NOR­FOLK GARAGE

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Richard Hall’s tales from the Nor­folk garage...

Last month’s theme in the Nor­folk Garage was Lightweights: this month seems to be all about De­fender bulk­heads. As I write this I have just sent out a 1992 De­fender 110 Sta­tion Wagon af­ter a bulkhead swap, and have a sec­ond­hand bulkhead await­ing some mi­nor re­pairs to the top cor­ners prior to be­ing fit­ted to a Ninety of sim­i­lar vintage. A cou­ple of years ago I wrote an ar­ti­cle for LRM de­scrib­ing the com­mon rust ar­eas on De­fender bulk­heads. The bulkhead I used for the photos was taken from a run­ning Mot’d De­fender in daily use, and at the time I thought it was pretty rot­ten, to the ex­tent that the ve­hi­cle should have failed the MOT on struc­tural cor­ro­sion at least two years pre­vi­ously.

The bulkhead I have just re­moved from the Sta­tion Wagon is much, much worse. The ve­hi­cle has at some point been through the hands of a well-known rogue who is I be­lieve no longer trad­ing. I can­not be sure whether it was that per­son who per­pe­trated the out­rage I am about to de­scribe, but who­ever was re­spon­si­ble de­serves a life­time ban from work­ing on Land Rovers.

Both top cor­ners of the bulkhead had rot­ted out, the rot ex­tend­ing along the top rail and around the ends of the air vents. This is a tricky area to re­pair to a sat­is­fac­tory stan­dard: to do the job prop­erly the wind­screen frame and most of the dash need to come out. The whole area forms a box sec­tion that supports the up­per door hinge as well as the wind­screen at­tach­ment bracket. It is pos­si­ble to buy a steel patch panel which can be welded over the rot­ten area. Al­though not ideal (since the rot will con­tinue to fes­ter un­der­neath) the patch panel will at least re­store enough strength to stop the up­per door hinge from flap­ping around, and buy you two or three years to source a bet­ter bulkhead.

It should be ob­vi­ous that the patch panel will only con­trib­ute to the strength of the area if it is welded all round. How­ever, that would have in­volved re­mov­ing the wind­screen frame, and why go to all that trou­ble with a ve­hi­cle you are look­ing to sell? That was pre­sum­ably the thought go­ing through the mind of who­ever “re­paired” this bulkhead: the patch pan­els were glued on with silicone sealant and plas­tic filler lib­er­ally stuffed into the gaps. With most of the up­per cor­ner struc­ture hav­ing dis­in­te­grated, the wind­screen brack­ets were bolted di­rectly to the patch pan­els and the door hinges re­lied en­tirely on big lumps of plas­tic filler to stop them mov­ing about. Sanded down and painted, this “re­pair” prob­a­bly looked quite smart to the un­trained eye – at least for the time it took to find a new home for the ve­hi­cle.

Re­mov­ing the bulkhead re­vealed fur­ther bodgery. Both bulkhead out­rig­gers had been re­placed. The in­ner ends sit di­rectly be­low the footwells and are very hard to weld prop­erly with­out ei­ther re­mov­ing the bulkhead or cut­ting holes in the footwells. Need­less to say, the mas­ter bodger re­spon­si­ble for this job had done nei­ther, and most of the welds be­tween the outrig­ger sides and the chas­sis rails broke off when tapped with a chisel. Easy enough to sort with the bulkhead off. The sill rails were also in a rather dis­tressed state where water had got be­tween the rails and the seal re­tain­ers spot-welded to them. This is a fairly com­mon prob­lem on older De­fend­ers, and was soon sorted by let­ting in strips of new metal, once I had re­moved the huge quan­tity of care­fully shaped body filler that had been plas­tered over the top.

Given the var­i­ous nas­ties I had un­cov­ered I was just a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive about panel fits, in par­tic­u­lar door align­ment. With the new bulkhead loosely bolted to the out­rig­gers I care­fully mea­sured the door gaps top and bot­tom. I nor­mally look for some­thing around 34.5 inches: the bulkhead can be moved for­ward a lit­tle to open up the gaps by adding spac­ing wash­ers be­tween the mount­ing foot and the outrig­ger, but on a five door Sta­tion Wagon the for­ward end of the side rails is fixed and can­not be moved with­out dis­man­tling most of the rear body, so there are strict lim­its on how much ad­just­ment is avail­able. On this par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle I found that two wash­ers each side gave me ac­cept­able door gaps at the base of the pil­lars, while still al­low­ing the side rails to be bolted to the mount­ing feet with­out bend­ing them too far out of shape.

