Re­stored Range Rover

LRO (UK) - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: JÉRÔME AN­DRÉ

Jérôme An­dré drools over a su­perbly re­fur­bished Clas­sic LSE Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

It wouldn’t be an over­state­ment to call Phil Cook a con­nois­seur of Range Rover Clas­sics. He’s driven them for four decades, and the spec­tac­u­lar LSE Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy I’ve come to see to­day is the fourth he’s owned. It’s not his first LSE Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ei­ther – in 1994, he took de­liv­ery of an ex-demon­stra­tor that had been used by Land Rover as a pub­lic­ity ve­hi­cle, which in­volved a photo shoot along­side a Har­rier jump jet and the just-re­vealed P38.

But the Clas­sic – bright red, with a red/black in­te­rior – didn‘t re­main in Phil’s own­er­ship for long. ‘When I took it home my wife, Jane, went bal­lis­tic. She hated it, say­ing that the colour was aw­ful and the in­te­rior even worse. She re­fused even to go in in it. So, I gave in and ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to Land Rover Lan­caster, who agreed to change it for this British Rac­ing Green Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that they also had in the show­room at the time. It can even boast sim­i­lar ori­gins to the red one.’

It could be ar­gued that Phil’s wife did him a favour – BRG is a classy, time­less colour that wears the years bet­ter than the red would have done. Also, the Land Rover Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles plaque on the bon­net slam panel gives a pro­duc­tion date of 11/11/1993, mak­ing it one of the very ear­li­est Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy mod­els. The ‘Ul­ti­mate Per­son­al­i­sa­tion’ pro­gramme was only un­veiled at the Lon­don Mo­tor Show on Oc­to­ber 24 that year – barely two and a half weeks be­fore the car was built. In­ter­est­ingly, it wasn’t reg­is­tered and put on the road un­til May ’94.

It’s a long story

This time, Jane gave her seal of ap­proval, so the Range Rover was a keeper. Phil went on

Any Range Rover Clas­sic Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is spe­cial – but the sump­tu­ous restora­tion Phil Cook lav­ished on his owned-from-new LSE makes it truly unique ‘The Range Rover was stripped down to a bare chas­sis, which was sent off to be shot­blasted’

to use it on a reg­u­lar ba­sis un­til 2006. By then it was start­ing to look a bit tired, with rust tak­ing hold on the rear tail­gates – sur­prise sur­prise! – and the bon­net. It was time to do some­thing about it, and Phil couldn’t get the idea of a full restora­tion out of his head.

So that’s what he de­cided to do. Back then, it was rel­a­tively easy to find spares and prices were rea­son­able; so rea­son­able, in fact, that Phil started build­ing up a stock of parts – for five years. After tak­ing the LSE off the road in Jan­uary 2011, he spoke to Paint-tec in Roade, Northamp­ton­shire, whose ex­per­tise is in restor­ing rare clas­sic Jaguars and Porsches. Com­pany owner Peter Ham­mond was happy to take on the Clas­sic, tasked with look­ing after all the weld­ing, body­work prep, panel align­ment and paint­work.

Let pro­ceed­ings com­mence

The Range Rover was stripped down to a bare chas­sis, which was sent off to be shot­blasted, pow­der­coated, primed, sanded by hand, reprimed and pre­pared for paint­ing in a black base coat, then fin­ished in a clear lac­quer. Phil knew this had to be a one-off proper job.

Then it was the bodyshell’s turn to be shot­blasted, fol­lowed by those pan­els that were to be re-used (the roof, which doesn’t

re­spond well to shot­blast­ing, was taken back to bare metal by hand). Phil rum­maged in his new-old stock trea­sure chest and emerged with a bon­net, wings, head­lamp boxes and lower tail­gate. New in­ner wings for the en­gine bay were made from scratch. Cor­ro­sion had spread to the bot­tom of the A and B posts, so these were re­paired, and a new boot floor was made us­ing two Dis­cov­ery floor pan­els.

The rear body frame wasn’t in too bad a state – noth­ing more than mild cor­ro­sion in a few places – but Phil had man­aged to find a new, gen­uine re­place­ment at the bar­gain price of £130 so it made sense to re­place it. New in­ner and outer sills were also fit­ted. So, 18 years of rust well and truly ex­ter­mi­nated.

Refin­ish­ing the bodyshell and pan­els re­quired sev­eral stages of paint­ing. The epoxy primer went on first, fol­lowed by the filler primer, which was wet-sanded. Then the orig­i­nal me­tal­lic base coat was ap­plied, lac­quered, flat­ted and pol­ished ev­ery­where – in­clud­ing the en­gine bay. Fi­nally, the chas­sis and un­der­body were Wax­oyl’d.

In the process of bring­ing the axles back to as-new con­di­tion, Phil welded thicker diff pans on to the shot­blasted cas­ings be­fore fit­ting new bear­ings, swivel hous­ings and spheres. While the gear­box and torque con­verter were be­ing re­con­di­tioned by Mid­land Au­to­matic Trans­mis­sions in Ket­ter­ing, he in­stalled new air springs and with Koni dampers.

The air sus­pen­sion set-up is new – or as new as it can be, given that sev­eral parts are now im­pos­si­ble to source, such as the 108in-long wheel­base air­lines. Pirtek in Northamp­ton got the com­mis­sion to make new ones – as well as lines for fuel, air-con­di­tion­ing and brakes. The rest of the brake sys­tem restora­tion in­volved fit­ting new EBC discs; ven­ti­lated and grooved up front, grooved at the back. All four calipers were re­built with stain­less steel pis­tons.

