We’ve all been there, looking through the listings on eBay and seen something we thought looked good value, made a cheeky bid and unexpectedly won it. Which is fine when it’s say a vintage England shirt or a Super Nintendo, not so much when you find yourself the new owner of 2000 Land Rover Defender TD5 Station Wagon sight unseen.
You quickly start going over the pictures in great detail, hoping it’s not a lemon and then the moment of truth comes when you have to go and pick up the car and hand over the cash. In my case the listing was detailed the car was half the price you’d expect a good example to go for, and it looked good superficially.
Everything wrong with my new Defender
When I picked it up it was SORN’d (legally declared off the road), but it had a valid MOT. The gearbox described as having that whine that all Defenders had was knackered, 1st and 2nd gears were unusable and on the way back via the motorway the whine was very loud.
The rear propshaft was the wrong one for the car, the chassis was in need of TLC, and all the doors on the car were rotten. The previous owner seemed to think wasn’t a big and had bought new door seals and spent hours aligning them, sort of like putting lipstick on a pig (at least I think that’s the saying). I also found with the light rain on the way home that wiper motor was next to dead, the brakes were on the soft side and the car didn’t like driving straight.
Also, the middle row seats (aftermarket Exmoor Trim jobs) are a bit wobbly, the Dog guard squeaked with every twist and turn and the sunroof leaked. We were not off to a great start. It had a brand-new rear door, but no spare wheel carrier. So, the spare took up most of the boot space. It also need to be jump started pretty much every time I went out in it, which turned out to be the battery for the most part, the TD5 engine that comes in this age Defender needs a strong battery to turn over. This being my 3rd TD5 I was used to buying high performance batteries to get them working right.
Turning the Defender into a daily driver was going to take some time and not a small amount of money. Luckily the Defender is well served with aftermarket and OEM parts. My first priority was to get the car driving well, so I took it to a gearbox specialist who agreed to rebuild the gearbox for me. When they took the gearbox out of the car, they spotted a number of bolts missing from the clutch assembly, which they replaced for me, and other small issues which suggested when the previous owner had gotten a new clutch installed that the mechanic that had done the work had cut corners or just didn’t know what they were doing. I’d later find this was a common theme with the car. After the gearbox rebuild the R380 gearbox felt like new, easily the best Defender gearbox I’d experienced.
Next, I tackled the starting issues, got a new battery from Halfords and did the Fuel Injector seals and new Rocker cover gasket (small oil leak was solved with this), although this had been said to have been done I was having my doubts about the quality of the job. This made an immediate difference to the starting, still not perfect but usable.
I fitted a Mantec Spare Wheel carrier next to get back my boot space. This proved a bit of a challenge with the new door (had no holes drilled for the stock carrier) and the aftermarket rear cross-member. But I got it done and it made a big difference to the practicality of the car.
The Land Rover then was put in for a full service and replacement of the rear prop shaft with a brand new one. Progress was being made and I was starting to think I was getting to the point I could use the car regularly, alas it didn’t last very long.
First MOT, the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning
The Defenders MOT soon came around and I had some more jobs I wanted doing, the Drivers door didn’t shut properly, turned out someone at some point had cut off the supports for the top latch and then super glued the surround to the door card as a bodge. The rear driver’s side door had stuck shut, among other things, and needed sorting to pass the MOT.
I got the garage to MOT the car first before doing any work, unfortunately it FAILED massively and was going to need some chassis surgery / welding amongst other things. Not something my garage could do. At this point I didn’t know if I’d need a new chassis (really not cheap) or could get it repaired.
Rock bottom, the only way is up
I hit the internet at this point to see if I could find anyone that could do the repairs I needed to pass the MOT. I couldn’t find any in Lancashire and many of the ones I did find further afield were either mega bucks or booked solid for the year. Fortunately I found one garage willing to take the work on and fit me around his other work.
To be continued…