Project ReSpenny: Day 2

Even getting the rebuild started, minor as the task was, last night felt like a huge accomplishment. My whole attitude towards the truck has now changed for the better. What was once a hulk that I had jammed in the corner of the driveway to get to eventually is now something that’s a real proposition with a future. Yeah, it was just two pieces of wood that I unscrewed last night. But I unscrewed them with intent and purpose I didn’t have before.

I’ve been reading up on the entire process of the body swap, as well as the components of stripping the interior out. It definitely is a major task, and perhaps slightly more major than I anticipated. But at the end of the day, it’s unscrewing, unbolting, unplugging — and documenting and labelling, the most important parts. There are so many odd discrepancies in Range Rover Classic wiring harnesses. Between electrics and mechanicals, there were tons of mid-year changes in these trucks. Things got stowed away and spliced in in all sorts of odd places.

I had bigger goals tonight, but I got home from work very close to dark, and by the time I ate and changed, it was effectively dark. But the goal of the project is at least one item on the list completed every night, and so tonight’s goal got reduced to just removing the driver’s knee board.

Around 2011, I added a CB radio in the truck — a big, honking, chrome-trimmed Cobra unit I got on eBay. At that point, it was no big deal to just drill into the dash panel to install a bracket to hold it…so I did that. Now, as I undid those self-tapping screws, I thought of how that panel is probably worth a hundred dollars or more without those holes. But no matter in this case, I’m putting it back soon enough in the rebuilt truck.

Breaker breaker niner niner!

Tossing out Benjamins…I worked my way around, and finally got the kick panel out, with a bit of massaging to get it fully free without breaking the fragile plastic. The whole thing has little acorns living in the foam. With the moisture that’s been hanging out in here, the dirt, and being 25 years old, I’m going to think about how to replace this foam stuff. It’ll be at the mirror end of the project in many months, so it’s not urgent, but this is a bit janky.

The moisture inside the truck in general isn’t great at all, and I’m going to really have to pay attention to wiring and textiles to prevent issues after reassembly. But that attention to detail is what excites me about this project, honestly. With the truck already laid up for years, my OCD can go wild.

And there is a LOT of wiring. The black box with “RANGE ROVER” on it is the alarm ECU module. I’m not sure it even has a bracket holding it in. They seem to have just jammed it in a corner. If only I had the remote to go with it! Maybe I’ll seek one out as a finishing touch at the end.

“Hey, Donnie, think it can go there?” “Sure. To the pub!”The panel is out, another step done. Tomorrow, since I’m working home on a nice sunny day, I’m planning to get a little more progress. But it’s a journey, not a race, as my friend/accountability partner Nathan said, and the goal is to not break anything and enjoy the journey.

Because breaking stuff gets expensive now that people actually love these great trucks.

Another piece out.

Project ReSpenny: Day 1

The first piece, removed.
The first piece, removed.

Now that I’ve introduced Project ReSpenny, it’s time to begin the accountability blog. This is a large-scale project, and to keep it on pace requires doing a little something every day.

The advantage this project has over my Discovery 1 rebuild before the Mother Country Trail trip is that the Range Rover Classic is very clearly not my daily driver. Things can come apart and sit for a bit without worrying about getting to work. Jobs can be done properly and thoroughly with serious attention to detail.

The other advantage to this is that I can really pace the entire project around my life. Preparing for the cross-country trip was difficult, as I tried to balance work and an impending to-do list. But this project can go at a more relaxed pace. Since I know that I can get home late from work a lot, often very stressed, I’ve decided that the goal is that I have to do one task — only one task — a night. The first step of the project is to disassemble the dashboard assembly.

The dashboard on a Range Rover Classic is notoriously delicate. A bunch of hard plastic and wood pieces held together by screws, it’s part of the gloriously primitive nature of the RRC. However, a quarter of a century later, a lot of these hard plastic pieces have a tendency to crack as you try to take them apart. A few cracked tabs and the whole dash will never fit together quite right ever again.

The first piece to take off is the wood fascia that holds the air conditioning vents — a glorious slab of “Mediterranean Poplar” veneer, unique to the 1993 Range Rover Classic County LWB. Some things on the truck are not in great shape, but this veneer actually is pretty nice all things considered. It’s held on by 15 screws between two sections, but somehow when I got everything out of there I only had about half as many — and none of them matched. Needless to say, I’ll be replacing hardware as part of the project.

