One of our favourite words in the Land Rover community is RESTORATION. As an individual who wants the perfect, bespoke to you vehicle, you have two choices: 1) You find a fixer-upper and built it up yourself or with the help of a mechanic. 2) You buy a fully restored Land Rover that is built to order and decked out to your specification.
We asked some of our end users and trade customers what they thought – should you build, or buy?
Our participants include Matt from Alpine Restorations, Christopher Brearley and Jack Dobson who have all worked on restoration projects. To read more about who they are and what they do, scroll down to the bottom of the blog.
What projects are people working on out there?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: We are working on lots of Chassis or Bulkhead Restorations/Replacements for our customers. For 90% of the people that come in, the cars they are restoring are their second cars, not their daily run-around. 9 out of 10 people know exactly what they want. When it comes to chassis replacements, they know exactly which brand they want. Less and less people are asking us to do a full restoration as they don’t have enough funds and the costs can go into thousands and thousands. On the other hand, you also get those who have a lot to spend and tell you to get it all done!
Jack Dobson: Last year I restored a 1966 Series IIA and right now I am breathing new life into a 1972 Series III. Both are Australian vehicles and have spent their lives inland, well away from the coast, which means only light surface rust to contend with which of course makes the restoration much easier than my British counterparts!
Chris Brearley: I am currently halfway through the engine build of my 1987 Defender 90, which my Dad and I bought in 2013. This is by far the biggest project I have taken on! The block is in the engine shop having some machine work while I prepare all the parts to build it when it returns. Hopefully be up and running in the next few weeks.
What are the pros of building vs buying?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: You know exactly what’s been done to the vehicle if you build it yourself. You could buy something, and the seller can tell you a part of it has been refurbished or reconditioned but they might just be telling you that. If a door is badly oxidised, rather than do a proper job on it, they might fill over it, primer and paint it, and in 6-12 months it’s all bubbling back up and coming back through. This isn’t the case for all sellers, but if you build it yourself, you can do it to your standard.
Chris Brearley: For me, building and completing a project is what it’s all about. You don’t buy a Lego model fully built do you? You have a vision or objective in mind from the start and you can control the build to your exact taste. The saying “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself” - only you know what that ‘right’ is and you can upgrade parts as you see fit, to your taste and objective. Learning is a big part of the process and another major plus for me. I have had to learn new skills, read technical manuals and learn lots of product knowledge. I can use these to help me in lots of ways outside of this project, including fixing it if it breaks later!
Jack Dobson: Doing it yourself (or get someone trusted to do it for you) gives you the assurance that everything has been done properly and no corners have been cut. I am weary of vehicles that have been ‘done up’ with the intent of selling on – how thorough has the work been done?
What are the cons of building vs buying?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: Time. A lot of people go into the project blind, thinking “I’ll just rebuild this Land Rover in 6 months in my spare time”. Before they know it, 5 years go by and it’s still in bits in boxes! We received an email 4 or 5 years ago from a gentleman who had stripped his dashboard out. He contacted us recently telling us it was still all over the floor in pieces! This is so common, and it can be a bit daunting when everything is in bits. People often ask us to finish the jobs they started.
Chris Brearley: I think there are a lot of them and there are always unfinished projects coming up for sale - probably for these reasons. Time to complete is undefined, all parts of the build can be delayed, and it could take years to complete. Are you able to fit in the labour time around your lifestyle? Unforeseen costs can mount up. There could be uncertainty over what condition the components on the Land Rover are already in and this can add more to the cost and time spent. In terms of space, it’s a logistical nightmare trying to fit all of the parts of a Land Rover around your working space. Do you have a suitable workshop or garage? And do you have access to the right tools and equipment for the job? You need to have a lot of knowledge and experience. Learning new skills is great and one of the plus points for me, but only if it’s within your technical limits.
Jack Dobson: It takes longer!
Tips: If someone is buying a Land Rover to restore, what should they look out for on the vehicle?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: If you’re looking to flip a vehicle to sell on, look for low mileage. The lower the miles, the better. If you restore a vehicle with high mileage, it could be like brand new and people still won’t want it. Some people restore Land Rovers to export them because that’s where the money is. If it’s an earlier model with a solid chassis and you restore it on the original chassis, it can be exported to America, for example.
If you are buying a Land Rover to restore and keep for yourself and you don’t have a mechanical background, you should try to take someone who knows what they’re looking for in terms of issues before buying it. They will know to look at things like if it has a lot of filler and if it has the original paint etc. Paintwork is one of the most expensive parts of restoration so if you can buy one where the paintwork is sound, you will save a lot of money.
Chris Brearley: If I was buying to restore, I’d have a clear vision in mind of what I want. Research the right model and model year for your requirements. Go through the usual used car checks and general mechanical checks. You will also need to get an idea of how much work is going to be required on the Land Rover you have chosen. You should check if there any parts not present within the vehicle that you will need or want. If you are upgrading and changing these parts, that may not matter as much. For example, if you already know that you want to buy a new galvanised chassis, it may be more important to make sure the body panels and interior are all present and serviceable. Or maybe history and originality is key to you. Land Rovers are known for having a mix match of parts from different vehicles, possibly in an attempt for cheaper repairs. Lots of DIY repairs may have been carried out and not always up to standard. Lots of vehicles will have been used off-road which speeds up wear on everything. Dirt and mud fill the chassis rails, sit under the body and under the seat box and find their way into the differentials so there may be a lot of general maintenance repairs to do before the proper restoring begins.
