Project Freelander: The final touches

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Ed is on the final leg now, with one surprise... : credit: © Ed Evans
The Freelander project rolls in comfortably under-budget, as Ed questions whether he’s got value for his money and time, and receives a little shock

Need to know

Cost to completion: £933.44
Parts used this month: Brake pipes, £18.80; brake fluid, £5.40; bulbs, £0.86; MoT test, £50; track rod end, £31.32; tracking, £25.
Work safely:
• 
Use barrier cream or gloves to protect hands, as preferred.
• When working underneath the vehicle ensure it is securely supported on suitable stands, with secondary supports in place in case of failure.
• After working on the brake system, ensure the pedal develops firm pressure and check for fluid leakage before driving.

The story so far

This Freelander 1 station wagon with its early L-series 2.0-litre diesel engine was bought for £300. Of course, it needed plenty of work to turn it into a reliable long-distance vehicle, and so an extra £700 was budgeted for parts, with the labour being on a DIY basis to keep the costs down.

Initial assessment pointed to a serious engine cooling problem, but that was easily fixed. Then there have been leaking fuel pipes, a leaky injector seal, inoperative handbrake, new camshaft and fuel pump drive belts, new differential mountings and a professional interior clean to add to the bill. Last month a relatively expensive new screen wiper linkage and non-essential cosmetic trim items pushed the project close to budget, with little cash left to tidy things up and pay for an MoT test.

 

So to the finishing touches...

Our target has been to produce a reliable and dependable long-distance vehicle for just £1000, but I was also aiming for a personal target of passing the MoT test in one shot with no advisories. One obvious job needed for the test was the rattling track rod end (TRE) on the steering which, due to the safety implication, had been replaced a few weeks earlier. I’d asked my local garage to replace the TRE because they had the equipment to correctly centre the steering and set the front tracking at the same time. The car’s relatively new Cooper Discoverer tyres weren’t showing any adverse wear pattern which suggested the tracking had previously been correct and, more importantly, that the front suspension bushes were serviceable. The rear tyres also had even wear on them, suggesting the rear tracking was correct and that the rear bushes were serviceable, too.

If brake pipes are rusty, there’s no point delaying replacement. Three new pipes on the Freelander bolster driving confidence. That underbody corrosion also needs sorting.

A couple of rusted brake pipes feeding each of the rear wheel cylinders were replaced, with the benefit that the bleeding process drew fresh brake fluid into the system, a service requirement that’s often ignored. The car does stop better for that, so the old fluid must have been there a few years and absorbed moisture which spoils brake performance and causes corrosion inside the cylinders.

Then, with a new set of wiper blades fitted, and after checking all the lights and the horn, the Freelander went in for its
MoT test. The garage dropped it off at my house (how’s that for service) and left a pass certificate on the seat – but with an advisory, which was annoying because I’d aimed for a clean sheet. Apparently, one of the twin rear number plate lights
was out, though when I checked, it was working, so the drive home must have shaken the bulb back into contact – I like cars that repair themselves.

So, with a couple of new bulbs fitted, the car was completed. It’s cost a grand, and it’s probably worth a grand – that seems like a deal, to me. Of course, I could have just spent the full £1000 on a better Freelander instead of starting with a £300 banger. But a £1000 Freelander would still have had issues and I would have needed to set aside a similar financial contingency. As things are, for my £1000 I now have a Freelander that has no issues at all, with proven reliability and with full knowledge of its condition in all other respects.

 

Sting in the tail

So the story ends happily, except I was still aware of an oil leak in the engine bay which I hadn’t been able to trace, despite cleaning everything down with degreaser to see where the leak was coming from. Having completed the project, it was time for a celebratory service and I took the car over to Kevin Chadwick’s garage in Clapham for an oil and filter change (last done shortly before I bought the car, so not an immediate concern) and a coolant change with fresh antifreeze, the rest of the car having been already checked over during its refurbishment.