The rest of the fascia panel looks decent. There are brackets that hold it to the plastic, and they do have some surface rust. But I can definitely tidy that a bit and paint them up again to prevent further moisture damage. They’re screwed on to the back of the fascia with little tiny screws, which are probably best left undisturbed.

Do Not Poke the Bear...
Do Not Poke the Bear…

Removing these two panels took about ten minutes, and then about fifteen more to package up the screws, tidy the fascias a bit, and put them in the back of the truck for storage. But sub-half-hour tasks are perfect for this endeavor. They’re the kinds of things I can do even if it was a really long, stressful day at work.

Tomorrow’s goal is to take off the dash top — nothing more. The goal is to post here to maintain accountability, in addition to reporting to some fellow Range Rover Classic fan friends on progress. The posts are going to be titled with “Day X,” but those days need not be consecutive. Every time I do just a little bit, it counts as one of the #SpennyDaysandNights that make up this project.

Day 1 Result.
Day 1 Beginning.
Day 1 Result. Yes, I know the steering wheel is more than a bit mildew-y…but it’s been flaking in my hands for years, and I’m hoping to put an 80s 4-spoke on there!
Organizational tactics.

Project ReSpenny: The Plan

In February 2007, my parents bought me a 1993 Land Rover Range Rover County LWB. It came from a fellow Land Rover owner in Virginia, it had lived its life between New Jersey and Washington, D.C., and though it needed a little work, it was a solid truck. A fourteen-year-old modern classic, the Rangie got me through high school and college, and was my gateway drug into the Land Rover community.

But I didn’t really know what I was doing with these things until a few years hanging around the Land Rover community hands-on. One thing I didn’t get was where and how badly these things can rust. So, in oblivion, I continued driving it around the salty Northeast, as crossmembers and sills and body mounts started to chip away.

Finally, in early 2015, I realized that my beloved Range Rover Classic needed a lot of repairs. It was rusting. It needed a brake job. I kept having to replace the exhaust to pass emissions. I’d gone through several pretty bad ignition issues that had led to some tense off-road group trips. The driver’s door was literally falling off. It was time to get a new daily driver, so I got my Discovery 1, a project on its own. I rebuilt it, drove it around the Northeast, did a lot of work, drove it to California, and decided that now I felt pretty good about myself and wanted to deal with the old RRC.

At this point, the rust has gotten pretty bad from sitting off to the side of the driveway for several years. The sills are totally soft; the bottom of the A-pillar on the driver’s side having fallen on the ground of its own volition. I have a welder, but it’s clear the only rational solution here is to do a frame-up rebuild with a new body shell from a truck being otherwise scrapped. The chassis is pretty good, and many body sections are surprisingly solid, but what’s bad is very bad and above my beginner’s skill set.

Body swaps, however, seem not that difficult, in a relative way. They do it a lot in the United Kingdom, with both Range Rover Classics and Discoverys. It’s even common now with the Discovery Series II here; a poor-quality rear frame section design means a lot of really solid bodies and drivetrains are getting new galvanized chassis underneath them. So…why not my truck?

The plan is a Northeast-proof truck. At the least, I will be galvanizing the frame. I’d love to galvanize the new bodyshell, something that some people have, in fact, done. Everything will get rust-prevention coatings. All of the rubber will be new from bushings to belts and hoses. Some parts will be off-road uprated, and as that part of the project comes along, cash permitting it may become a mid-tier off-road beast. The interior will get renovated some. The entire truck will get a ten-foot paint job — the best part about a Range Rover Classic is that the body panels bolt to the inner bodyshell, so while the core of the truck won’t be mine, the outside will be almost all original material, my dents and all. Only thing is, I’ve always hated the Beluga Black, so I’m thinking a change of shade might be in order.

This is not a minor task. It’s not an economically intelligent task, perhaps. I could have one of my friends from the Mendo_Recce list in California find me a stunning western Range Rover Classic, truck it home or have another epic roadtrip, and drive it here. But just one winter stored outside, driving on salty highways, will send it down the same path. The only way to have your cake and eat it too is to do something like this — a frame-off no-holds-barred winter defense.

When I took this truck off the road in the spring of 2015, this whole project was an optimistic pipe dream. It’s a pathetically sentimental endeavour, for sure; I’ve tried and failed to junk this truck several times now as it’s sat in the driveway stationary.

Now, three years later, I’m ready to tackle it and see every challenge that it can bring on. I love nothing more than blazing trails in the Land Rover world, and this is a great chance to go off-piste.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-30: Sealing the Deal, Part 1

Snow fell on New Jersey again, but this time it didn’t seem to match the forecast in a good way, not a bad one. A few inches certainly accumulated, but it hasn’t matched the fury of a few weeks ago. So, with electricity powering the lights, heater and stereo in the garage, it was time to dive back into the case.

