Bringing Home Butler: My New 1994 Range Rover Classic County LWB

My Land Rover friends have been wrapped in the drama of Spenny, my rusty 1993 Range Rover County LWB, for the past five years. Spenny was my first car, a de facto replacement for the 1994 Discovery my parents bought new and planned to give me when I turned 16 in 2006. In late 2005, it got totalled in a Nor’Easter by a massive tree limb. I bought Spenny from another Land Rover enthusiast in Arlington, Virginia, towed him back to New Jersey, and put 50,000 miles of adventures on him from 2007 to 2015. Then like all Land Rovers of that era, he got quite rusty.

So, I sourced Duncan, my 1994 Discovery, as a “stopgap” car so I could take time to fix Spenny. A project himself, I spent months changing head gaskets, replacing bushings, and rewiring. Then I learned that buying cars that had been off the road for five years took a lot of work to drive again. So I spent a lot of time and money making it a pretty nice driver. Then I really liked the Discovery. I daily drove it. I drove it to rallies. I drove it to California. And Spenny sat.

Earlier this summer I tried to revive Spenny, but the rust was really, really bad. So I decided to source a rust-free body in the South to do a body swap. My friend Max Thomason found me one at his Land Rover shop in Atlanta, a 1994 County LWB. Black on the outside (sprayed over the original Montpelier red), with a rare-ish black leather interior, it was actually a pretty decent truck. It was supposed to have engine issues, but nobody was that sure. It had been sold to the shop in 2013 or so and used as a parts truck, but 98% of it was there. We struck a deal, I bought it for $500 with a title, and I booked a flight to Atlanta.

At some point, I realized that this rust-free body I planned to swap onto Spenny’s chassis…would also have a rust-free chassis. So, I decided that I’d just fix up the new one and make it the Spenny replacement second truck. Of course, for this new project, I could have probably picked a better base vehicle, but I was locked into this one at this point, and besides, I do love me a good Land Rover Reborn project. So here I am again…fixing up a truck that has been off the road for five years.

I stopped stripping out Spenny’s interior with the old plans to rebuild him and decided instead that I would transfer what was needed to the new truck, then strip Spenny down to a rolling chassis to be slowly tinkered with for some sort of future hybrid trail truck project. Duncan will need some work after the new Rangie is revived since I never totally finished that rebuild, so that was also a goal of the project. It’s tough when the truck is your daily driver; you can’t just let a project sit in the driveway and tinker with it when you feel like it, or you are never going anywhere. For example, I need to repair or replace all the door latches and lock actuators, but I can’t really drive without a latch!

Friday 7 September came, and my dad drove me to Newark Airport after work. I flew a Delta MD-88 down to Atlanta, fulfilling one of my AvGeek bucket list items. (More on that in a separate aviation-focused post.)

 

MD88 N932DL at Gate at EWR

 

Well, a quick video. The cool thing about the MD-88 is the old school low-bypass Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines, with a distinct sound you rarely hear these days. For AvGeeks, this is a cool thing, and we actually WANT to be in seat 33E next to the engines. Delta plans to retire the MD-88 fleet around 2020. Since I fly United most of the time out of EWR, this trip to Delta’s Atlanta superhub and MD-88 base was a good time to get this trip in. (It gets good around 1:50.)

 

 

It was a pretty quick flight down to ATL, and I passed it reading Chris Scott’s Desert Travels: Motorcycle Travels in the Sahara and West Africa. Scott’s various works on West Africa are favorites right now, since I have a bit of a dream to ship Duncan to England and replicate the Paris-Dakar Rally route. (This must include an early-morning run through Paris along the route of C’etait un Rendezvous.)

Max picked me up in his LR3, and we picked up burgers and beers at Grindhouse Killer Burgers. It’s a local chain, mostly in Atlanta with a few other Georgia locations, and the double Apache Style and a pitcher hit the spot. Terminal B at EWR has almost no food (compared to the cornucopia that is Terminal C), and all I had on the plane was a few of Delta’s iconic Biscoff cookies, so I was about to pass out.