Jack Dobson: Really you want avoid buying a Land Rover with major rust in the chassis and / or bulkhead unless the purchase price reflects the time and effort needed to sort it out - many chassis repairs are difficult to get at, which means you will likely end up disassembling most of the vehicle to get at them. A rusty bulkhead can be fixed in-situ but in order to do it properly, it really needs to be removed and that’s a big job.
Is it cheaper to build or buy?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: Being honest, buying one done can be cheaper! Somebody else has already paid out a lot of money to get it to that stage. You think you can do it cheaper yourself but to buy a Defender and strip it, get it onto a new chassis and new bulkhead is going to cost a lot. Most of the money is eaten up by parts.
Chris Brearley: I don’t know yet! We’re still in the middle of our project and we don’t have any other completed builds to compare it against as they are all different. There are a lot of companies out there doing really high quality restorations, which I’m sure come at a high price when you factor in a lot of labour hours and high-end parts plus some profit. This question has many variables. Mainly what standard / spec of vehicle you are after & level of restoration ie part resto to full nut and bolt job. Generally speaking, I think it would be cheaper to build and that’s the way I go personally.
Jack Dobson: I think it used to the case that it was cheaper to buy a completed project rather than do all the work yourself but as prices of well sorted Land Rovers continue to rise, the tide has changed and I think you are better off finding a fixer-upper.
Your opinion – build or buy?
Matt, Alpine Restorations: Whether you plan on doing it yourself or go to a mechanic, it is completely feasible to build something from the ground up. If you want something to keep for life, then you can definitely start from scratch. Renew the chassis, rebuild the axels and take it from there.
Chris Brearley: My opinion - Certainly to build! As I said above it’s the enjoyment, flexibility and freedom to build something to your exact vision.
Jack Dobson: I would always opt to build. It’s much more rewarding and, if anything goes wrong with it, you will have a much better understanding of what it could be (not that it will ever go wrong!).
To summarise, it seems that everyone agrees that if your technical ability allows for it, restoring your own Land Rover can be a very rewarding and fulfilling task. You need to be aware of your own limits and if you need to, get the help of a garage or mechanic with that all important skillset, time, tools and space to get your project finished in a timely fashion. Whichever route you take, it will be costly and time consuming. If that isn’t for you, then buying a fully restored Land Rover is the place to be!
Thank you to the people who participated! Here’s a bit more about them:
Alpine Restorations are based in Halifax, Northern England. Their bread and butter jobs are Land Rover Chassis or Bulkhead Restorations/Replacements, of which they have done hundreds and can turn around in just 1 to 2 weeks. They offer a full range of restoration services including respraying.
Alpine also build and sell a handful of completely restored Land Rovers each year - their recent projects include a Cummins Wagon, a 6 Wheel Drive and a 110 James Bond Spectre Edition Landy!
They are so busy that they have just moved into new premises, working 6 days a week. To find out more, visit their website here! https://www.alpine-restorations.co.uk/
I am lucky enough to work for a large Yorkshire based family run business, as a motor vehicle technician in the prestige segment. I have always had car projects going on at home and skills I have learned in my job have helped me with restoration work at home and vice versa.
My current project, our 1987 Defender 90, was probably on the road for only a year or two before the engine failed and we SORN’d it, planning to carry out a 200tdi conversion. The bulkhead was rotten, and the doors also didn’t fit properly as a result, so we sent it to a garage to have it replaced for us. It sat around untouched for a couple of years in the unit. Mostly stripped into bits - front end, engine and bulkhead, all in bits. The garage owner then retired and I knew exactly what I had to do. In April 2018 we got the car and its parts back home and in the garage. We’re almost 2 years in now and the chassis is basically complete - repaired, painted and built. There is no target date for completion as such, but by the end of 2020 I would like to have all the mechanical running gear and bodywork finished.
You can follow Chris and his rebuild on Instagram here: @lr90_resto_pro
My first project was at 16 when I rebuilt an 88” Series IIA. With plenty of help from my Dad, the Land Rover was stripped right back to the bare chassis and rebuilt from the ground-up. The next project came 15 years later when I restored a 109” Series IIA here in Australia. The most recent project was another ground-up restoration of my 88” which has suffered badly from the effects of salted roads and Cornish sea air. Whilst I was able to get the original chassis repaired with new outriggers, spring hangers and rear quarter chassis (thanks Bearmach!) I do wonder if I should have taken the plunge and bought a new chassis.
I have now made the move into professional restoration projects. Last year I drove to a client meeting in my 88” Series IIA (my other day job is Social Media Marketing). The client was absolutely won over by ‘Grandma’ and asked me to find him a Land Rover. Two weeks later I had found the perfect candidate and seven weeks on from that it was fully restored. Timing was certainly tight on that project! Using Instagram Stories I shared the entire restoration and several people got in touch to ask if I would be interested in working on theirs - it seems that there are few places in Australia that are willing to work on Land Rovers so I guess I’m attempting to fill that void.
Follow Jack and his restorations on his Instagram page here: @jackuar_land_rover