We’ve been working on a long-term "weekend project" here at Muyshondt that we had hoped to share somewhat earlier, but certain events caused some troublesome delays, but also led to some good opportunities to do a substantially better job.
In June 2017 we purchased a 1986 Land Rover Defender 90. We had spent a while looking for Defenders, and this was, without question, the one. It's a beautiful, British, green box, imported from the UK, and right-hand drive.
Fundamentally, our products are about seeing the world around you. We are all guilty of spending a bit too much time connected, and the point of the Land Rover was (and is!) to be able to see more of the world for ourselves. With visions of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains rolling through our heads, we set off.
It was in good condition overall, considering its age. It started without complaining, it drove straight, it smelled of oil, and was built like a tank. It appeared to have some rough edges – a little rust in the bulkhead corners which we thought we could eventually get patched, a few areas of galvanic corrosion, as well as a few items worse for wear from age, but nothing crazy. I had assumed that after about three months work, we’d have a good, workable adventure mobile, and set out to spruce this old workhorse up.
Problems arose pretty quickly. We ordered an air conditioning kit, which took over two months to be delivered (A common joke for Defenders without air conditioning is to just lower the windows and drive faster). When it arrived the parts included were not for the model truck we had, and we had to wait several more weeks to get the right plumbing fixtures to be able to install it in the engine compartment.
In the meantime, we gutted the vehicle internally – the headliner had had aftermarket speakers installed into it and was sagging heavily from their weight, and had developed a black “patina” from people-oil in the fabric. The previous owner in the UK had replaced the stock seats with racing-style bucket seats, which were, with difficulty, removed from the truck as well. Custom metal plates had been crudely fabricated and welded to accommodate the seat, and it was challenging to get them removed.
1) Look ridiculous
2) Reduce head and leg room by inches
3) Seriously though, racing? In a Defender?
The rear seats and carpeting were pulled out completely, revealing a rear cabin that had seen some solid use doing what these old tanks are best at doing. We cleaned the carpet residue off and coated the entire rear of the truck in bed liner to give it some measure of protection and wear resistance for our activities.
We started finding interesting “hacks” in the car when we got to the rear sliding windows – we removed them, and found that they weren’t stock parts; the previous owner had used a saw to cut slots in the panels to fit in a sloppy manner, and installed the windows aftermarket. Once removed we found uneven cuts, flashing, and general shoddiness that we had to smooth out with a file to prevent accidental cuts.
As we replaced all the lights on the outside, due to crushed and fading plastic domes, we found the vehicle was frankenwired. Switches would activate things in bizarre ways, certain lights would work, or not work, depending on which other lights were, or weren’t, turned on.
Rust. There's more where that came from.
When we finally got all of our air conditioner plumbing parts in, and started wiring it into the fusebox, we found curious issues of sorts. We hadd noticed the car was dirty on the inside when we first bought it, but didn’t really think much of it. It’s an old Land Rover. It likely got used and hadn’t seen a wash in a while, we assumed. It had a fine, uniform layer of dirt in several areas. Pulling the fusebox out, we found a relay for the wiper motor filled with water. It still worked. When we tipped it out, muddy water, similar to the color of the dirt caked in the Defender, seeped out.
Oddly enough, the relay stopped working after it leaked the water out, and was replaced.
In the Defender's defense... The muddy water had it coming.
I suspect, given the dirt on the chassis and body, that the truck at one point found itself partially submerged.
Once the installation the air conditioning unit was done (in what was supposed to be a weekend job that turned into three months due to missing parts), we decided to go and have all the glass replaced – we had purchased new windows for the entire truck from the UK, and had them tinted here in town with some amazing material that blocks something like 97% of incident heat. We loaded up everything into the back of the truck, and I started driving to the glass shop.
I made a mistake.
Installing the AC unit had required changing how the hood latched onto the body. Originally a lever release hood, We had replaced the mechanism with a cable release accessible from the cabin, as the lever release interfered with the radiator for the air conditioner. I didn’t latch the hood correctly before I left to get the glass installed.
Driving down the road at highway speed (despite jokes to the contrary, a Defender will reach 65mph. Eventually.) – the hood quite suddenly and unexpectedly ripped clean off of the front of the truck. In movies and television, the cliché is that an unlatched hood gets picked up a bit by the air, then bounces up and down a few times, before finally just being ripped off to cinematic effect. That didn’t happen.
When the hood came off it, quite luckily, hit the windshield wiper first, which has a quarter inch steel shaft that holds the wiper assembly. The wiper was lost, and the shaft for it bent and mangled, but the impact was fortuitous – it deflected the hood from the windshield, and likely prevented my death. On the way up it further hit the windshield frame, and then, in another stroke of luck, the prop (a piece of steel used normally to just keep the hood open when you’re working in the engine compartment) held strong and prevented the hood from separating completely and possibly hitting another car.
In place of that, I had the world’s worst kite.
Don't try this at home.
The hood was held aloft by the air, anchored by the prop, and spinning around in circles a few feet above my head. I immediately pulled off to the side of the highway, and when the speed got too low, the hood crashed down, smashing into the side of the truck, then into the road, making one of the worst noises I’ve ever heard in my life as the metal was dragged along the road for several feet, like an altogether more discordant and menacing version of nails on a chalkboard.
The hood was toast, but in better condition than expected, considering.
The car has been in the shop getting repaired ever since.
As a result of the accident, we found some additional issues during disassembly, and what originally was intended as a series of fixes to get back on the road quickly evolved into something more complete as we found more interesting and insidious problems to be addressed as pieces of the hull came off.
Until we meet again.
At this point, we’re working on a nearly full restoration of the Defender, with the original look and feel, but with some benefits of modernity and improvements 32 years after it was built.
What will follow is a series of occasional entries here, detailing the bits of the restoration process, both in how we got to where we are today, and new developments as the car starts slowly coming back together. I’m looking forward to sharing the story with you.