Restoration of the Seats

Dismal condition of seats at purchase


When we bought the Defender in February last year the original seats were in a pretty sorry state.   The original covering on the front seats had become so worn and torn someone had recovered them using what appears to have been a combination of another cover patched with old bags from the Takoradi Flour mill.  The seat frames were starting to rust  and only adjusted forward and back or tilted with a great deal of encouragement, if at all.   The back seats were/are very simple bench type seats, with a vinyl cover that was worn and torn, but still intact.  Ditto for the side facing seats mounted on the wheel wells in the cargo bay.



Original passsenger's seat, with "recent" second flour bag cover removed

The restored Land Rovers that come out of Opere’s shop under the tree are done with a seat vinyl that we did not find to be terribly attractive, thus one of the reasons why we wanted to manage the restoration ourselves was to be able to exercise greater control over the design of the interior finish.  For the front seats we decided  to import refinishing kits from a place called Exmoor Trim in England, which specializes in custom items for Land Rovers. come complete with new foams and a choice of attractive, quality covers.  We took out all the seats before we delivered the Defender to the paint shop, so we could start that part of the project.  That proved to be a smart thing to do as the painting took much longer than we expected.



Stripped down seat frame

The best part was tearing off the old covers and seat foams.  These were quite shot, although given the heavy use and poor condition of the covers, the quality of th original foams had to be good for them to have remained as intact as they were.  Once we got the metal seat frames stripped we cleaned off any rust and grime from around the base, which is wher the slide and tilt mechanism is, which was all re-oiled and restored to good working order.   In another sign of wear was visible in the base panel of the passenger seat, which had come detached from the frame at the front and bent so the panel, which is supposed to attach to the top front of the base seat frame, had slipped down below the frame. That meant there was nothing supporting the base when someone was sitting on it.  No wonder it did not slide back and forth very well.  A quick reweld courtesy of Paani fixed that problem.     We then repainted the base of the metal seats with some of the exterior black paint that Sikkens had used for the bumpers.


Front Seats: re-foamed, re-covered and re-born,


Laura and I installed the new foam cushions and cover kits with the aid of the Exmoor on-line instruction video.  Somehow the video made it look and sound easier than it actually was, there were moments when we thought we had too much foam and not enough material, but of course is it supposed to be a firm fit and after enough pulling and tugging the zips all zipped and the clips all clipped.   The  final product is attractive and, most importantly, very comfortable.





Michael Debrah with refinished back seats

The second row bench type seats presented a different challenge.  I had wanted to replace these with back seats from a Discovery I, an early version of another, less utilitarian Land Rover model that began production about tweny years ago, in order to gain comfort and leg room.  Unfortunately we were not able to find any Disco I seats for a reasonable price so we decided to simply restore the original bench seats.   We are not sure at this point we will take the back seats on the expedition, much of the space may be better used from storage.  It is a 70/30 split so we may just take the 30% part, but we need seats in Accra.    Rather than buy Exmoor kits we hired a local upholsterer that Francis had recommended named Michael Deborah, to put in some new foam and recover them.  Michael brought by some material samples (one of the beauties of doing a project like this in Accra is the service people come to you, you don’t have to go to them) and we chose a neutral gray cotton to complement the Exmoor front seats and other interior finishes.  We were expecting he would just put the fabric on smooth as it was on the original vinyl covered back seats, but he designed them with horizontal bars and grey vinyl backs to replicate the design of the Exmoor front seats and it looks very nice.  I have since asked Michael to recover the “cubby box” (the glove box that goes between the front seats) in the same gray vinyl to freshen that up and pull it all together.

The Defender cargo bay area also has bench seats that sit sideways over the wheel wells, with all these seats the 110 can easily accommodate 9 passengers.   However, our plan calls for the cargo area to be converted to storage so we do not need any seats there, and were one of the first things I took out and before I had Paani fill all the mounting bracket holes as part of the body work.  We will not bother redoing those seats,  maybe I will ask Opere if he can find a use for them somewhere.

Next,  getting the soundproofing in……

Painted at Last – What a Great Looking Water Delivery Van

We got the Defender back on Saturday, painted at last.  The colour is exactly what we wanted.













It is going to take some getting used to.  Driving it home I noticed people noticing me, it is that attractive.   There were a couple of things still to do, like getting the lights operational, or installing the new Defender decal I had bought in my first Famous Four shipment but had forgotten to give to Bernard.   Bernard asked me to bring the vehicle back on Monday, so Laura and I took the Subaru and the Defender by first thing Monday morning and she brought me back to the office.   There were also a couple of things that had not been done quite right, for example  Frances’ Sunday inspection found that the chassis painting was not very thorough.   Bernard agreed and agreed with a smile to fix that too.  The story does not end there, in fact it is really only there that it begins to get interesting.

