Finding a needle in a haystack

4th November, 2015Posted in: Defender, Latest

Finding a needle in a haystack

Words by Paul Murrell, Practical Motoring

These days, about the most difficult thing about restoring a Land Rover Defender is finding an owner willing to part with one.

This was the challenge facing ARB in Canning Vale, Western Australia. ARB’s Canning Vale Team Leader Aaron Nott pointed out that “The Defender is the kind of vehicle that owners are a little bit partial to, so they’re very hard come by in a reasonable condition.” It took the ARB WA team a bit over 6 months to find their beloved Defender – much like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The search involved various online and print sources, but people were very reluctant to part with their much-loved Defenders. Many were in such pristine condition they were too expensive for what ARB needed as a project; others were so far gone that they would blow the budget allocated for repairs. One “gem” they found looked like it was only being held together by the cobwebs!

They found one on a classifieds website that looked like it might fit the bill, but it was already sold, sight unseen, within 30-minutes of listing. However, the ARB team wasn’t easily dissuaded, so they continued their search and located a 1995 model that they arranged to view the day after it was listed. After making an offer, they had the basis of their project, a 1995 Defender 110. Aaron explains, “We ended up with a pretty decent specimen for its age.”

The vendor had bought the Landie from an “older gent” in the Serpentine/Jarrahdale area of the Perth Hills, as indicated by the “SJ” prefix on the registration plate. As so often happens, the Defender was bought with the intention of retirement travels, in this case through WA’s Goldfields regions to do a little prospecting, but age caught up with the owner so he put it up for sale and ARB WA snapped it up for $9500 to restore it to its former glory.

Defenders are well known for their aluminium bodies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t rust in the main body sections. This one had some rust, but it was limited to the footwells, unlike some others that ARB rejected that required a complete firewall replacement. As well as attending to the footwell rust, there was a dent on the rear quarter that needed attention.

Mechanically, the Defender was in pretty reasonable shape for a 20-year old workhorse and with 250,000km on the odometer, it didn’t need extensive engine rebuilding. However, immediately after the paperwork was done and the handover completed, on the drive back to ARB Canning Vale the engine developed a rather ominous knock and the vehicle lost all brake pressure. It was nursed back to the workshop where it was quickly discovered that the vacuum pump had died. The pump is cam-driven and the return spring had failed, causing the actuator arm to “bounce” off the cam. A simple replacement of the booster brought it back to rude good health.

Closer inspection revealed that the Defender was essentially complete and had been only slightly modified from standard over the years with an aftermarket bulbar, homemade roof rack, a very old UHF radio, a set of small Hella spotlights and an aftermarket stereo, all of which were easily converted back to standard. The wheels were the once-very-popular Sunraysia rims that had replaced the buckled originals. The plan was to replace these modifications with far more suitable products from the ARB catalogue.