Now we’re mo­tor­ing!

Then came the most time-con­sum­ing part of the project: re­build­ing the en­gine. This was en­trusted to ADR Per­for­mance En­gi­neer­ing in Northamp­ton, who also fet­tled it to give more power and torque. With that done, plus a Tor­nado tune and ECU remap, the V8 gave 265bhp (up from the stan­dard 200bhp) and 319lb ft at 2000rpm (250lb ft at 3250rpm).

A lot of work went into achiev­ing these fig­ures. Forged pis­tons and new top hat­style items were fit­ted, the con­nect­ing rods were bal­anced, the crank was re­ground, the cylin­der heads re­ceived big­ger in­let valves be­fore be­ing ported and pol­ished, and a Piper camshaft in­stalled. It verges on hot-rod lev­els of mod­i­fi­ca­tion and power lev­els, but the ADR boys have man­aged to keep the smooth power de­liv­ery you’d ex­pect of a Range Rover.

The vis­cous cou­pling fan was re­placed with twin Ken­lowe elec­tric units to keep ev­ery­thing cool, and the orig­i­nal Lu­cas fuel in­jec­tors were re­placed by mod­ern Bosch units. ‘The dif­fer­ence on start-up was im­me­di­ate – a much bet­ter tick­over,’ Phil con­firms.

New stain­less steel head­ers re­placed the orig­i­nal cast-iron ex­haust man­i­folds. In­spired by top-level rac­ing tech­niques, Phil sent them to Zir­cotec in Abing­don to re­ceive a ce­ramic coat­ing treat­ment, de­signed to re­duce heat build-up; that’s why they now have their vel­vety, Smurf-blue fin­ish.

The rest of the ex­haust sys­tem was also up­graded to stain­less steel. Phil wanted it to be a dual sys­tem all the way through, with an out­let pipe emerg­ing by both the near­side and off­side ends of the rear bumper.

Trav­el­ling first class

In the cabin, the leather seats were still in de­cent enough shape – but ‘de­cent enough’ wasn’t suf­fi­cient for Phil. They were un­bolted from the ve­hi­cle and sent to Elite Coach Trim­ming in Welling­bor­ough, Northamp­ton­shire for re­fur­bish­ment. The trans­mis­sion tun­nel and cubby box were

cov­ered with match­ing leather – go­ing be­yond the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy stan­dards of the time. The dash­board and door cap­pings were stripped of their old ve­neer and re-ve­neered in sym­met­ri­cally-cut Amer­i­can Burr Wal­nut. Four coats of polyester lac­quer were then ap­plied be­fore be­ing wet-sanded and pol­ished to a bright fin­ish.

The dreaded, well-doc­u­mented sag­ging roof lin­ing prob­lem hadn’t overly af­flicted the LSE, but Phil com­mis­sioned Na­tion­wide Trim in Worces­ter­shire to re­cover the orig­i­nal one any­way. Prob­a­bly a shrewd move – you’re now as likely to find a new-old-stock re­place­ment as you are a woolly mam­moth.

Phil had new seat­belts made with the web­bing done in green, then a new ra­dio and sound sys­tem was fit­ted by Au­totronix in Bed­ford, who also added Dy­na­mat sound­proof­ing, a new alarm sys­tem, and front and rear park­ing sen­sors. Phil thought the door han­dles would look bet­ter chromed, so he ar­ranged for them to be chrome-plated. How­ever, when he got them back he thought they looked a bit ‘blingy’ and had the in­ner part of the han­dle painted in green. At the same time, he had the in­te­rior lights and speaker rims done in the same colour.

When he’d fin­ished, he went straight over to Trevor at Na­tion­wide Trim to have new car­pets fit­ted and the A, B, and C pil­lars re­trimmed in the same leather as the seats, along with re­cov­er­ing the rear par­cel shelf in a match­ing colour.

To com­plete the in­te­rior re­vamp, Phil asked them to make a set of over­mats in green, piped in cream leather – and an­other set in the op­po­site colours. Well, why not?

‘I couldn’t do it again’

Achiev­ing per­fec­tion such as this comes at a price; fin­ish­ing the re­build took way longer than Phil ex­pected. This was in part be­cause he kept im­prov­ing and ‘up­grad­ing’ com­po­nents as it was all be­ing put back to­gether. As he read­ily ad­mits: ‘There were a lot more than I can even re­mem­ber; there must have been times when I walked through the work­shop door and they thought, “What’s he go­ing to change now?”…’

But Phil is glad he made all the de­ci­sions he did – and he’s glad he found the right peo­ple to as­sist him. ‘They helped me do it right the first time around. This was crit­i­cal, be­cause I cer­tainly wouldn’t be able to do it all again. Not only have new-old-stock parts al­most dried up – but when they do hit the mar­ket, they go for in­sane prices.’

There may be some rivet-coun­ters who think Phil has missed a trick by not keep­ing the LSE ex­actly as it was when new, but he has a ready ri­poste. ‘My Range Rover was built right at the start of the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy scheme, the whole idea of which was to cre­ate be­spoke cars – so you could have or­dered one just like this in 1994 if you’d wanted to.’

En­gine was re­built and tuned – the V8 now pro­duces 265bhp

Air sus­pen­sion set-up is all brand-spank­ing-new

New tail­gate, rear sidewin­dow, wind­screen rub­bers and door seals

Phil’s at­ten­tion to de­tail ex­tended to the spe­cially made over­mats. There’s even a sub­sti­tute set… This Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy takes ‘be­spoke’ to a whole new level

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