 

Exterior View of Killer Burgers in Atlanta, Georgia

 

We headed back to Max’s house, kibitzed a bit, and checked out his Series III 109″, which he’s had since 1999. It’s an ex-MOD left-hand-drive vehicle. It may have also been used in one of the Reverend Billy Graham’s Crusades, according to previous owner lore. He and I have been looking into it a bit, and apparently, the Reverend broadcast a 1989 sermon from London to Africa via satellite, after which recordings were brought to remote villages. It’s possible this truck was one of those used to transport these recordings across Africa in “Mission 89.” More research is needed.

 

My friend Max's Series 3 Land Rover 109 Inch Station Wagon

 

I slept for a few hours, then we were up early to start the day. First off, though, a proper Southern brekkie at Home Grown, an Atlanta restaurant near Max’s house with some of the best chicken and biscuits I’ve ever had. Okay, actually, the only chicken and biscuits I’ve ever had. Still, it was one of the most epic breakfasts I’ve ever had, and I’m from New Jersey, home of Taylor Ham/Pork Roll.

 

Chicken and Biscuits at Home Grown restaurant in Atlanta

 

We picked the Penske truck and trailer up, which took about a half hour, and then headed across the center of Atlanta to the place where I was picking the truck up. Max had dealt with the paperwork, and the shop was closed, so it was already hauled outside the fence yesterday. I had him drive the Penske across the city’s notorious Downtown Connector, the stretch of I-75/85 that has some of the worst traffic in the country. It wasn’t bad early on Saturday morning, but I still took the chance to try out his LR3 in chase, briefly rethinking my choices in second vehicles.

And there it was: my glorious new truck. My third Rover of my own, fifth in my family. All there in its revived parts truck glory.

 

The first view of Butler, my new Range Rover Classic, before we load him on the trailer

 

Time was short, so we hooked the Rangie up to the LR3 and hauled it on, since the truck doesn’t run. This involved shackles, confusion, and using cell phones on speakerphone as walkie-talkies. Then, with a few test drives around the block, I was off, driving a box truck AND a trailer for the first time ever.

 

Picture of Butler loaded on the trailer

 

I didn’t have much time for social calls, but my timing was such that I could stop off to see my friends Jen and Greg, former members of my curling club who had just moved to the Atlanta area, without messing up my timeline (because a man’s gotta eat anyway!). We had a blast catching up — I really, really miss having them back at Plainfield.

 

Picture of me with my friends Greg and Jen with Butler

 

And so began…the schlep. First, South Carolina hit, and so Butler left Georgia, one seriously lucky former parts truck.

 

Picture of Butler with the South Carolina welcome sign

 

I had to swing by the BMW factory in Spartanburg, to get a picture with the sign. There was a cop protecting a DOT worker doing some lawn mowing, but he was nonplussed that I parked my giant truck right in front of the entrance.

 

Picture of Butler with the entrance sign to the BMW factory in South Carolina

 

I made it to Gastonia, North Carolina that night, after a lot of slow driving — I’m just not used to how wide a box truck is, the slow speed hauling a car behind it, and tracking the whole package together. It’s even tougher at night! I parked across six spots and crashed in my room until it was time to hit the road again.

 

Picture of Butler on trailer at Hampton Inn in Gastonia, North Carolina

 

The next day was a slog home. I had to get from Charlotte to New Jersey in time to sleep and go to work tomorrow. On paper, it’s not a bad drive, a bit over 600 miles. But the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon were coming over Virginia and Pennsylvania, and after a calm ride through North Carolina, the rains started to pour somewhere around Roanoke, Virginia. Most of the day was a slog, going slow with the heavy, unwieldy load. As I got closer to Pennsylvania, it just got worse. The one highlight was crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, officially making Butler a Northern Truck.

 

Screenshot of my weather app on my phone showing remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon

 

Picture of Butler at a rainy rest area in Virginia

 

 

Pennsylvania was a slog, with rough roads — as I say, “Under Construction Since 1776.” Every joint in the road clattered the entire assembly, and I was sure I was either going to break the trailer in half or lose the Rangie.