I now needed to make the door gaps at the top of the pil­lars the same width as at the bot­tom. The bulkhead was a new old-stock Td5 item mod­i­fied to fit a 1992

“When buy­ing a De­fender do some re­search into bulkhead rot”

ve­hi­cle. A few years ago the mar­ket was for a short time flooded with these Td5 bulk­heads – I must have bought around a dozen at £200 each and now wish I had pur­chased a hun­dred of them. Al­though la­belled Gen­uine Parts they were rather shod­dily as­sem­bled (pos­si­bly the rea­son they were so cheap) and sure enough, this one was slightly twisted so that the door pil­lars were not par­al­lel to each other. The align­ment of the top of the bulkhead uses slot­ted holes in the bracket be­tween the footwell and main chas­sis rail. I got one side aligned, tight­ened the bolts, then used a ratchet strap to pull the op­po­site top cor­ner for­wards be­fore tight­en­ing the bolts on that side. It took two at­tempts but I ended up with nice even door gaps on both sides.

The wings went on with no prob­lems and all the mount­ing holes lined up with those on the chas­sis and front panel, which is al­ways a good sign. The first real test of align­ment was when I fit­ted the bon­net. The striker plate on the front panel has only a lim­ited range of ad­just­ment, and a rel­a­tively small align­ment er­ror on the bulkhead can eas­ily leave you with a bon­net that ei­ther will not shut, or worse, slams shut and will not open again. I loos­ened the two bolts that se­cure the striker plate, gen­tly low­ered the bon­net and found that with just a few mil­lime­tres of ad­just­ment the bon­net pin sat dead cen­tral in the striker plate. I tight­ened the bolts, closed the bon­net, pulled the re­lease and it sprang open. Things were look­ing good.

The sec­ond and more ar­du­ous test came with the re­fit­ting of the front doors. These were (un­sur­pris­ingly) rot­ten at the bot­toms and (also un­sur­pris­ingly) stuffed with card­board, sticky tape and body filler, art­fully sanded down and painted to look like solid metal. I tend to steer cus­tomers away from try­ing to re­pair rot­ten doors as it is im­pos­si­ble to do a re­ally sat­is­fac­tory long term re­pair un­less you strip off the skin, re­move all the in­ter­nals, blast, re­pair and paint the frame and then fit a new skin, by which time it would be cheaper to buy a new door. But in this case the cus­tomer had al­ready bought bot­tom re­pair sec­tions and was happy to ac­cept the lim­i­ta­tions of what I would be able to do with them.

With new door hinges at­tached to the bulkhead, each door was bolted to the hinges top and bot­tom and then gen­tly closed, check­ing the align­ment of each catch against its striker plate. The hinges have a small amount of ad­just­ment at the bulkhead end via the J clips be­ing able to move within the square holes, but the cus­tomer had sup­plied me with Pu­matype hinges and met­ric clips, which have rather less scope for move­ment than the older Im­pe­rial threaded clips. If the door align­ment was miles out I would be in a world of grief. Hap­pily one door slammed shut and sat square in its aper­ture with no ad­just­ment: the other needed the top hinge screws loos­en­ing and the rear edge of the door lift­ing to push the hinge for­wards on the bulkhead be­fore retight­en­ing the screws. End re­sult, two doors that closed eas­ily and didn’t look too far out of align­ment.

That is not to say that the doors were per­fectly aligned. The crease line at the top of the door pil­lar on the bulkhead was about 5mm lower than on the cen­tre pil­lar, prob­a­bly be­cause the old bulkhead had sagged slightly on the chas­sis while the bulkhead out­rig­gers were be­ing re­placed. There is no fa­cil­ity to ad­just the ver­ti­cal po­si­tion of the bulkhead on the out­rig­gers, so the end re­sult was a slight mis­align­ment be­tween the trail­ing edge of the front doors and the cen­tre pil­lar. Short of re­plac­ing both out­rig­gers again there wasn’t a huge amount I could do about that, and I have seen much worse door align­ment on ve­hi­cles which haven’t had the chas­sis bodgery that this one has suf­fered.

The book time for bulkhead re­place­ment on a De­fender is around 35 hours (plus paint­ing) so it is not a job to be un­der­taken lightly. The mes­sage is sim­ple: when buy­ing a De­fender, do some re­search into bulkhead rot and check all the weak spots in your in­tended pur­chase. The hard­est area to bodge up for a quick sale is the met­al­work around and above the wind­screen frame se­cur­ing bolts, on the top in­ner cor­ners. You can­not see most of this area with­out re­mov­ing bits of dash­board which most ven­dors are un­likely to per­mit, but if you can see holes or bulging filler in the small area that is vis­i­ble, the bit you can­not see will prob­a­bly be as bad. Whereas a new gal­vanised chas­sis is nor­mally avail­able off the shelf, De­fender bulk­heads are much harder to source at the mo­ment, and you would be far bet­ter to buy a ve­hi­cle with a rot­ten chas­sis and sound bulkhead than one with a new gal­vanised chas­sis and a bulkhead made of Swiss cheese.

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