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My Adventures with Brenda - Chapter 4

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You may have seen that a battered old Land Rover Defender has replaced James Bond's Aston Martin in the new Bond movie (for a few scenes at least). This prompted us to release the fourth chapter of Stuart Quinn's adventures with his own Defender. After all, if they're good enough for Bond...

Bodywork

I’m having some serious arguments with myself about tyre size. This sounds as boring as you imagine but it affects so many things - ground clearance, fuel economy, suspension geometry, handling etc. so it’s 'a thing'. I need to make a decision soon-ish as I need to know before I can rebuild anything as it dictates suspension which needs to go on before engine and gearbox go back in which needs to happen before any bodywork goes on... I’m obviously getting ahead of myself though.

Being November, it’s dark when I get home from work. And it’s cold. And usually raining. It’s a real effort to motivate myself to get changed and go outside to keep working on Brenda. Once I’m out there and working, it’s not too bad as I don’t feel the cold after a few minutes but motivating myself to do battle with more rusty bolts is getting hard. The warmth of my living room, welcoming glow of the TV and a nice hot cup of tea make a very tempting alternative. My new chassis, bulkhead and doors have all arrived. They took a while and cost a small fortune but they’re here. Everything arrives as bare metal and given Land Rovers propensity to rust away to nothing, they very much need to be painted before I can use them. This leads me onto the theme for the month – bodywork.

The rear tub (that’s the boxy bit behind the driver’s seat) has some “tree sliders” bolted through them. ‘Tree sliders’ are basically thick steel tubes on the outside of the car (the black bit pictured under the rear window) that are supposed to rub up against tree trunks (assuming you get that close) to stop the tree scraping the body. I’ve removed these & have no intention of putting them back on as they’re both ugly and in the wrong place, but the holes the bolts went through the tub are still there.


Apart from the holes, the rear tub is pretty dinged up. The metal has been battered over the years of abuse so the bits that are supposed to be perpendicular are now curvy. Brenda has also got aluminium checker plate (the silvery bits you can see on the bonnet) all over the place. This is riveted on so will be leaving lots of little holes all over the bodywork when it gets removed…

Finally, it’s white. It has these stickers over the back that make this black/grey/white camo thing too… some people may like it but I’m not a fan of either the white or the ‘camo’. I want it green. Not like an ‘army’ green as this would look silly & may make border guards overly suspicious. I poured over car colours online (which I know is daft because you can’t really tell what it’ll really look like on a computer screen!) and I settled on “Keswick Green”. This turned out to be a colour Land Rover previously used on the Defender and Keswick is one of my favourite places so it seemed serendipitous!

All of this and the other things previously described means a lot of work. The holes need to be filled in with bits of aluminium and welded. Then they have to be ground flat (using our favourite tool – the grinder!) so they become imperceptible. The entire car needs to be sandblasted, then any corrosion cut out and fresh metal welded in, then these welds ground flat, then panels straightened, then primed and finally painted. I don’t have a sandblaster… or a welder… and I can’t straighten body panels … or paint. I decided I need a professional.

When I was first looking for a Landy, I had spoken to a few specialists in my local area about sourcing a Defender with a 300Tdi (a specific engine they made back in the 90’s. I’ll go into this another time). In my chats with them, I described my wildly optimistic plans and a few had mentioned “Leaf Sprung Landys” as being superb if I needed help and/or work done on the body. I had a hunt around for them online but only found a facebook page, not a proper website. This struck me as odd – why wouldn’t a company have a proper website?! On their page though, they have pictures of the work they’ve done and it looked like these guys know what they’re doing…

Having now reached the point where the bodywork needs done, I remembered their name so I checked out some forums. Everything I read was positive and on one forum (I think it was www.landyzone.co.uk) I read a story about a Land Rover event where a chap couldn’t get his old (1960’s) Land Rover started. On his forum post he was thanking loads of people who had pitched in to help get him back on the road to go home – I hear it’s normal for Land Rover owners to help each other like this. One person singled out though was the owner of Leaf Sprung Landys. He had a spare part or two with them and worked hours to fit them and sort the problem. He then refused to take a penny in compensation… This sounded like the kind of guy I wanted to work with.

I chatted with the owner (Jim) from Leaf Sprung and described all the problems I have found. Nothing seemed to faze him. When I described the bent roof line, he just replied nonchalantly with “yeah, we can sort that”. An appointment was made and I rented a van to take all the bits to him. Once you take all the body off a Defender, it seems to take up more space than the original Defender did. I don’t know if this is true of all cars but it was so voluminous it filled the largest van I’m allowed to drive.

Once there, Jim was good enough to show me his workshop and other things he was in the midst of doing. His work was/is awesome. He has built his own 6x6 recovery Land Rover – go and check it out on his website, it is bright yellow and amazing! He showed me a Series 2 he was working on (built between 1958 and 1961) and some sheet metal (2mm thick) that he had just patched. He had blended the seam with a grinder so well, you can’t tell where the old metal ends & the new metal begins & this was before it was even painted. This may not impress many people (especially if you don’t appreciate cars & the like) but to me, this is alchemy.

I left Brenda with Jim with instructions for ‘good as new and Keswick Green please’. He told me it’ll be done by the end of January. This made me feel better as the professional was telling me 6-8 weeks just for the body which put things into perspective - 3 months to dismantle it doesn’t seem so bad now. The only other November news is that my engine has been rebuilt and returned to me. It’s currently bolted to an engine stand missing lots of parts needed to make it run – fuel pump, timing belt etc. – but that’s all a job to be done after the chassis is sorted. Next job is removing the old axles (the bit the wheels fix on to) and stripping them of suspension, steering arm, brake callipers, drive flanges, drive shafts, wheel bearings, cv joints etc. etc. etc. while outside… in December…
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