First I sealed the rear housing with The Right Stuff. I got it in a 5 oz. caulk gun package, which makes it a lot easier to dispense. Then the bolts were torqued and I attached the front housing.

Once I had the front housing attached, I continued through the order of operations in the manual. Now, the manual is designed for use in a dealer service bay setting, I assume with a full set of factory tools, parts, and components on hand. One of these components is a core plug that goes in the end of the differential lock shaft. I’m pretty OCD about this stuff, but even that is a bit beyond my level of detail. I smacked and torqued the front housing on only to see the error of doing things “in order.”

So, off the front housing came, and I rebuilt the diff lock selector fork to spec. At this point, the old Right Stuff, which now had to be cleaned off to re-attach the housing, hadn’t even dried yet, so I decided to wrap for the night and deal with it tomorrow when it would be easier to clean off.

This is how I felt after all this.

The good thing is, at this point, if I have no further issues, I think this can be sealed up tomorrow, and I can turn to the transmission fixes over the next few days. On the one hand, I’m stressing the timeline; on the other, I’m looking at the list, and this is the biggest chunk. There’s a lot of transmission work as part of this, which is new territory for me, but after that’s done and the bottom of the truck is buttoned up, what should be left is a lot less dirty and a lot less intense. At some point, I’ll also get into interior prep for the journey, which is the fun part! I have to start thinking up what to do there so my dad and I can fire up the Walker-Turner in a few weeks and fab up a sleeping/storage setup. At some point I want to fab up a really nice semi-permanent setup, but before I make that investment I think it’s a good idea to experiment with a few ideas and see what works in the field.

We’re just over four weeks, but everything is fine.

Soundtrack: Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms; Green Day, American Idiot

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-31: I Think I Can

With no curling this weekend, I really dove into the Disco. Today is a month even to go, and it’s starting to feel a bit real.  I’m leaving on the 20th, and it was the 20th today.

Thus the pace quickens. I’d like to do some kind of test run at least two weekends before. I’m considering two Rover events — one in Quebec, one in Virginia — and a few more likely ~600 mile weekend runs. I may tinker with the National Park Service unit map and see if I can plot out how to knock off a few new ones in a weekend trip, especially because doing things like that regularly in this truck is part of the goal of this project.

I decided the primary goal this weekend was to remove the old transfer case, transfer the necessary items to the new transfer case, and get the new transfer case fully assembled and sealed with the combined components. This was partially accomplished within the traditional bounds of “the weekend.” So, into the garage Duncan went again, for at least a week of driveline surgery.

First, it was time to drop the exhaust, and this is where I found out that my exhaust patch from a few weeks ago was, in fact, the snake oil I thought it was. I figured this had probably happened when I drove on the Interstate for the first time and it got very noticably louder, but a visual confirmed it.

And so disassembly began. First I dropped the swaybar to allow the Y-pipe to come out, then once the exhaust was down (easy as I’d already undone all the problem fasteners a few weeks ago), it was on to one of my least favourite jobs on a Rover, disconnecting propshafts. Thanks to the one tool that every Land Rover owner should have, it was way easier than it could be, but still took almost an hour to do both. Finally, they were both down, the necessary bolts retained, and it was onward.

Thanks to the modification I did last year to the centre console, replacing the rivets holding the covers for the transmission and transfer case shifters in place with rivnuts and screws, I made quick work of exposing the shift linkage. I was happy to see the lithium grease in the shifter pivot assembly somewhat holding up after a year, though I will renew it when I put this all back together, and pack in a bit more overflow!

Next was the centre removable crossmember under the transmission. This can be a notorious right royal PITA. It took me about 45 minutes to get the eight bolts off, and I had to cut one off with the die grinder, so I guess I should figure out what size that was and call up McMaster Carr. Then it was some smacks with the sledgehammer, spread the frame with the Big Red hydraulic ram, and it came off, to expose this horrifying sight underneath. Certainly the truck will already require some welding when I get home, but since this is covered with the crossmember, which bridges this hole and inherently stabilises it, I’m going to pretend it isn’t there until the Summer of Bodywork commences on arrival at home.