After removing the engine undertray and draining the sump, Kevin went to unscrew the oil filter and found it was loose, and thus not sealing between the seal and the oil filter housing – probably the source of the apparent oil leak. This was unusual – they are more often screwed in too tight and need leverage to remove them. Needless to say, the new filter was carefully screwed tight by hand and then double-checked – fist-tight should be right.

So the leak appears to have stopped, and the small amount of oil currently beading off the undertray is probably old residue working its way down. But I’ll be monitoring any drips, and also the tightness of the oil filter, for a few weeks yet.

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Oily underside: That’s the old oil filter (top left) with the paint rubbed off and several dents. Has someone been off-roading this without the engine undertray fitted? Crazy.

Lube and seal: Regardless of why the old oil filter was loose, the new one is given a smear of oil on its seal to assist correct tightening, and to help seat the seal.

Clean and monitor: After changing the oil and filter, Kevin gets to work thoroughly de-greasing the bottom of the engine with brake cleaning fluid so we can spot any returning oil leaks.

Ready for action: Clean as a whistle now, so we can instantly trace developing leaks from the sump, filter housing and oil and power steering hoses. But I reckon it’ll stay dry.

Coolant concern: After eradicating early coolant problems, the bottom hose was detached from the oil cooler to flush the system and renew the antifreeze – peace of mind in recent sub-zero weather.

Good as new-ish: A grand’s worth of reliable fun – an absolute bargain, and a pleasure to have brought the old bus
back up to scratch again

 

The more Land Rovers, the better

So I was explaining to Kevin that the Freelander will be a good spare car for me, to which he replied, ‘‘Why is it that everyone who owns a Land Rover has to have a spare car?’’ A good question. The truth is they’re such interesting machines that you just want more of them. And the Freelander now definitely has a place in the Evans fleet as a lively, chuckable little machine that you can set up for the bends and enjoy handling it with great feedback through the seat and steering wheel. After winding the Freelander up around the lanes, my Range Rover Sport feels like a Thames barge – bigger, faster, easier, but nothing like as much fun.

 

Two-minute guide to choosing a Freelander 1

If you fancy buying a cheap fun-mobile Freelander 1 (the pre-facelift model seen here is getting rare), then this checklist will help put you on the right track.
• A knock under the rear when setting off is usually caused by failed differential mounts, £50-100 fitted.
• If the engine overheats, don’t buy. If there’s coolant depletion without overheat, bargain the price down; the engine has probably survived, but only if it’s a diesel.
• Avoid any cars that smoke, suggesting engine wear or injector issues, though Td4 models may need only a crankcase breather valve and filter (same applies to the L322 Range Rover Td6 engine).
• If there’s no rear propshaft (which could invalidate insurance), you need to know why – maybe a seized viscous coupling. 
• On gravel, if a rear wheel skips when reversing on lock, it’s normal. If it’s heavy to steer and the handling is bad
on-road, the viscous coupling may be seized and that will have strained the transmission.
• Tyres are critical on any vehicle, more so with 4WD and even more so with the Freelander 1. Same make and size should be fitted all-round. The least worn or newest tyres (thereby having largest diameter) must be fitted to the rear axle. Otherwise, steering and handling problems will be felt, as mentioned, excessively straining the transmission.
• Check the rear window drops slightly as the tail door is released, and slides back up when it’s closed.
• While the taildoor is open, check under the floor hatch for water. If wet, new tailgate seals are needed.
• Check the taildoor latch handle is firmly attached to the door – they aren’t cheap if broken.
• The windscreen is notoriously good at misting up, and notoriously bad at demisting – it comes as standard.
• The headlining likes to get damp and droop down. Difficult to fix.
• The 1.8 petrol models do not overheat, nor blow head gaskets – they’ve all been fixed by now.
• Freelanders are competent off-road, restricted only by their lesser ground clearance.
• Automatics are best for off-road (in the absence of low range gears).
• Handling is excellent on- and off-road.
• The 2.5-litre V6 is a blast – an expensive-to-run blast.

If you missed any of Ed's features in this series, search 'Project Freelander' on this site, or find them in our 'How to' section here

 

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