Mechanical Condition pre-restoration

Opere and one of his helpers came by shortly after I got the vehicle  to look it over closely and after  poking around the vehicle for a bit he comes up with a list of parts I need.   Before I bought it Opere said it would take  about GHC 4,000 to get it into good running order.   Much of what is needed he knows without having to look at the vehicle, many of the items he just rattles off from experience that tells him what  a 15 year-old Defender that has not been well taken care of is going to need.   Brake and clutch parts and wheel bearings fall into this category.

Opere and helper at the house looking it over. Jonathon (wearing a tie because he just popped home from the office for the occasion) has a book to list the needed parts. Does the book have enough pages?

Many of the parts are available locally but they are expensive here and Opere recommends I import them. One of the things I like about this approach is that my mechanic is not recommending something just to sell the parts, and can also tell me when something can be obtained locally.  He does not seem to sell any parts This was a tip I initially received from Stephane, my Canadian High Commission colleague who was the original inspiration behind this project who was restoring a Defender when I first arrived in Ghana and is now back in Quebec with his Defender,  he put me on to Famous Four, a parts depot based in the UK that specializes in Land Rovers and has a well-tuned mail order  operation.

Using the Famous Four website  I am able to find everything on the list, and in the process familiarize myself with the range of parts  that I might want.  It is really a great site for Landy parts  Some of them are genuine Land Rover parts but most are Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), from the regular supplier to Land Rover or “after market “ parts made by someone else as a copy of the original part.  The prices are not bad, much less than I would pay here and they do not charge VAT on anything exported from the UK.   The shipping costs are hefty but the per pound cost declines the heavier the order is, and the weight adds up when you start adding axles and drive shafts.

Opere and I have some interesting  communication problems in the process of deriving the list of needed parts.  We both speak English, but issues of accent, culture and jargon enter to pose some surprising challenges to my comprehension.  Of course a big part of the problem is my less-than-complete mechanical knowledge.   I never heard of a “servo” before, or a “slave cylinder”.   If I don’t catch something the first time I don’t mind asking Opere to repeat it once or twice but after three times if I still am not sure of what part he is talking about I resort to pretending  to understand and then writing down what I think I have heard and searching for it on parts sites on the internet.   The best one was  “axle”,  which I had a hard time with in part because of his accent and in part because it not something I expected to hear that I would need.  Apparently the “half-shaft” rear axles had been welded to the drive members, the pieces at the end of the axles that the wheels bolt onto.  This left us both shaking our heads in disbelief.

Here is the list of original parts I am ordering from Famous Four.  This will get the clutch and brakes and wheels and axles back into good running order.   This is not the list Opere gave me, I have augmented it with items suggested by the helpful people at Famous Four, or by Ndoria, a Land Rover mechanic friend in Nairobi that is advising via email.

  • Clutch Release Arm Fork
  • Release Arm Slipper Pad
  • Clutch Master Cylinder
  • Clutch Slave Cylinder
  • Clutch Kit, (Plate, cover, release bearing)
  • Release Bearing Staple
  • Push Rod Clip
  • Clutch Flexi-Hose
  • 2 Rear Half Shaft axles
  • Stub Axle to Axle Case Gasket
  • 2 Stub Axle Oil Seals
  • 2 Drive Members
  • 4 Wheel Bearing Kits
  • Brake Master Cylinder
  • 2 Rear Brake Caliper Seal Kits
  • 2 Rear Brake Pad Set
  • 2 Front Caliper Seal Kit
  • Hose Bleed Assembly
  • Front Brake Pad Set
  • Bottom Water Hose
  • By-pass Water Hose
  • Top Water Hose
  • Front Drive shaft
  • 4 Hub Dust Caps

The front drive shaft we have to add because there simply isn’t one, perhaps someone found a better use for it.  I add a few cosmetic things and items I do not need right away but that I want as part of the restoration or for general service and getting them now will bring the shipping cost down.    Including shipping this first parts order will set me back $1200, which sets my total investment to date  at $6,300 (including the battery) .  At the end of it, with a couple of hundred dollars labour to put it together, I should have a vehicle with a good clutch, brakes and drive train, but which will still require some motor work and many, many other restorations and upgrades, including electrical, interior, and bodywork.  I have now obtained a set of Land Rover repair manuals and a restoration book to serve as reference materials, these are proving very handy to my learning process.

There are enough mechanical problems that Opere has to have it pushed out of my yard to start it (the alternator is defective so the battery is dead) to take it off to the shop for the first stage in the mechanical re-build.  