Finally, around 10 PM, I pulled into the driveway. Too wiped to deal with anything, I left the whole Penske assembly (which I had through Thursday anyway) to deal with later and headed off to bed to go to work. Of course, with my luck, I ended up with strep throat when I woke up, so I spent most of the week working from home, feeling too crappy to work on the truck.

And so now, I have a fleet of three. It is only going briefly look like this, though. The old RRC LWB, Spenny, goes to a friend’s house soon, where I’m going to cut it down to a rolling chassis for a Range Rover Classic-styled off-road trail rig project. But I have to admit it’s pretty swank having three classic British luxury cars…all built between 22 February 1993 and 6 May 1994.

 

My full Land Rover fleet in my driveway. Duncan, my Discovery 1; Spenny, my 1993 Range Rover; and Butler, my 1994 Range Rover.

 

By the way, where’s the name Butler come from? Well, of course, that famous fictitious Georgian, Rhett Butler. I figured that Gone with the Wind was a good source for a name, especially as I’ve enjoyed visiting the Margaret Mitchell House several times over the years going to Atlanta for book industry conferences. My trucks tend to be male, contrary to the norm, and it was between Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes. Rhett is a bit rough around the edges, Ashley meant saying “Ashley, but it’s a guy” too much, and Wilkes has too much reference to the Wilks Brothers who created the Land Rover — Spenny was already named after Range Rover designer Spen King, and I wanted to go another way. So I figured Butler was a good name, and went well with the classy black-on-black color scheme and general Range Rover swankiness.

Now it’s the project of reviving a parts truck with unknown issues. I will be going through every inch of this truck the next few months, refining and improving and rebuilding. If getting the Discovery ready for the California trip was the Bachelor’s in Rovers, this is the Masters. As for the Ph.D., that’ll be whatever I do with Spenny! Keep an eye out for future blogs here on all these projects for sure.

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.

Rover Tech: Discovery 1 GM Fuel Pump Swap

NB: This is an incomplete post from December 2016 on the subject of replacing the core of fuel pumps for 1980s-90s Land Rovers. I never finished it, but I’m publishing it in March 2018 for the benefit of a friend in need of the information. I’ll get to it eventually.

If there’s one thing I like doing with my truck, it’s making it more field servicable. The great thing about 90s-era Land Rovers is that they actually have a lot of parts crossover with other European, and even American, cars. One of the classic instances of this is swapping a fuel pump from a General Motors vehicle into a Discovery 1 or Range Rover Classic.

I did this on the side of the road in Upstate New York back in June 2016, but it seems like my half-assed trail fix backfired, as now in a deep and dark December, I find my truck again stranded, this time in my driveway.

Since there’s a lot of forum posts about how to fix this, but no really thorough explanation for those of us who are both visual and anal-retentive, I’ve written this heavily-illustrated article to help you, oh gentle reader, too get your Land Rover on the road.

This is a somewhat simple fix, all in. You can cobble it together, as I did, and do fine for a while. But in the heat of the moment on a warm summer’s day in a gas station forecourt, I missed several steps, and there’s some things I wish I’d done differently.

The details henceforth apply to a 1994 Discovery 1 with a North American-spec 3.9 litre Rover V8. They “should” cross over to V8 Range Rover Classics after 1989, and continue to cover all Discovery 1 models through the run-out year of 1999. However, I make no guarantees. Later Discovery 1 trucks had some variations in their fuel systems, most notably the addition of AEL (Advanced Evaporation Loss) systems in the 1997 model year, and the 4.0 litre GEMS engine may have some different requirements to the earlier 14CUX ignition system. As I’ve only ever owned 14CUX trucks, I’m not sure there. There’s a pretty good chance that these instructions largely or totally apply to these other applications, but I make no guarantees, and if you blow up your truck using these instructions, that’s on you.

Right, onward.

When I say "remove everything from the back," this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.
When I say “remove everything from the back,” this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.