The final act of Saturday was pulling the handbrake drum off the back and removing the rear output flange; it’s quite frankly nicer than the one on the Q box, so I’ll probably reuse it (especially as it has nice zinc coated Grade 8 bolts that I put on!). At this point, I started to see just how grimy thousands of miles of gear oil spraying everywhere can be. On the plus side, this must have helped to mitigate some rust that otherwise might have been. After everything’s together (by which time the string of Nor’Easters hitting us “should” have stopped), I’ll powerwash it all heavily.

I tucked it in for Saturday, got to bed at midnight, and planned a continuation of activities for Sunday. The Fitzgerald family had tacos for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, having realised after decades that we don’t really love corned beef and cabbage.

Sunday it was back to work, and time to disconnect the box. I undid the shifter linkage completely, removed the input gears, loosened all of the bolts securing the transfer box to the transmission, and detached the transfer case mount bracket from the chassis. At this point, I looked at all of this and decided that I am a man of little upper body strength, and perhaps it might be worth it to pony up for a transmission jack, instead of using what my friend Rob called “the sea otter procedure.” So, it was off to Harbor Freight, land of cheap tools that might kill you, but you’re only using them once so you’ll take the risk to save a few bucks. Forty-five minutes later, I returned from Harbor Freight (the former Saturn of Green Brook, with the service department hours still posted on the side door) with a lighter wallet and the relative guarantee I wouldn’t be tapping my ER deductible for caving my chest in.

I detached everything, and had my dad come and supervise from the top while I wiggled the case off the bolts. This went great until I hung up on the stud on the top right. In retrospect, I should have removed the rubber transfer case mount and its bracket from the case, as I ended up wedging it against the chassis. But it was getting late, I was wiped, and I had laid waste to my body today, so I washed up and left it for later.

Monday I went to the office, and had a bit of discomfort with some more repetitive copy-paste coding things, having wrecked my hand over the weekend. I got home late and couldn’t get too much on the truck, unfortunately.

But I was pretty excited, because my bulk pack of Powerspark Red distriutor rotors came from England. The current crop of Genuine Land Rover distributor rotors is, in a word, crap, so this company has stepped in with an aftermarket replacement. I personally don’t need them right now, but I’ll carry them with me across, as a few Mendonites are looking to tinker with ignition issues and have called dibs. They have had some good reviews with their earlier products for other British marques.

Tuesday, I decided that I needed to motivate myself more to get this done, so into the garage again. I decided that part of my alignment issue was that I was trying to drag the case out with the rubber mount and bracket dragging on the chassis. But…I was in a Catch-22, because the nuts for the mount had been on there for a while, and were attached to a very flexible bit of rubber, keeping me from being able to apply the necessary torque to liberate them.

The transmission jack was helpful, but the transfer box is mounted at an angle, so it didn’t totally fit on the flat jack plate. The service manual directed the dealership to fabricate an elaborate, angeled bracket to remove them, but I can’t weld yet, and I don’t think it’d mate to my jack, so my dad and I fabbed something up on his pre-WWII Walker-Turner table saw.

I took this outside, but it didn’t help. Finally, I felt the energy of despair and rage build me and I gave a Herculian shove as my dad stood above through the hatch prising the case from the transmission. And then, we were free of the input shaft, and I lowered the old case in glory!

With the driveshafts, transfer case, and exhaust gone, there’s so much space for activities!

Now to the next step: finishing the build of the new Q box. I now have the old box down and can pillage everyhing I need from it. I started tidying the mating surfaces with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper and brake cleaner. Tomorrow, assuming the latest Nor’Easter doesn’t send us back into refuge across town at our friend’s house, I’ll start sealing it up.

 

Soundtrack:

Saturday, 17 March: Donna the Buffalo, Live from the American Ballroom; Skinny Lister, Forge & Flagon; N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton.

Sunday, 18 March: Culture Club, Colour by Numbers; Elton John, Too Low for Zero.

Tuesday, 20 March: Billy Joel, The Stranger

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-36: Out-Putting

The electricity now restored and civilization restored to the homestead, it was time to really crank up the action.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was lost to a pretty massive migraine. On Wednesday, I decided it might be a good idea to print out the LT230Q repair manual at the office, and look at it on paper, instead of on my phone. When I started really leafing through it, I realized there was a sort of order of operations I was only half following, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon, better late than never.

First up was disassembling the front output housing completely. I took the flange off using one of my favorite tricks — 30mm socket on an impact gun, nevermind the special flange grabbing tool mentioned in the manual — and pulled the various internals in the prescribed order of operations.

Next was measuring tolerances and cleaning things up. It probably wasn’t necessary to measure the width of the openings in the finger of the high-low mechanism, especially since the truck this came out of was apparently a street truck, but why not?