Of course the big mechanical item is the motor.  It runs but smokes quite badly, which might indicate worn pistons, a cracked block, dodgy injectors, or a blown head gasket.  I knew before I bought the vehicle this was going to be a big part of the rebuild.  For the motor  Opere suggests I consider two options.   I can have it rebuilt or I can import a “reconditioned”  replacement TDI 300 from Europe and have Opere install it.  Opere rebuilds Land Rover motors regularly in his shop under the tree (see separate post), but also brings in reconditioned motors from time to time, he calls them “new”, but they are only new to him.  Again, this is a Ghanaian practice, the age of things is really measured from when it comes into the country, a used car might be 20 years old, but it is “new” when it lands at Tema Port.     While the “new” motor is a bit more expensive than the rebuild,  it is surprisingly affordable and much simpler than the rebuild, where I would have to import all the parts which could involve delays.

I am also nervous about what the rebuild might end up costing if we discover some unknown problem that is not easily fixable and adds significantly to the cost.    I am also somewhat apprehensive about a rebuild given that the shop under the tree is not the ideal environment for working with sensitive moving parts.   The reconditioned motor also comes with a number of parts that I need, like A/C and an alternator.  One of the first decisions I make is to go for the reconditioned motor.

Opere says he has 3 TDI 300s coming in shortly and could install one while I am waiting for the other parts to be delivered.  We negotiate quite hard on the price, as the objectivity present in my other dealings with Opere is lacking here (he is selling what he is installing) and I do not have another source.   We settle on the Ghanaian equivalent of  $2,000, with $1500 up front and $500 payable in one month upon satisfactory performance.  Sort of a guaranteed guarantee.   When it is done I will be up to $8,300 on my investment, including  all the other parts I am ordering.   That is still well within budget, but there is still a lot left to do.

Getting Acquainted

Laura and I spent our first weekend just poking around to get to know the layout and condition.  We washed off the layers of harmatan dust and took the roof rack and ladder off. Spending time with an older vehicle that you have had no prior knowledge of or experience with is great fun.  This one must have been sitting for quite awhile because there is a great deal of dirt on it inside and out.  There is also lot of  loose pieces, old screws and bolts, cassete tape boxes, – in the battery box, in the glove box, under the seats. Incredibly, we actually found the original owners manual, still intact in its official Land Rover binder.  We also found a book of usage tracking showing everywhere the vehicle had been driven between 2004 and 2007.  I feel like an archeologist.

We cleaned the interior…..










and took the roof rack off as a first step to getting the body redone…..








There is a sheet of 5/8 inch plywood on the rack that may be as old as the vehicle, it is literally disintegrating.Nevertheless, our gardener and our guard were both standing by to take a piece home with them to support some project or other.

I took all the rear cargo bay bench seats out, I now have quite a pile of Land Rover debris in our carport.

Cargo Bay with the seats
Cargo Bay without the seats, this will be the focus for expedition storage systems


Taking Delivery

Buying it is one thing, getting it home is another altogether.  First, I had to buy the battery, which calls into question the term “a driveable vehicle”.  An 18 plate battery is what is called for and they don’t come cheap.  So much for it being a driveable vehicle.

I decide to take Gomez’ offer of delivery.   It took him two days to get it to me, I am still not sure why.   Westerners criticizing the sense of time of people in developing countries is a terrible cliché, I have lived in the Caribbean and Latin America and am quite familiar with how it is more cliché than reality.  However, there is a uniquely Ghanaian sense of time that I am gradually beginning to appreciate,  actually far worse than I have seen elsewhere.   Here, if someone says, “I am on my way”,  it does not necessarily mean they are physically seated in some means of conveyance located between where they are and where you are.  As often as not it means that they are thinking of leaving the place where they are soon. It may well be that they are going to pass by a third location to do something else before they get around to actually heading in your direction.  To remove the uncertainty about when someone is coming I have learned it helps to seek as much precision as possible about where the person is at that moment and what they are doing.  “I will be there soon” or “I am on my way” do not mean what it does in Calgary or Paris. Unfortunately I had not yet assimilated this wisdom when I was trying to get my Landy home.

Gomez  told me about 9:00 AM one Saturday they were bringing it that morning.   It is only about a half hour drive, so when at noon no-one had arrived I called to ask what was going on.  It became clear that they had not left Bubiashie yet.   By evening there was still no Defender in my parking lot.  I was told they had had some mechanical problem and would bring it in the morning.  Two fellows did arrive about noon the next day, I was never really given an explanation for the delay.   There were a number possible problems they could have had, which became all too apparent later on.    One of gentlemen (in the tam hat in the photo below) was the fellow who had pretended to be Gomez the day I went out to look at the vehicle.  This was the guy I gave the money to, which was ironic.

