When I bought this Defender almost nine months ago I remember crawling underneath it in the yard to see what went where and having to put on glasses to prevent the thick coat of dirt from sprinkling into my eyes . It was a real mess. All the work that has been done since has knocked much of the accumulated mud and dirt off, but it is still a mess. Opere talked about sending it to a washer before painting later, but he has not taken any initiative to organize that and Francis has again stepped in to fill the gap. Francis has consistently come through on a number of fronts and is more than anyone else playing the role of “fixer” in the Land Rover project.
I was introduced to Francis through colleagues at the High Commission. He has been the CHC mechanic for a very long time, not quite since independence but almost that long. The first time I met him he was in the office of a colleague, with one hand heavily bandaged and was recounting the story of how he had been caught in an attempted robbery in a “shared-taxi” . As the name suggests, shared taxis are multi-passenger vehicles, not the larger van-type “tro-tros” that carry 10-12 but regular sedans which carry one to three passengers in non-air-conditioned discomfort who are going in the same general direction and are prepared to share the space and accept a less than direct ride in exchange for a savings on the fare. The other downside of shared taxis is the personal security risk that comes with getting into a vehicle that is already carrying more than one person, and Francis had just gotten caught in a situation where he was asked by the driver and passenger to hand over all his money. They got more than they bargained for , when Francis, who must be well into his sixties but as a former soldier knows something about hand-to-hand combat, gave the would-be robbers a run for his money. He first dealt with the other “passenger” , who he took into some sort of headlock and was able to throw out of the car as they went around a corner in the shanty district of Nima. He then turned his attention on the driver and wrestled him for the wheel until they smashed the car into a pole not too far from the Nima Police station. The “driver” abandoned the vehicle, leaving Francis to report the attempted robbery at the nearby police post , with the abandoned taxi as evidence. He sustained some ligament damage to his arm, but escaped with his money, and his pride, intact.
Francis has done the work on our Subaru and while he is not a precision mechanic, he has impressed with his sense of customer service and his pro-active aptitude for finishing a job. So far his involvement with the Defender project has been limited to serving as a reference to other specialists to provide quotes on work as diverse as body work, electrical, air conditioning and carpeting and upholstery. He has also gotten the plastic grill repaired that was broken at Opere’s and he is the one that he also stepped in to get another part of the project where others have fallen down – the steps below each of the doors. (separate post coming on “Queen Vic’s Carriage Steps”).
I had approached Francis to get a quote on paint and in the process we got talking about the underbody. I liked the methodology he talked about: getting under with a pressure washer and soap and scrub brushes , then going through the underbody with sandpaper to get any the rust out, then going through with the soap and pressure washer again. We both agreed it would be foolhardy to leave it to the sprayer to do the underbodyprep work, it would be too easy to just paint over the parts that were too difficult to clean and who would know.
This led to Francis bringing a couple of his “boys” to the house a couple of weeks ago. We took the Defender to a good washing bay for a thorough cleaning with a pressure washer (the second time I have done this) and then back to the house. Three people spent six hours under the vehicle with petrol and sandpaper, then we took it back to the pressure washer. The result was amazing. The wheel wells that were previously caked with dirt are now down to clean, shiny aluminum. I can read the Land Rover symbol on the muffler. The whole tailpipe is shining and the frame is clean black metal. There were still some spots of dirt around, but another visit to the pressure washer fixed most of that. There are still spots of dirt in nooks and crannies in the frame here and there and I am thinking of another more supervised visit to the washer, but that might be bordering on obsession. We broke the back of the underbody cleaning challenge. While they were here they also cleaned up the roof rack and took off the plastic wheel well arches that I was not able to figure out how to get off (plastic pins that worked like concrete anchors for screws) . It cost me almost $100, half for labour and half for sandpaper and petrol.
Picking the undercoat is turning out to be almost as much of a challenge as picking the body colour. My research leads to a dizzying array of products, ranging from cheap enamel to high-tech plasticized products that sound as if they would do just fine on the underside of the Space Shuttle, with prices to match. There are actually three parts of the underside: the frame, the mechanical gear and the body. The sprayer wants to use something called Terason Underbody on all these. I could not find this on the internet when I googled it, instead Terrason came up, which suggests that perhaps the product here is a cheap copy of the internationally recognized one. Francis knows Terason and thinks it is a good product. I am going to get him to do the frame and maybe the underbody, but not the tailpipe, which is looking so good, or the front wheels wells. Later if I can get my hands on some spray or brush- on liquid sound dampener I will add a couple of coats to the underside of the body and the wheel wells to reduce noise and provide additional protection. I will have to bring that in, no-one seems to know it here.
We are still not quite ready to paint yet. Bernard the sprayer at Sikkens will have to wait a little longer.