Project Defender Td5 part 3: Bulkhead

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At first glance, it looks like some repairs will be needed : credit: © Trevor Cuthbert
Trevor Cuthbert strips down the bulkhead to accurately determine its condition

Need to know

Time: 3 hours.
Cost: No significant costs this time.
Difficulty: 2 out of 5 
Models: Defender, Ninety/One Ten.
Tools needed: Small hammer, pick, inspection lamp, general workshop tools.
Work safely:
• Wear protective gloves to protect hands from sharp edges.
• Wear eye protection when poking and prodding rusted areas.

The story so far: After a customer bought the battered body sections from this 110 Td5 hardtop, Trevor ended up with the remains including the wrecked engine and gearbox, rolling chassis, bulkhead and one wing. This near basket case was assessed in the best manner possible at the time and a plan of attack formed (see part 1). But in the following part 2, the plan went pear-shaped when a detailed examination of the stripped down chassis proved it wasn’t worth repairing. The answer at that time was to build the suspension and axle components onto a new galvanised chassis. This time, it’s the turn of the bulkhead to undergo closer scrutiny.

 

When this Defender 110 Td5 arrived back with me, after many of the damaged body panels had been sold and removed, more of the bulkhead was visible than before. I could see lots that pleased me about it and this was one of the key deciders that made me embark on a rebuild of the Land Rover – the bulkhead appeared in largely good condition.

Although what I could see of the bulkhead was good, I have been around Land Rovers long enough to know that there are often hidden issues. Rust problems can be concealed behind the dash panels, engine bay components (the heater unit, for example) and under various seals, such as the door and screen seals.

The only way to be completely sure of the condition of a bulkhead – and to properly deal with any issues found – is to strip it down to a bare structure. Even better is to have it sandblasted to remove all paint, oil, grime and anything else that can hide the rust.

Consequently, as I began to strip all of the parts away from the bulkhead structure, I was not surprised, or too alarmed, to find holes where rust had taken hold. The key thing to determine, after the bulkhead is stripped down, is whether to repair all of the rust or to replace the whole structure with one of the new galvanised bulkheads that have appeared on the market.

 

Stripping the bulkhead

How bad is it? It is now clear that there are some rust issues with the bulkhead, but to find all of the problems the assembly really needs to be stripped.

Advances in design: The Td5 bulkhead wiring loom is threaded through the structure in a very different manner to the earlier type and is actually quite easy to work with.

Almost naked: All of the dashboard, steering column and associated components have been stripped from the inside of the bulkhead here, leaving only some sound-insulation to remove.

Ready to assess: With the engine bay side of the bulkhead now fully stripped, and just the support brackets in place, we are in a position to make a meaningful assessment.

 

Rusted reality

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Hidden horrors: The inside of the lower dash panel on the driver’s side has rusted quite badly, due to water ingress through holes in the bulkhead.

Vital Td5 element: The bulkhead wiring loom is all intact and in good condition, with little sign of interference or modifications commonly found in old vehicles.

One of the culprits: This hole at the A-post and along the top of the footwell is probably responsible for the rust found in the lower dash panel on the driver’s side.

More driver’s side horror: The lip that holds the door seal is corroded in many places and is particularly bad at the shoulder of the bulkhead because of trapped water.

Passenger footwell: Rust at the bottom of the footwells is quite common and relatively easy to repair – particularly with good availability of decent repair panels.

Another hidden hole: This rust hole in the lower part of the A-post on the driver’s side was concealed by both the rubber door seal and an aluminium trim plate.

What lies beneath: When the seal between the top of the bulkhead and the windscreen frame was removed, holes along the top edge became apparent. They will be a tricky repair.

Less common: The full-width water channel below the bulkhead vents is usually unaffected, but here at least one hole has been rusted right through and is likely to extend.

Solidity found: It is not all bad news, as there are large sections of the bulkhead that are still very solid and unaffected by rust, even around the vents.

 

It's debateable

This bulkhead is not quite as healthy as Trevor expected and, while there are no areas of major corrosion, the cummulative effect of all the many repairs that are needed are forcing
a re-think. The question is whether to spend a lot of time on cutting out and refabricating some difficult profiles, or to go for a new or recondition bulkhead. Of course, the cost difference between buying new or repairing on a DIY basis is significant, but which is the most appropriate job in the long term – replacement or original? Look out for part 4, coming soon...

 

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