend enough time down there because I ended up doing it incorrectly. I am still at a loss as to how I ended up with things upside down. I was very lucky and was able to drift out the inserts and make the correction. If I had not been able to fix my mistake it would have put the program back by weeks whilst waiting for replacement swivel kits.
Working on the axles highlighted the need for a proper workbench. Struggling with heavy items at ground level cannot be good for the back. I was crawling around for days.
With the chassis and axles painted and ready to be reunited it was time to focus on suspension. Starting with suspension bushes, then. These can be so hard to remove and replace but here are my two top tips: buy new leaf springs – they have new bushes pre-installed and fit Polybushes in place of the original, steel sleeved versions. I have run both and handling seems the same, but I am ten years into a set and they show no signs of wear. Installation is also very easy, with replacements fitted in under an hour, which beats lying on your back with a drill in one hand and hacksaw in the other, for hours.
I now had myself a rolling chassis with entirely new suspension. We could have kept the shock absorbers but when you weigh up how long it would have taken me to clean them up and repaint versus simply buying nice new shiny ones, it makes more sense to go for the latter.
Jack's basement workshop (seen here with another build progressing) eventually proved unsuitable for painting
Whilst there were several other steps like putting in the engine and gearbox, none are as difficult as the next thing I want to discuss. Bodywork. Now we have all seen restorations let down by poorly executed bodywork – be it badly repaired dents or paintwork that looks like it was applied with a wire brush. Get the bodywork wrong and it does not matter how good the underlying restoration is. I have painted several cars, each has got better than the last but I had serious concerns about Build 001. By this point I had tracked all the replacement body panels but they were far from perfect. I spent 90 hours addressing various issues. What looked like a fairly straight rear tub provided to be full of filler. As it ages, filler gets brittle so it had to be ground out and the panels straightened using a combination of heat, bottle jacks and strategic application of a hammer. People seem to get a bit funny about filler but I will admit I used some (just not centimetres thick).
With the panels straightened and multiple drilled holes covered (why do people like to drill so many holes in Land Rovers?) it was time to paint. All my previous efforts have been using acrylic paints. I decided to go with 2-pack this time. Its use comes with a much higher degree of caution – you do not want to breathe this stuff in. The appeal was that straight from the gun you should be able to achieve a quality finish whereas with acrylic I have found that I have to endure hours of cutting back and polishing.
All galvanised trim was removed, sandblasted and sent away to be regalvanised and bodywork was stripped to bare metal using a random orbital sander. You can use chemical paint strippers but I find it generates a lot of mess and there is too much risk that it could impact your new paint job. All the bodywork was then given one application of etch primer, a very important part of the process and without it, paint will not adhere to the metal correctly. Three applications of high build primer came next. This is thick stuff and takes a lot of practice to apply consistently across the panels. Once fully dry this is sanded to within an inch of its life to create a silky smooth surface upon which to apply the colour.
It was all going so well and definitely helped by having plenty of space (you want to be able to lay all the panels out and have plenty of room to move about them), having my own compressor (I have tried hiring them over a weekend, but this places unnecessary stress as you rush to try to finish the job during the rental period), and buying a quality paint gun (we have all seen the cheapies but trust me, it is worth buying something decent).
Painted Audi RS6 Nardo Grey, with leather seats and big wheels shod in chunky tyres, it's not a resto for the purists
Then I came onto colour and it all went horribly wrong. I have never seen paint runs and orange peel like it! It seemed the more I played around with the settings on the gun, the worst it got. I ended up sanding some of the panels back six times and repainting until I was happy. What was the cause? Inadequate lighting. I was relying on fluorescent lights in a very gloomy space under an old pub. Each time I swept the paint gun over the panels I also cast long shadows so I couldn't really see what I was doing. Good results were achieved when I relocated in a naturally lit area.
The galvanised trim returned looking fantastic. It was my first time getting it redone and I will always do it on future builds. I think what previously put me off was the rivets. A Series IIA has solid rivets running along the sides and much of the rear. Whilst we were not aiming for a factory specification rebuild, things like the footwells need to be period correct. Same applies to rivets. It would be easy to replace with pop rivets but I think that shows a degree of laziness. I purchased the correct rivets from eBay and a snap punch. I then experimented with a variety of scrap pieces before committing to my freshly painted panels. Big mistake, I should have done more practice. First rivet applied and it went wrong resulting me having to repaint an entire side of the rear tub.
This write-up only gives you a broad overview. There are many other details, including the full rewire with custom loom, brakes and a myriad of problems caused by faulty new components (including a faulty clutch), which saw me having to dismantle much of my hard work.
Build 001 is now with its delighted new owner. Will they care about rivets and ribbed footwells? I hope so!
Oliver and Dobson