In praise of projects, part two: The Tinkerer

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They’re never really finished. Nick and the fruits of his labour : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
You’ve done one project, but have fresh ideas and a hunger for more. What happens then? Meet one enthusiast who’s always got to have a project on the go

Nick's spotless LRM cover star, now with a V8 under the bonnet​​​​​​

Particularly observant readers might recognise Nick Weatherby and his Marine Blue 1986 soft top 90. Cover star of Land Rover Monthly’s Winter 2021 issue, the story then revolved around how he’d built the immaculate car during the many dreaded Covid lockdowns. But I have to tell you, I got the story wrong the first time round with Nick. Yes, the car was impressive, but what I missed was that he can’t leave anything alone – he’s a constant tinkerer. In Land Rover circles, there are many of us who can relate.

Nick just can't help himself

His LRM cover had just left the newsstands when he pulled out the 300Tdi engine, converting the car over to a 3.9-litre John Eales Rover V8. He just can’t help having a project on the go – the perfect example of how a mechanical skillset can, for some, be a central part of owning a Land Rover.

Nick’s enthusiasm for the tools means his cars are more of a constant evolution. He’s never happy to leave as is; there is always something that can be improved, modified or, as we have seen, built from the ground up. That is the great thing about having a go, you see. As you do more and more, your skill levels build, and other possibilities beckon.

Stonking John Eales 4.0 V8 went in after his car made the LRM cover

​​​​​​The day of my visit, he’s swapping spark plugs and shock absorbers, and explains the post-LRM cover story engine swap. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted a V8,” says Nick. “The Tdi was alright, but I wish I’d stuck to my guns and gone for one straight away.” ‘Alright’ is a huge understatement – the 300Tdi build was gorgeous, but a chance visit to an engine builder pal saw Nick being made an offer he couldn’t refuse. DT Engine Solutions was removing a proven, rebuilt 3.9 V8 and swapping it for a GM LS3 motor. Coming with everything Nick needed, right down to the radiator, he knew the healthy Rover V8 would be finding a new home in his 90.

Signs of being hands-on are all over the car

“As I say, I wish I’d just done it from the beginning, as I could have done a better job if I’d started with a V8 chassis,” he reveals. Building the previous cover car project on a new galvanised chassis with a diesel engine in mind, he’d obviously gone for a frame with pre-welded Tdi engine mounts. Fitting the V8 meant altering that to accommodate different engine mounts and much more work besides, like fabricating a custom stainless exhaust. Once he’d cured other clearance headaches, like working out he’d need to use Range Rover P38 manifolds (one of which needed to face forwards), that is.

Time spent on the tools is still time spent enjoying the cars

​​​​​​But skills like these don’t materialise overnight. They take time to hone and develop, and for Nick that process began a decade ago on his first car, a 1994 ex-military 90 now finished in stunning Lincoln Green. “I’ve never actually rebuilt that one,” he admits, though the Land Rover has clearly seen constant attention. Bought as a wheezy, naturally-aspirated 2.5 diesel, Nick soon swapped in a more muscular 200Tdi. The real genesis for his spannering addiction came when that engine wore the rings out and began a smoking habit. “That’s when I got cracking properly,” he explains. Armed with books and workshop manuals, he built up a new 200Tdi himself – the first time he’d done any in-depth engine work – tidied the engine bay, fitted new door tops and more. “But I was young, and enjoyed bolting things to it – snorkels, light bars, as you do at that age. Then later I regretted it,” he laughs.

The fruits of the spanners. Your car could be the same

With no background of car maintenance, Nick learnt by simply having a go, and getting stuck in. “As a vehicle goes, they don’t get a lot simpler, do they? Anyone can lie under one and point everything out.” Nick describes that first 90 as ‘Trigger’s Broom’; the famous line from the comedy character claiming he’d had the same brush for 20 years, despite having fitted 17 new heads and 14 new handles. “I’d had it a year with the n/a diesel in, then fitted the first 200Tdi, then built a second 200Tdi, changed the transfer ’box, built a new axle. In total it’s had three engines, two gearboxes and two transfer ’boxes,” he catalogues, almost bashfully.

