27 April 2023
Often maligned, the Freelander has proved to be one of the most competent and enduring Land Rovers. But it’s not all good news, as Ed Evans explains
There are thousands of early-shape Freelanders still on the roads, being used in every situation from shopping runabout to full-blown off-roader and even race car. They’re cheap, they have shedloads of character, the diesels average 38mpg, they have a spare wheel on the back door (which is a rare commodity nowadays, and a recognised statement of intent), and they’re utterly practical family car cars, load luggers and off-roaders – just like a Land Rover, really.
So what’s not to like? Plenty, which I’ll explain as this project progresses. Maybe I should have allocated a bigger budget to buy this project car and started off with one that could actually be used – after all, you can’t expect much for £300. It’s certainly going to cost a lot more to turn it into a reliable road car and off-roader. The first challenge here is to see if that can be achieved for £1000 – that extra £700 being the value of parts to make it good, while most of the labour will be DIY. The secondary challenge is to pass the MoT test with zero advisories, and I can easily think of a dozen fail points already.
Could all be a bad idea
We’ll take a look around later to see what we’ve got to work with, but first, here’s a brief description. It’s done 97,000 miles, which is lower than average. But the mileage does mean that in 1000 miles the camshaft timing belt and the fuel pump timing belt are due for renewal for the second time around.
The body is thick with dirt from top to bottom, with deep gouges taken out of the paint on the driver’s A-post. The interior is even messier, with the leather upholstery badly marked, stitching split, trim sections missing and a speaker cowl dangling by its wires from a door, and the headlining hanging down. Naturally, the cubby box in the boot floor is soaking wet and has been so for a long time, as evidenced by the lid hinges almost rusted away.
The paintwork, an almost luminous green lending the car its name of Kermit, is pretty good, except that it has faded or eroded away to a grey colour on areas of the bonnet and roof, though it’s been like that for years (I know because my wife used to own this same car some years ago).
Mechanically, the old L-Series Rover diesel engine is rock solid, though it won’t be rushed – it’s the way these old turbodiesels are – nothing really happens until the revs build and the turbo spools up. Perhaps it’d go a bit faster if the intercooler hose didn’t have a huge split in it. The dipstick comes out but won’t go back in. And there’s no coolant in the engine and, even after filling the coolant tank, the water has just disappeared again. This is very worrying. The handbrake lever points to the sky and doesn’t really do anything. When you let the clutch out to pull away, the rear propshaft jumps up to bang against the underbody, but I know what’s going on there. When it rains, it’s best to leave the wipers off because the blades smear the screen so that the road ahead is a blur, and the wiper linkage makes a racket. Indeed, the wiper stalk will only operate the wipers when in the down position, so you have to continually hold the stalk down against its spring while driving – which isn’t really possible without driving into things.
Underneath, it’s mostly caked with mud and, where it isn’t, I can see serious rust beginning to take hold. There’s an oil leak under the bonnet that’s dripped down and soaked the engine undertray, and a track rod end is rattling alarmingly over the slightest road bump. And then there’s the pungent smell of diesel fuel that permeates this little automotive delight inside and out.
Did someone say shed? It’s thick with grime, inside, outside and underneath. But nothing stops the Appalachian Green paint from shining out. To be honest, it’s a bit of a shed.
Body piercing: The only rusted area is here on the top edge of the tailgate. The tailgate will need removing and fully dismantling to effect a proper paint repair.
Grubbed up: The rear load space was covered with rubbish, and this under the protective load liner. This looks good compared with the rest of the interior.
Rusted trim: The cubby box under the boot floor was sodden with water (not unusual on a Freelander 1) and the steel hinges on the lid are badly rusted.
Professional job: The whole interior was so bad that after I removed the chips and plastic bottles, I called in a valeter who steam-cleaned the lot. A superb job for £60.
More like it: It’s an ES model, and the leather upholstery and quality carpet material came up well, apart from the odd seat stain, and split stitching on the driver’s seat.
Head job: The headlining is clean, but has sagged at the rear in the usual way, and it’s pulled back from the screen, seen here. A tricky one to fix.
Not on track: The left-hand side steering track rod ball joint was the loosest I’ve yet seen and needs urgent replacement. It’s caked in mud, as is most of the underside.
Dusted up: The original alloy wheels are in good shape with no kerbing marks, but no amount of cleaning and solution is shifting the years of baked-on brake dust.
Rust attack: Underside rust hasn’t yet reached a serious stage, and Freelanders are
usually rust-resistant underneath. But it’s rotting under the mud and needs treating.
Banger: This is why the rear of the propshaft bangs against the floorpan when setting off – all three rear diff mounts are trashed, allowing the diff to jump up and down.
Viscous coupling unit: It’s worth testing the VCU as a defective unit can cause serious transmission damage. It should be possible to just rotate the prop using a 450mm lever.
Confirmation: By putting corresponding marks on both parts of the VCU before test-turning it, we can see that the rear part turns independently of the front section – it’s okay. Thankfully.
Diesel fumes: The strong smell inside and outside suggested wasting fuel or potentially breaking down. Removing the engine cover exposed a leaking fuel spill return pipe on no.2 injector.
Obsolete: New spill pipes, sold as a set, are no longer available, but all that’s needed is a length of 4mm fuel pipe cut to suit. All four pipes were replaced before others failed.
Boost leak: Intercooler-to-inlet manifold hose is split where the clip on the manifold is badly fitted, losing boost pressure. Part no.PNH101720 from Britpart was a cheap and quick replacement with new clips.
Dipstick trick: Commonly, the plastic end falls off the dipstick, so it won’t slide down the tube. Filing a smooth radius on the end sorts that, or just buy a new dipstick.
Spruced up: I’ve degreased the engine bay and blinged it with a spray of GT85. Much more pleasant to work on, and easier to trace the sources of several fluid leaks.
Smartening up before the serious stuff begins
Super wash: The hand car wash guys blasted the grime away and even brought the wheels up like new. It looks pretty, but it’s still a shed under the gloss.
Two-tone: The cleaning exposed badly discoloured paint on the bonnet and roof. A costly job to put right – only if I can make a decent car of it first.
In part 2: I’d like to get the cam and fuel pump belt replacement done soon. But, before that, the priority is to make the Freelander safe and reliable to drive. So next time we’ll be fathoming the coolant loss, fixing the steering, getting the handbrake to work, probing the oil leaks and, ultimately, booking an MoT test.
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