I did not need the vehicle back in a hurry, and it is easy to hand over a non-registered vehicle in for work and forget about it.  I learn one should never do that in Ghana.  I returned the Defender to the Sikkens shop on a Monday morning and left it there Monday night. On Tuesday night I was in the neighbourhood  on another errand and decided to swing by and have a look.  It was dark so I would not be able to see much but maybe I could at least see if the decal had been installed or if the lights worked.   I got more than I bargained for.

There was no Defender parked in front of the shop so I drove into the street behind where most of the vehicles being worked on are parked but did not see it there either.  I pulled over to turn around but had to wait for another vehicle  that was coming up the street from the direction of the beach before I could pull out.  The passing vehicle was our Land Rover.  Curious I thought, seems late to be taking it around the front to park.  I started to follow and to my surprise it turned right at the corner along the main La Road, away from the Sikkens shop and heading out of town.

I followed.  It is the first time I have ever driven behind this vehicle and with the fresh paint, and the white ladder and roof rack installed it looked very nice.  I was also pleased to see that in fact it is not blowing any smoke.  I could see the electrician had not got to it yet because there were no brake or signal lights.  But where was it going?

After a couple of kilometres it turned left and proceeded through a small community market and tro-tro (bus van) station,  around a couple of corners and up a hill past a small church.  By this time I had noticed that there seemed to be about five people in the back, which is interesting as there are no seats in the vehicle except for the driver’s seat.    Was someone using it as a tro-tro?  The road became straight again and I decided we had gone far enough.   A bit of flashing of brights and honking of horn got them to pull over.  The driver I recognized right away as the painter I had dashed (tipped) on Saturday for doing a good job, I did not recognize any of the other four young men.

What struck me at this point was that there were no fewer than 8 or 9  twenty- gallon plastic containers, a common means of conveying  water in Ghana, full of H2O and placed round the area where the back seat would normally be and in the cargo bay.  Equally incredible was the story the driver tried to peddle.  They were taking the Defender to a safer place to park for the night.  The water was going to be used to wash the Defender the next day and they did not want to leave it at the shop because the doors don’t all lock and they did not want anything to happen to my water.   At this point I wondered if maybe they had noticed I had been following them much earlier and spent the last mile or so dreaming up creative but implausible explanations as to what exactly they were up to.

I told them to head back to the shop and followed them.  I tried to phone Bernard the Sikkens manager en route, but we were back at the shop by the time he picked up.   He seemed to assume I was calling him to get a status on the work and started in right away giving me a sitrep on the status of the days work, apologizing that they had not finished yet and promising it would be ready the next day.   When I told him my little discovery he really did seem unknowing. , which would mean he is only guilty of mismanagement, not of collusion.  When I said I was taking the vehicle home he begged me not to do that, that we would square it up in the morning.   I took photographs of the water jugs in the vehicle,  got the boys to remove them, took the key,  dashed the watchman two cedis, telling him I would break his legs if I came back and the Defender was not there, and went home.

I went by this morning (Wednesday) at 08:00, with Francis (see separate Post on Underbody).  I had decided  at 6 AM to phone Francis to see if he could come out with me and luckily he was at the CHC, two blocks from my home, when I called at 7:00.   I wanted to have someone I could trust that spoke Twi, so any discussion that might take place between Bernard and his staff was open to me.   I also  thought having a Ghanaian auto maintenance shop owner present might impress upon Bernard that it was not just some random obruni (white man) he was dealing with, that his reputation within the Ghanaian automotive network was also in play.

Francis was absolutely apoplectic  that a shop could be so loose with customer’s cars, and the thirty years seniority he has on Bernard, together with his knowledge of shop management served to  complement my role as perturbed customer very well.  He lectured Bernard, in English and Twi, on customer trust, on insurance risk, and on how to ensure keys were collected and locked at the of the day.  By the end he was taking Bernard around the Defender showing him the parts where they still had to do some work, and how the interior had to be repainted because the water jugs had left marks.    The best part, it turns out Francis is on a first-name basis with the owner of the Sikkens franchise that Bernard manages.   In a touch of histrionics he also told Bernard  that his “brother “is a senior official in the Ghana Police Service, which may or may not be true, but it was cute to hear him keep asking Bernard  “Do you think I should call my brother?”