Next up was replacing the output seal. The old one probably didn’t need replacing, but I wanted to do it. I pulled the old with a seal puller, and greased up the new one.

As I was doing this, I realized I actually already had had one on hand. A few years ago I was going to redo the rear output seal because of what I thought was a leak, and I bought a pattern flange from Bearmach via LRDirect. I never used it, but I thought I’d take a peek at the seal and compare and contrast. I was very disappointed in it, and also in the flange (Bearmach has really upped their game in the past few years, and has become a huge North American community supporter, so they may well be better now), so I decided that the Bearmach flange had a perfect life as a flange seating tool, since I don’t have the $1,000 of official service tools to do this job exactly as per the manual!

It was now time for the most basic beginning of the reassembly process. I picked up Loctite 290 on Amazon, the factory spec item, unavailable at my local hardware store. It’s the “wicking grade” stuff, and green, and it’s way, way thinner than the usual red or blue stuff I use. Little things like this I think are worth the spend to do these jobs you don’t want to do again unnecessarily! I just used it on the set screw for the finger of the high-low housing, but even that little bit gave me a sense of accomplishment.

At some point, in the middle of a trippy Grateful Dead jam, I looked at my phone and realized it was 1:00 AM. Since I had work in the morning, I packed it in and headed to bed, which was a bit of a waste of productive time for this insomniac as I wasn’t asleep until 3:00 AM.

Thursday night, against my better health interests, it was back to the garage to disassemble the rear housing. I am not disassembling the center differential or touching anything that involves bearings, races, or preloads, as much as that’s possible. I do have an ambition to get an Ashcroft ATB center diff next year, so I figure I’ll do bearings when I rebuild the case again to install that.

I wrapped up about 11:30 PM, having gotten to the stage of test fitting the front output housing. At this point, the box has to get set aside, and I have to get the truck into the garage on Friday to begin the fortnight or so of major work underneath. I need to pull a few things off of the old transfer case, so it’s time to get dirty and upside down. I’m going to miss working on the bench…

This weekend is extremely ambitious. I have no curling plans — we have a women’s bonspiel at my club — so I have two full days to just work. The goal is to take 500-mile round shakedown run the weekend of 7-8 April, so I have to get cracking.

Soundtrack:

14 March: A combination of 1970s and 1980s hits, starting with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at full volume and ending with Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels”

15 March: City Kids Feel the Beat, on recommendation of Bruce Fowler

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-39: Unplugged

All was set. Wednesday afternoon, a large order from Atlantic British, facilitated by the inimitable Eric “Extension 231” Riston, was to arrive by FedEx. New exhaust, new transmission and transfer case parts, a new door latch — the final major spend of the pre-trip project.

At the same time, a Nor’Easter was to arrive, dumping some snow on us. My figuring was that we’d get some snow, but as the packages arrived around 1PM, I remained optimistic that it wouldn’t be too bad. There were no trees down, and really not that much snow compared to the forecast, so I took a photo, put it on Instagram, took the packages inside, and went back to working from home.

I noticed the snow coming sideways at some point, and realized that my dad was making a lot of noise for a long time with the snowblower outside. But I didn’t think too much of it — I was deep in a few major, time-sensitive projects. Then I looked outside, and…wow. There was going on two feet of thick, heavy snow that had fallen in just a few hours.

As the storm started tapering down, I thought that we might have gotten lucky and kept our power through the wind and falling trees. I felt lucky, grateful. Then, at 5:30 PM, just as I hit send on an email, the lights went out.

Now, after Hurricane Sandy, a lot of people installed whole-house natural gas generators, but we never got around to it. Fortunately, our family friend Cathy, who lives across town, did. And so, we encamped to her house and her fabulously decorated guest rooms as refugees for four days.

This, clearly, impeded progress on the trip prep repairs. And so, my transfer case sat there half rebuilt, my small parts from Rovers North for it sitting next to the collection of new Atlantic British acquisitions. And so I waited, as the days to go ticked to less than 40.

Tonight, with the power back, I took the opportunity to get back in the garage and get to work on the intermediate shaft. On the LT230Q, the shaft is sleeved by a collapsible spacer, which I bought a new one of from Rovers North. The staked nut on the end of the shaft was sort of tight, the only rusty fastener I’ve really encountered on this box, so it’s also getting replaced. I got some assistance from my dad to hold the box down with a clamp and his arm while I cranked with the breaker bar and 30mm socket, and slowly it came off. Then I removed the aligning plate and drifted the shaft out with a brass drift. We looped some baling wire around the intermediate gears to keep them from dropping (as per overhaul manual spec) and slid the shaft out, then removed the gears and bearings carefully.

