Garrett here again, to give you the rest of the story and the lessons I have learned in fixing up our Defender!
I spent the last few month leading up to our trip frantically trying to get everything in tip top working order. I had to make sure this thing could keep us alive across the roughest territories of southern africa and also make it more comfortable so Tori won’t lose her mind over the 4 months of travel. Part of the deal I made with Tori on buying this thing was that I had to learn how to repair it…. so I had a lot of work to do.
After my first breakdown, I got a real “schooling” in Defender repair and maintenance. I learned that “the head” (the part that controls the valves) needed to be skimmed (shaved down so its flat) because it had become warped from heat. But the bigger problem was that the cylinder had a big scratch in it. This was due to poor maintenance/age of the vehicle….something I should have noticed before buying, The engine would have to be removed, all the accessories unbolted so that the engine block could be re-sleeved (think of replacing the tubes that the pistons slide in). My mechanic friend Trynos assisted with the repairs and arranged for a local machine shop to do the engineering repairs. After these repairs the engine sounded great – YEAH we were back on the road!!!
But then came another lesson: don’t trust a mechanic or a machine shop unless you know how the task should be performed and can supervise. Also make sure they know the specifics needed on your model of vehicle. After these repairs the engine was chewing through oil at a liter per every 100kms… but there were no signs of any big leak. The local Land Rover shop and a trusted mechanic/ friend had both failed in fixing the problem so I resorted to trying to diagnose the problem myself on a South African Land Rover forum called 4x4Community.co.za.
I kept finding responses from a guy called Albert at “Landyluvver” who was very helpful and seemed to know what he was doing. So now instead of having the defender repaired in Gabs I started making 5 hour commutes to Johannesburg to have Albert work on it. Albert took apart the engine and reported that the machine work had been done poorly and not to specs – none of the piston sleeves were the same size and none of them were within the gap tolerance. Typical Botswana! The engine would have to be removed and all the work would have to be redone! GRRRR!
Over the next few months, pretty much every component of the engine was replaced or reconditioned. It is good to know that the car is now basically new and thus should be easy to repair but it was sad to find out that for 80k I could have gotten a newer and tip top shape Defender. In the end I shouldn’t have bought what we have nicknamed “Yellow Peril” but I sure did learn a lot which will hopefully come in handy one day.
Tori has been continually worried about the reliability of the Defender, as it has constantly been in the workshop. So in November when she was on a work trip to Tanzania, I embarked upon a week long repair and driving ‘workshop” with Albert. He was nice enough to put me up at his house so I didn’t have to rent a car and commute from a hotel. I had planned to perform simple cosmetic changes on the defender like adding a light, changing some brake pads but it turned into quite the lesson.
We removed the entire rear axle because the diff was leaking. Instead of repairing it, Albert opted to switch it out for a part from a Land Rover Discovery – they were made in different manufacturing families and the Discovery parts have a better track record for longevity and performance. After the part was switched out, I gave it a test drive and was amazed! The previous clunk (whiplash) that I use to experience while switching gears was gone and the overall ride was smoother and quieter.
I learned how to hotwire the truck if I lost my keys, how to bypass the gas tank in case it sprung a leak, how to change the brake pads, how to roll start the truck, how to change/tighten the prop shaft and engine fan. I wouldn’t say I can “fix it all” after this one week class but I feel that I can direct others into the proper way to perform repairs. This will be vital when we are working with “bush mechanics” in the middle of nowhere during our travels.
As a present to myself I bought a new steering wheel because the original had the consistency of an oreo cookie and particles would constantly be breaking off onto my hands….I also treated myself to some Takla sound/ heat deadening floor mats. Previously, it was so loud inside the cab that you really couldn’t even hold a conversation!
Another improvement we embarked on was the addition of power window and door locks….which, in typical africa fashion, ended up taking 2 days instead of the 2 hours that was promised. Also added solar panels to be can power up the refrigerator as needed in the bush.
As we set out to embark on the ambitious goal of trekking across 8 African countries in the Landy, I am nervous but confident that we will make it. We won’t be the fastest truck out there nor is it the most comfortable…. but if hitting a cow or driving 80kms with a dry radiator won’t stop it, I am confident that eventually we will get to our destination!
I know it will need some love and attention along the way but I cant foresee anything major breaking that would completely put a halt to our trip (knock on wood). Even though it ended up costing much more than expected, I’m glad we stuck with the Defender. It is my dream after all – and you can’t give up on a dream!