The skills learned from the green ex-military 90 were to culminate in the chassis-up rebuild of the 1986 90, in nothing more than an ordinary domestic garage during lockdown. Prior to that, the first 90 was toyed with and fettled on the family driveway.

Nick made the V8 exhaust to fit the 300Tdi chassis

The most challenging task he’s attempted he says is definitely the V8 conversion. Having only worked on diesels, understanding a new fuel was a challenge, not least as the supplied wiring loom needed completely sorting out; wires identifying, then extraneous feeds removing. Aside from that, when pushed, he cites that setting the swivel and wheel bearing pre-loads correctly have been a learning process.

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“I do enjoy it,” he says, of the hands-on work. “I never get to the point of being annoyed with it. There are challenges, but you just have a rest, walk away, think about it and come back to it,” he advises. Yes, he readily admits, they will break, and you will have issues, but it is nice to be able to pull it to bits yourself and have a thorough understanding of it to end up with something truly great.

Nick and his hero wall: justifiably proud of his car on our cover

“That would be my biggest piece of advice,” says Nick. ‘‘If you’re doing a project, try to do as much of it yourself. When you’ve done it, then stand back and look at what you’ve created – it is ace.”

Which really is the essence. Being able to work on our vehicles opens up myriad possibilities. From simply changing spark plugs or shock absorbers, right through to a complete re-chassis. Work on your Land Rover often enough and you reach the point where you can always work out ways to fit, fix, modify or make almost anything you need. Most of all, you can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and a few pounds saved.

 

Nick's tips

1. Build what you actually want from the beginning. I should have made it a V8 from the start. Swapping it has not only cost me money, but the Defender ended up not quite as good as it could have been. It was one step forward, two steps back.

2. Don’t buy complex secondhand parts, like gearboxes, unless you can verify that they have been rebuilt. A fully rebuilt unit will give peace of mind, rather than running the risk of being lumbered with someone else’s seconds.

3. Try to avoid putting extra holes in the bodywork and chassis when fitting extras or making modifications. I’ve had to fill numerous holes in panels from past ideas and parts. It’s do-able, but it takes time and effort, especially where painted panels are involved.

4. Be vigilant with your rustproofing. The more effort you put in to rustproofing things along the way, the better the car will turn out. If you research the best product available and use that, in the end it all stays in top condition for longer.

5. Anything you remove and know you won’t use, don’t leave it in a corner, sell it. Having sold the engine, gearbox, roof and door bottoms, it makes a massive difference. That recouped money can go towards getting better parts for the project, rather than sitting taking up valuable space at home.

• Since my visit, I hear Nick’s bought a rebuilt LT230 transfer ’box and ATB diff for the blue V8. And started a Sankey trailer project. I told you he can’t help himself…

 

In our final project, we meet the professionals, Twenty-Ten Engineering, as they take on classic Range Rover restorations... 

 

SPEC LIST

1994 Ex-MOD Defender 90

• Lincoln Green
• 200Tdi
• Hybrid turbocharger, uprated intercooler
• Original LT77 gearbox
• 1.2 ratio LT230 recon T-box
• LOF uprated clutch
• Rebuilt front axle
• Bilstein shock absorbers and steering damper
• FlatDog +2-inch lift springs
• Spring relocation cones
• Cranked trailing and castor-corrected radius arms
• Wide-angle propshafts
• Exmoor Trim front and rear seats
• GRP 4x4 glassfibre bonnet
• Audison audio system
• Wipac lights
• Custom rock sliders
• BF Goodrich Mud Terrains 266/75 R16

1986 Land Rover 90

• Marine Blue
• John Eales Rover 4.0-litre V8 engine with uprated camshaft, Omega pistons, top hat-lined cylinder block, ported cylinder heads and inlet manifold, baffled sump, 14CUX management
• V8-spec LT77 from Winchester gears
• Galvanised XD chassis
• Standard springs, Fox dampers
• Standard rear axle
• Standard front axle; larger calipers and vented discs
• Whitbread 4x4 HD hood sticks
• All Wheel Trim hood
• Custom seats
• Wipac lighting all-round
• Custom stainless steel exhaust
• Audison audio system
• 16in Wolf wheels, 235/85 R16 Goodyear Wrangler tyres

 

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