First, I cleaned everything with a brass wire brush. Next, I replaced the O-rings in the kit I got from AB, coating them in a moly lube, and then cleaned things up for the rest of the night. Each of the bolt holes needs to be cleaned out of old Loctite, especially as some of them go through right into the main chamber of the case. Tomorrow, I have some cans of The Right Stuff coming for the sealing — after reading up, this seems the best solution for this situation. From there, I’ll begin the reassembly process tomorrow.

There’s a lot of time to compensate for — I lost three work nights and two very valuable weekend days. I’m getting a little nervous about the timescale, but just diving in tonight helped me out a lot there.

Soundtrack: Skinny Lister, “Down on Deptford Broadway.” I’m usually listening to something in the garage or on the road so I thought I’d add a touch and mention it in the blogs.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-45: A Transfer of Goals

This weekend I started diving into the LT230Q box I picked up two weeks ago in Connecticut. This is one of the core repairs for the Discovery for the trip. Mine is leaky, groany, and unrefined.

Since I’d far rather not have my car resemble a retirement community Hooters tagline, I’ve started rebuilding the new box with new seals. I ordered a gasket kit from Eric “Extension 231” Riston at Atlantic British, as well as some Hylomar Blue. Then I read online and saw that these items are not suggested for the later LT230s, which were assembled with an RTV-like sealant. Because I spent money on gaskets and opened the package, I’m considering doing the gaskets on the covers that may need removal on the trail, and use Permatex Aviation Gasket Maker on the other surfaces (output housings and PTO covers).

Of course, the Internet being the Internet, every time I read things about sealants, I enter a deep phase of self-doubt. Then I ask friends, and they all give me different answers. I am locked into a mental battle of who I trust more. Finally, I decided to settle on the Aviation Gasket Maker. For now. Someone mentioned using silk thread to assist it in sealing. I never thought I’d maybe have to go to Fabricland to get Rover repair materiel.

I disassembled the box, which I think has been disassembled before. The bolts, while all correct in size, are of two different flange styles. No big deal really, except for my OCD. Everything looks good inside, and the quieter gears and cross-drilled input gears will be a boon for longevity and comfort.

It took most of Saturday to tear the box down, and most of Sunday to clean it up. But no matter, I was jamming out in the garage to a mix of Bowie, Paul Simon, and some of the K-Pop I’ve gotten curious about thanks to PyeongChang 2018. Working on the trucks is extremely therapeutic for me, so I don’t really mind taking the time. That said, I’m looking forward to the Disco being a solid daily driver, and getting that therapy out of the Range Rover this summer.

I’m trying to use as many of the seals and gaskets and O-rings in the kit as I can, in the camps of “not doing this again” and “getting my money’s worth.” I even replaced the O-rings in the CDL selector, and measured the fingers with calipers to confirm they were inside of factory spec. This is again really because I’m OCD, and I’m convinced that that .001″ is a life-and-death kind of thing.

Tomorrow, I get a new staked nut and collapsible spacer from Rovers North to redo the O-rings on the intermediate shaft, and I hope to get that done and move on to completing the project by the end of the work week. I have a birthday drinks night on Friday and curling on Saturday, and then the hope is that Sunday I pull the car into the work bay of the garage and start on the major underpinnings rebuild. (Sorry Mother, two more weeks in the driveway, but I’m “sure” I’ll be “done” taking your garage over after this for the “long term.”)

This is the crunch. I want March to be about sorting driveline, April about details and comfort. The driveline stuff has driven me insane since I got the truck, and it’s core to the whole concept of the trip. I’m fine driving 16-hour days, but it’s so much easier to do so without a little rumble freaking me out in the back of my head. I’d rather spend those hours listening to podcasts, talking to friends on the phone, and coming up with ideas for novels.

I’m starting to freak out a tiny bit about the timeline. Hitting 45 days is a bit of a milestone. I know that tomorrow at the office, I’ll send invoices that’ll get paid on time while I’m away. Little things that start to make you think…it’s closer than I thought. (Of course, taking two weeks off at a small business has led to some planning already going into place, thus the mindset.)