Now the only thing missing was coming up with a new name! One of the final touches on the car was a new paint job – we went with a classic Grassmere Green which is a vintage throwback to the original factory color on the prototype models in the 50s. So now we have cast off the “Yellow Peril” and ushered in a new and improved Defender. We have decided to call her “the Boomslanger.” Boomslang is the Africaans name for a venomous snake found in sub-Saharan Africa. I first heard of this snake on a game drive in Madikwe Game Reserve and ever since have thought it was the coolest animal name. Since our Landy is green and we hope it will be tough and protect us like a snake – “the Boomslanger” seemed like a perfect name.
The last finishing touch was of course to get the car kitted out with stickers and logos for our adventure. Getting this kind of thing done in Gabs is an adventure in itself – but with about 7 trips to the “Supa Signs” store we managed to get a semblance of what we had designed put on the car literally within 3 hours of our departure!
So there you have it… my dream fully realized with all the ups and downs that one expects because hey if dreams were so easy to reach that would take all the fun out of life! Now all that is left is to hit the open road and see what this baby can do in the bush!
Here is a list of all the repairs / vehicle modifications we have made:
New Bushing s- assists in the ride comfort
New ball joints track rod ends and track rod
Engine Rebuilt- twice
Turbo rebuild before and after rebuild- it sucked up some sand and pitted the impeller after installation
New gas tank
New Fuel Lifter
Fan and cowling
Rover rear diff
Front and rear brakes and discs
Reconditioned prop- due to the new rear axel/diff it had to be shortened
Used front diff- ours was seized and the U-joints had snapped in half and melted to the gears
Front drivers cv joint- damaged while stuck in the mud
New steering damper- eliminates steering wheel shutter when cruising corrugated roads
New heavy duty alternator- the power draw of the lights and fridge was too much to be able to recharge the leisure battery
New crank(starter) and leisure battery
Cosmetics/ Interior Cabin Modifications:
Windows tinted w anti smash and grab-
Air conditioning- the first motor bearings broke and shot oil and gunk through the system- it was excessively noisy but we thought that was standard, a new compressor motor and some cleaning of the pipes its working flawlessly
Remote door locks
Rubberized the interior from footwell to the rear of the truck floor- reduces noise and heat and dust and makes cleaning easier
Full repaint – from yellow to Grasmere Green (Heritage color) body and Ivory roof
Led lights indicator lights
New front seat cushion
Seat covers and center console covered- ended up going with a custom soft canvas ones that mimic mellvile and moon for a 1/3 of the price. It did take 4 attempts to get everything correct
New Bonnet- other was dented and had a poor bonnet stay- new one was cheaper than repairing the old one
Spare wheel carrier
Front and Rear LED bar lights
Flat glassed headlamps with night breaker bulbs – you can now see a respectable way down the road
Dual battery system with National Luna battery monitor – to assist in powering the lights and fridge.
Lots of hella and other plug
New roof lining- I left mine outside in the weather for 6 months as I was going to rubberize or glue carpets but everyone said it couldn’t be done- so I bought used roof linings from Landyluvver and had them recovered.
New stereo that allows usb flash drive and a new antenna as mine got broken
Slide out drawer- covers the area between the rear wheel arches
Storage box behind divers seat and center console- custom made
Kitchen cupboard utilizing passengers side gullwing – homemade and very spacious hopefully can fit all our food and cooling instruments in here.
New BF Goodrich Tires 235/85/R16
Used bullbar- after hitting the cow it was cheaper to replace than to repair the old one
New hinges and door seals
Bash plate to protect the engine and front driver arms
Roof Rack- Full length used front runner
Roof top tent- Front runner featherlite- bought a used, heavy canvas, Tentco tent but hated the ladder so I sold at a premium in Gaborone and bought the Front runner tent used at their 50% off used sale.
Gas bottle holder
Double 20L Jerry can holder for extra fuel
Transit bag for the roof- not sure what we are going to put in here? some people use them for firewood or charcoal and trash while others use if for pillow and bedding and to hide stuff during border crossings.
Spare wheel carrier mounted to the rear bumper
Spare wheel cover with bag for firewood/ trash
Roof top spare wheel carrier
Tire mounted braai cover
Gulwing doors- instead of the rear windows in the trunk sliding open these instead flip up- giving more access and are more secure- the kitchen is built into the passenger side