Counting the money. You would think with so many cedis on the table there would be more smiles
Jonathon with the pre-restored Defender, in front of our house in Accra. Note the dents in front fender.











Now that the machine is accessible we can get acquainted.  I can’t drive it yet but I am going to spend some time sitting in it, crawling under it and climbing over it.

We Find Our Defender

Since telling Opere that I want to get a 15 year old Defender in pre-restored condition I have visited and telephoned him  many times. He knows my specs, but each time somehow the ones he has don’t quite fit, or belong to someone else.   Then, finally, a couple of Saturdays ago he said he thought a friend had something I might like.   He jumped in my Subaru and off we went across districts of Accra I had never seen or heard of, through Abalemkie, Tesano and North Kaneshie.  Finally in a district called Bubiashie, down a busy, narrow, rough and tumble market road are all kinds of mechanical hardware strewn about on piles along the side of the road: old engines, petrol tanks, wheels and whole vehicles ranging from whole one-ton trucks to small sedans.  There in a parking area to one side are not one, but three Land Rover Defender 110s.  Judging from the numbers on the back windows it appeared one was 2002, one was 2003, and one was 1995.  At 15 years old the latter meets one of my criteria: legal to go back to Canada.

Opere with the EPA Landy on our first visit - You can't see all the dents here

The 300 Turbo Diesel Injection (Tdi) engine (as opposed to 200 Tdi) was one attractive feature, another was the solid roof rack and rear ladder, a must have expedition feature.   Some personality is added by the insignia of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)on the doors.  It has wiring for external audio and video, the door on the rear fender gives access to a 220 output plug – perhaps it was used for public education in remote areas.   Covered with the red harmatan seasonal dust it looks anything but pretty, and the aluminum body has plenty of dents on the sides and fenders.  The odometer reads 180,000 Km, but neither vintage nor mileage seem to be important when assessing vehicles here.   Most of the vehicles in Ghana are brought in used from Europe and by the time they get to someone often no-one is sure of the year and mileage, well, what it looks like is usually more important to the buyer.  In the case of this vehicle, judging by the appearance those were probably 180,000 very tough kilometres, especially if it was used in the bush.

Opere looks it over and says the motor will need a rebuild and that the clutch, brakes and rear axle will probably all need to be replaced.  However, he recommends I buy it, I just need to negotiate.   The owner is not there right now, but his “brother” is, who tells us it is a driveable vehicle for which they want Ghana Cedi  9,000, or the equivalent of about $6,500.   Opere says up front that it will cost the equivalent ofGHC  4,000 (about $3,500) to do all the mechanical work, including the motor.









After thinking it over for a couple of days I decide to go back and look at it again on my own.   I have them start it up, a process much delayed by the fact that the vehicle does not have a battery.   When they finally find a battery it starts grudgingly, and spews an awful lot of smoke.   It is very difficult to engage the clutch, so I forego the normal test-drive.  I already know it needs lots of work, that is part of the package.

Without ever meeting the owner, over the next few days I negotiate via Opere and we close the deal, moving from his asking price of GHC 9,000 ($6,500) and my offering GHC 5,000 ($3,000) we settle on GHC 7,000 ($5000).   That is about half what I have been asked for restored Defenders of the same vintage, but this one needs alot of work.  At this price I am probably not gaining much financially over buying a restored version, but I am attracted by the restoration itself.  That way I will be able to able to manage the process so the end product suits our needs and tastes and I will gain a better knowledge of the vehicle and how it works, which  may just come in handy when I start using it and something breaks.

There were some curious  developments during the course of getting this vehicle.  At one point after I have concluded my telephone negotiations without ever  actually meeting Gomez I go out and am talking to someone who says, yes he is Gomez,  but who still wants the GHC9,000 like we had never had the negotiations.   I excuse myself and leave and call Opere to say Gomez is crazy.  Opere calls me back in 10 minutes and says that Gomez was not the person I was just speaking with and he is still good for the GHC 7,000.  Was some imposter trying to scam me?  If so, how did he know  GHC 9,000 was the asking price?   In the end the real Gomez calls me to apologize and say that one of his colleagues that did not know he was negotiating with me had misunderstood, and he is still good for GHC 7,000.

The seats are completely shot, the bases have old rice bags as covers
Is that carpeting impressive or what? The layer of fine dust suggests the vehicle has not been moved for a long time













So after months of stalking Land Rover owners, after leaving my business card under windshield wipers all over town, and  after many visits out to Opere’s Land Rover shop under the tree we have finally found our Defender.   There is a lot of work to do, perhaps more work than I realize, to make it into an attractive, comfortable, functional vehicle to explore West Africa in.