The fuel pump is located in the fuel tank, and can be accessed through a hatch in the rear floor on all Discovery 1s and Range Rover Classics after 1989. To get to this hatch, remove everything from the back of the vehicle, pull up the rear carpeting, and you will find a flap cut into the rubber padding beneath in the rear cargo area floor. Flip it over and you’ll see a round hatch about twelve inches around. Undo the six screws and set it aside. Do not lose the screws like I did.

There’s three things to disconnect here, which are both electric and fuel. Remember, these things do not go well together. The electric multiplug comes off by pushing the tab in the side and sliding it off. There’s two fittings holding the feed and return lines that go from the pump to the engine. Depending on where you live, when/if this was last done, and your lot in life, these may be very, very seized. A liberal application of your favourite penetrating liquid (I’m a PB Blaster man myself) and high-quality profanity, combined with the patience of a saint, should undo these. Keep calm, if these break you’re kinda pretty much completely screwed.

Now that you’ve undone these three connections, the good thing to do would be to vacuum the indentation around the fuel pump port in the tank so that you don’t get all the dirt and crap in the tank. This is possible to varying degrees depending on situation, however, so if you’re really stuck just do the best you can. Then undo the giant ring around the fuel pump hole, and lift it away. The pump now sits before you, awaiting its careful removal from the hole in the tank, an exercise to be undertaken with the greatest of care to avoid damaging the float for the level sensor.

Unless you’re a better man or woman than I, you will spill fuel in your cargo area. Fortunately you’ve got the carpet all tucked away somewhere nice, and you can just try and sop up as much as you can.

The liberated pump.
—”Mr Fuel Pump, are you free?” —”I’m free!”

You have now liberated the fuel pump, and it’s time to really dig in. Go somewhere relatively clean with it and it’s time to disassemble.

The pump itself is contained in the lower, enclosed half of the assembly. To detach this, carefully prise the four clips holding it in, taking the utmost of care to not break them. Doing this second exercise in December, with an outdoor temperature of 15 Fahrenheit, I decided that it would be prudent to bring the assembly inside to warm up a bit to help prevent brittleness issues. (Remember, direct heat is not a way to assuage this, considering the circumstance.)

You should now see the metal cylindrical pump exposed, with two electrical wires attaching it to the top of the assembly and a plastic corrugated hose connecting the pump’s output to the outlet for the feed line at the top of the assembly. The original pump, at least on my truck, has a flanged barb on the end of the output outlet, which nicely nests into this hose.

When keeping in mind that Land Rover did not really intend for this assembly to be a user-serviceable part, this hose has a very symbiotic relationship with its original host pump, but it is both very difficult and somewhat impractical to reuse it. The two replacement pumps I’ve had so far (more on that below) did not have these dramatic barbs on the outlet, which impacts the ability of this hose to seal to the new pump. When I had my original trailside repair, I kind of picked it off with an etching chisel and needlenose pliers, and later reattached it by squeezing it shut with a zip tie. This was functional but not ideal, so let’s do it proper.

Right, now you’ve got the actual pump itself free, let’s take a look.

I’m looking at three pumps here: (1) the original Land Rover part, which may or may not have been there for twenty-two years; (2) the latest purchase, an ACDelco EP241; and (3) the interim device, a Delphi FE0114 that I purchased at a NAPA on site.

Here is where I figured some stuff out after the fact. Apparently the 14CUX (1994-5 D1, possibly RRC 1989ish-1995) and GEMS (1996-9) trucks could use different spec pumps. Going back to vintage resources, the venerable Discoweb parts number resource, likely last updated some time during the second Bush administration, supplies different part numbers that I’ve extrapolated as follows:

14CUX/3.9
AC Delco EP-241

GEMS/4.0
Airtex E3270
Delphi FE0114

What’s the difference?

(WHAT THE $@%# IS THE DIFFERENCE?)

After replacing the part, I’ve found that the EP-241 does, in fact, seem to run better than the FE0114. It is quieter, and the truck seems to have slightly better performance. This may be in my head.