Restored Range Rover
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