Coming soon are some large parts orders, a new pack of work T-shirts, and a lot of sealant of all flavours.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-53: Rust Gets in Your Eyes

This truck is going to drive me to drink — and I don’t mean the cases of LaCroix that I’m killing working on it night after night to prep for the Mother Country Trail. (I hate the fact that this stuff is a hipster icon, but it’s actually not bad, and sugar and sodium free. Also, it’s easy to get at Costco, so I’m stuck with its affected neon cans and the six pack of grapefruit that comes in the Costco pack. I refuse to call it the stuck-up “pamplemousse” it says on the can, and I often pepper my sentences with French.)

The great enemy of the Disco is rust, the silent killer which has taken so many fantastic Discoverys and Range Rover Classics to their crunchy death in this area. Now, Duncan isn’t as bad as Spenny, my 1993 Range Rover Classic County LWB. Spenny’s in such bad shape that the bottom of the driver’s side A pillar has dropped out. I plan to fix Spenny. I bought a welder. I did not buy classes at the local trade school in advanced automotive welding. Yet. Spenny is my summer project.

They say Land Rover has been making owners into mechanics since 1948, but mine are going to get me ASE Certified.

The quest against rust begins at the rear axle. Like many parts of the Land Rover drivetrain, these are somewhat overbuilt. They’re floating axles, which means that if you break an axle shaft, the wheel will not fall off, which is a good thing. The casings are strong cast iron. The unique trailing arm and A-frame links make it very flexible.

On this robuste et bien construit platform, Land Rover capped the differential with a steel cap that is slightly thicker than a Solo cup. After 24 years in the Northeast, this has perforated a little. When it perforates, a constant stream of 80W90 gear oil slowly drips out of it, leaving a calling card wherever I go. I’ve left my mark across New Jersey, from the liquor store to the supermarket to the curling club. Finally, I just ran it dry, and learned that this mostly kills a differential in about 7,000 miles, which is honestly far more than I expected. A crappy diff made it all the way to southwest Virginia and Ohio for the Mid-Atlantic Rally in October, so just think of the possibilities with a good one!

Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.
Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.

Since the goal of this project is to minimize downtime, I got another axle casing from a Land Rover owner in New York who was breaking a 1995 Range Rover Classic, and carried them around in the back of the truck for two months instead of being proactive and working on them. Finally, I got sick of the rear drivetrain rumbling more than a 747 down the runway at Kennedy, and I stripped down, primed up, and painted up the new axle. Following this, I rebuilt the components, swapping over my brakes, hubs, (new) differential, brake pipes, (new) ABS sensors, and diff breathers. This took three weeks in between working in the city, my other life obligations, and being exasperated when I got home from work some nights.

About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.
About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.

 

This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.
This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.

Finally, the new rear axle was attached, torqued, and ready to go. I drove the truck up and down the street, was happy. I drove it to curling on the back roads, felt courageous, and drive it home on the Interstate.

Now this was all well and good; it was far less rumbly on the road, and I was no longer flooding the parking lot of the curling club with gear oil. Get that stuff on the ice and you’re not having a good day.

But…the silent killer, rust, had struck again, at the exhaust. I have some kind of wonky exhaust setup, a Borla center muffler in a sort of funky stockish setup otherwise. It keeps rusting out in different places, and at this point it’s more held together by Advance Auto repair sections than it is by its own integrity. Part of the plan is to get a new stainless Magnaflow cat-back exhaust and new catalytic converters and Y-pipe, but not until I get other things (see below) done.

So I got it all apart, went to Advance Auto, where I’m now “The Exhaust Connector and Gear Oil Guy” (I can’t leave without at least a quart, it’s a compulsion), and cobbled it together. For good measure, since the output stub on the muffler has split away partially from the body of the muffler, I slathered it in that most gloriously Cheap Bastard item, exhaust repair paste. This fix has to last maybe 100 miles around town, without my becoming too notable to the township police. The silence is now deafening, and kind of freaking me out after years of exhaust leaks.

Use of this requires low expectations.
Use of this requires low expectations.

The next steps? There’s going to be a lot of work to do underneath the truck. First off, my transfer box is also leaky, and thus rumbly. The rear diff may have been thirsty, but if was a college kid on spring break in Lauderdale, my transfer box is a barely-functional alcoholic.

Since the goal is to upgrade, I went to Connecticut and picked up a new one from Paul Grant, a noted Land Rover breaker. The 1994 Discovery came with the LT230T box, but I upgraded to the more refined LT230Q (Q is for Quiet) box that was featured from 1997-1999. It has more and differently cut gears, which takes some of the slop out of it and makes it quieter. Every little helps.

I got a new gasket and seal kit from Eric “Extension 231” Riston at Atlantic British, so my goal this week is to take apart the new transfer box and reseal it. I can’t say it won’t ever leak, because it’s a Land Rover, but by God I’ll try!