By the time we left Bernard promised to repaint the interior floor that had been damaged by the water delivery crew and do more touch-up on the chassis where Francis had noticed short-cuts I had not.  I gave him back the key and I went to work.   It took them two more days to finish the touch up and electrical, but I was not comfortable leaving it there overnight, Laura and I went by and picked it up Wednesday night and dropped it off again on Thursday.   When we picked it up Thursday night the electrical had been finished, all the new lights I brought in from Famous Four months ago have now been installed.  Opere was right, the old lights would not have worked with a new paint job, I have a bag of old chipped, broken and discoloured lenses that looked just awful.  The electrician even got the brake lights to work, which Eric the electrician that Opere uses had said I would need a new part for, but was not specific about exactly what.   The chassis touch-up is also done, and the floor is repainted  The latter almost seems superfluous, yes it is scratched but it is l going to be covered by sound proofing and floor covering.  I wanted to paint the interior in order to freshen it up and make it clean, but it is all going to get covered so a few scratches on the interior floor really do not matter.   However it is all part of Bernard’s pentience for his negligence and I do not want to deny him that

The whole experience may not have been pleasant, but it was memorable.  Two Ghanaian colleagues I recounted this story to said it was clearly the hand of God that took me by the shop at the very moment the borrowers were driving by, that God had wanted them to be caught for their wrongdoing.  Ghanaians are very religious, and the circumstances certainly support that interpretation.  I myself am feeling a combination of satisfaction from having caught them so red-handed, and regret at having had to give Bernard such a hard time.  He is likely in a a difficult situation with his management.   In the end, no one lost their job as a result.  When I dropped the car off  Thursday it was the same painter that had “stolen” the vehicle the day before that took it away to the paint bay.  When I asked Bernard he simply said what the painter had said, that the individuals needed water at their house.  I am not so sure it was quite that simple, there was a lot of water in the cargo bay, and a lot of people, but who knows.

I also learned an important lesson not to hold my trust in check when giving up a vehicle, any vehicle, for work here.  Of course I could have monitored the odometer, but I knew the paint shop was shuttling it back and forthlet tetween the main paint bay and the “seaside” puttying and sanding place”  But I also now wonder how many kilometres people at Opere’s might have put on it or more seriously, how many risks they ran, during the weeks it was in their possession.  Oh well, I will just be more careful from now on.











Now that it is painted I have to start the process of putting it back together.  Seats and seat belts,   exterior air vent covers and wheel well arches.   The next big project is the interior finish, including soundproofing, interior door panels and roof liner, carpet, etc. etc.

Still Getting Ready to Paint…..

So we finally delivered the Defender to Bernard at Sikkens (Kolours) for painting on November 19, complete with the roof rack and ladder because they are also part of the deal.  That was two weeks ago and they are working hard, but no actual paint has been applied yet. There is a popular misconception is that a “paint job” is a simple, individual step, but actually painting comprises numerous steps before the real painting of the car can be done.   I knew this but think I stumbled into the misconception.   I have been by a few times and they are always working on it, but not painting.  I know that a great paint job is the outcome of many hours expended sanding and readying the body perfectly smooth before the paint can be applied, this is essential to get the look you are expecting, but I am starting to get restless.   I told Bernard that he can take the time needed to do a good job, but I did not expect that it would take  this long. The first time I went by the vehicle was not at the paint shop at all, but rather “at the seaside” which, piqued my curiousity.  The shop is only a couple of blocks from the shore, and I imagined somewhow they were doing some environmentally egregious work at the tide-line.  I went looking and found that in fact Kolours has a second location where they do the body prep work: puttying, filling,  sanding. It is closer to the shore, but not on it at all,

November 24: Jonathon checking some of the putty prep work with Bernard, Manager at Kolours. Note the Ghanaian flag flying next door.
....all signs of EPA are gone forever from the door. That little Land Rover tdi emblem on the lower fender is also going to get sanded down to nothing.











They are doing the putty and sanding work both to the outside  of the vehicle and the inside, which is completely stripped except for the old drivers seat.  That does make for a rather large area to cover and adds to the time.   They are now  getting quite close to actually applying paint. I insisted they not paint around all the various appurtenances on the body (ie. lights) and was there to see them remove them.

November 28: Rear lights coming off. Note the roof rack has also been removed for painting separately. The rack footing marks on the gutter that were so visible have now been puttied and sanded away
December 1: Front lights, grill, vents and panels are all off. Can no longer see the tdi emblem on the fender.
Masked and primered Defender outside Sikkens. Roof has been painted white.











December 5: Masked and primered, complete with sleeping dog. Roof has been painted white











Kolours have now invested well over two weeks in careful pre-paint prep work.  I can’t quite figure out the pricing, Ghana is not that inexpensive.   They seem very professional and thorough, although my close monitoring has yielded some benefits.  In the picture to the left you can see they have just masked the rear license plate and left it on.  However, I will have to change that plate and I think the new one is going to be a different size than the old one.  I had asked Benard to remove it but they must have forgotten.  Fortunately I went by and caught  this and they have now taken it off.  Which is not an easy thing to do – the plate is actually riveted to the vehicle. I also see they had not taken off the tdi decals from one of the front fenders, which would have either been painted around or over, either one of which would have looked messy.

We have now actually passed the ‘getting ready to paint’ stage, the roof has been painted, and the next time we see the Defender it will be sporting the new NATO Lightstone caramel colour.  The wheels, roof rack ladder, and underside also have yet to be done, but once they start spraying it will happen fast.