Fans will tell you buying old Land Rovers can be a fun and rewarding experience. Old versions of the model we now know as the Defender were the original ‘go anywhere’ vehicle. Ever since its introduction in 1948, the Land Rover is one of the few cars that can truly lay claim to having a cult following. It’s no surprise then that Joe Swash picked a Land Rover for his epic road trip for Green Flag’s Scenic Route series.
Joe’s is a 1985 Land Rover 90 Soft Top, the short wheelbase version fitted with what appears to be a poorly erected tent covering the back seats and load bay. You need a sense of adventure to own and drive a car like Joe’s. It’s also ideal to have a little mechanical knowledge or, at the least, the enthusiasm to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, learning to fix faults as they arise. And they will – as any Land Rover owner will tell you.
Of course, you could always rely on Green Flag’s experienced technicians to come to the rescue. But with a little preparation, it’s possible to buy and maintain a classic Land Rover like Joe’s and minimise the number of things that go wrong. We asked Iain Hamilton, one of Green Flag’s experts, to look over Joe Swash’s Land Rover and give buyers and owners six top tips that will help the 4×4 go anywhere for years to come.
Scenic Route technician’s tip: Knowledge is power when buying a Land Rover
If you’re buying an old Land Rover, it’s essential that you do your homework, says Iain Hamilton: “You need to look for one that has been well cared for. Ideally, only consider cars that have a lot of service history and corresponding paperwork. This proves that its owners have looked after it and replaced all the routine service items and changed worn out components.”
Iain adds that it’s important buyers look through any paperwork to see if gearbox oil changes have been carried out. “These will ensure that higher mileage cars still have plenty of life left in the gearbox.” Ask the seller to provide evidence of the car’s service history. If they can’t, look elsewhere.
Scenic Route technician’s tip: Older Land Rovers have less to go wrong
“The last Defenders of 2015 may have stuck to essentially the same approach as the original Land Rover, but they featured more electronics and are therefore more liable to suffer from electrical faults,” observes Iain.
So although older models, such as Joe Swash’s 1985 Land Rover 90 Soft Top don’t have all the mod cons of younger Defender models, they can be a lot easier – and cheaper – to maintain. As an example, Iain explains how older models feature a simple alternator (this converts engine power into electrical charge) that is easy to strip down, repair and rebuild. “It’s the sort of job that will satisfy keen mechanics.”
Scenic Route technician’s tip: Get the low down on the chassis and suspension
“It’s essential that buyers take along a torch and are prepared to get down on their hands and knees, so they can have a good look at the condition of the Land Rover’s ladder-style steel chassis. Rust attacks this over time and cars that haven’t been cleaned and treated with protective sealants will be in a bad way,” warns Iain. At the same time, check over the suspension arms and springs. Iain points out that these also corrode and can cause the car to fail its MOT.
Scenic Route technician’s tip: Look out for leaks
Iain Hamilton says leaks can come in all shapes and sizes under an old Land Rover. “They often lead a hard life and get knocked about, especially when driven over rough terrain. So check under the bonnet for oil leaks, and beneath the chassis for signs of leaks from the gearbox and the differentials in the four-wheel drive system.” Don’t panic if you spot oil. Iain says a small leak is usually not a major problem: “Another tip is that that if the engine or underside have just been cleaned before you arrived to view the car, the person selling it might be trying to conceal an oil leak.”
Scenic Route technician’s tip: Try an old Land Rover’s transfer box
The transfer box is an essential bit of kit that helps give the Land Rover 90, like Joe Swash’s, serious ability when driving off-road. “It’s a bit like a second gearbox,” explains Iain. “It lets the driver select high or low ratio gearing, and can lock the engine’s power delivery evenly between the front and rear axles.” Check it operates correctly, which means it should engage correctly and disengage smoothly too.
Scenic Route technician’s tip: If you aren’t mechanically minded get expert help
If you feel out of your depth carrying out any of these checks, then you could pay to have the car inspected by any garage that deals with off-road type vehicles on a regular basis. “They’ll know all the weak points of a car like the Land Rover and will be able to give the car a thorough health check,” says Iain. The fee can be deducted from the sale price of the car, if you go ahead and buy it.
Iain Hamilton has been a Green Flag technician for two years. Previously he worked for Nissan, Renault and Audi dealerships