After that, there’s going to be probably two weeks or so in the garage accomplishing several tasks. In addition to swapping the transfer box, I need to replace the kickdown and throttle cables, which means taking part of the transmission apart. That requires a new filter, and new mounts, and new fluid. I’m also going to make new breathers for both the transfer box, and extend them with my extended diff breathers under the bonnet. I’ll install the aforementioned new exhaust, fabricate a new heat shield for the center muffler, and I want to heat shield the starter a bit better too.

I have 53 days to go. It’s a long time, and it’s no time. I’d like to have this major driveline work done by the end of March so that April can be focused on little bits and bobs for comfort and organization. I’m also hoping to get a trial run in, maybe up to Vermont or Upstate New York, so I’m not doing trial by fire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Been there, done that. It sucked.)

The image of crossing the Sierras and seeing “Welcome to California” drives me through all this, as well as the goal of seeing good friends on the other end at the Mendo_Recce rally. This will be a huge personal accomplishment, fueled by lots of calorie- and sodium-free hipster water.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-93: Origins

Driving across the country solo is something that’s been on my list most of my life. In middle school and high school I’d plot routes out in Microsoft Streets and Trips and flip through atlases and National Park Unigrid brochures, linking together the highlights of the nation. In 2006, my family loaded up our trusty Yukon XL and drove out on I-70 for a week in Colorado, a place our family has made many memories on fly-drive trips. As fantastic a trip as that was, though, there was still a quarter of the journey to the coast left.

For the past eleven years, I’ve been driving Land Rovers from the early 1990s, trucks which in my case never seem to work quite right. I’ve never had one that was reliable enough to do 7,000 miles in one shot. That has hopefully changed, however; after three years, I think that my 1994 Discovery is going to be ready, with a three-month final push.

There is always a goal, of course. Last April, I really enjoyed flying out to the Mendo_Recce rally in Northern California, meeting people I’ve talked to online every day for years. It’s cemented itself on my annual events list.

As I thought over that trip in the months after, I thought of how driving myself to Mendo 2018 from New Jersey be a perfect way to set a goal to get my truck fixed up, finally.

So, I’ve devised the journey for two weeks, starting in late April 2018, dubbed “The Mother Country Trail.”

My route will take me across the East and Great Plains to Colorado, where at Denver I’ll jump off the Interstates and hit the Blue Highways, winding across the Rockies and into Moab, Utah. There, I have a booking to drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, considered one of the top off-road trails in the country for scenery. After three days on the trail, it’s across Nevada and the Sierras to Mendocino National Forest and the event. Afterwards, the plan is to head south down the spine of California to Death Valley or the Mojave Road, then perhaps some poking around in Arizona before heading home via I-40.

The name “Mother Country Trail” has two origins. The Trail part comes from the Emigrant Trails and Westward Expansion Trails that the route will trace part of; the California Trail, the Old Spanish Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Oregon Trail. Parts of the journey will be directly in the footsteps of John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Jedeidah Smith.

“Mother Country” comes from my aviation hobby. In 1973, United Airlines began an ad campaign to promote their extensive coast-to-coast network. In 1972, they’d had a very successful ad campaign using Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” so successful that the Guthrie estate wanted twice the royalties for 1973. Looking for an alternative in the same vein, their ad agency commissioned a jingle called “Mother Country,” and had Bonnie Koloc, a folk singer from Chicago, sing it for the commercials.

The lyrics (see them in full here, along with more historic info on the campaign) begin with a verse that I think sums up the ethos of this trip pretty well, as well as the personal journey it represents:

Have you seen the other side
of where you live?
Don’t you know this great big land
has got so much to give? 
Mother Country’s got 
her arms open wide.
Don’t let your good land 
pass you by.

 

And this more chipper, “Teach the World to Sing” style version:

And further, this brand-enforcing one with some killer 747 footage at the end:

After many years of poking around the world in various ways, it’s now time to undertake a serious exploration of the homeland. I’ve seen the Other Side of Where I Live several times, and I’ve in fact gotten all the way there overland by Amtrak (a fantastic 2010 trip I may summarize on this site one day). There was, of course, that family trip to Colorado, still one of our most legendary adventures. But to be alone much of the way in a truck I rebuilt wholly by myself, that’s a new level of personal achievement.

I’ll detail some of the preparations here during the run up to departure in April, especially as some things might warrant some technical write-ups for the Land Rover crowd, and I plan to blog from the road.