All 4x4s have plenty of ground clearance, in our case there is 18″ between the bottom of the front door and the ground. That makes for a fairly large step up to get into the vehicle, so it helps to have some sort of interim step to facilitate access and egress. Often this consists of steel runners, sometimes called “raider bars”. In older Defenders like ours this function is served by actual folding steps that are mounted to the frame below each door.
In our Defender the steps were original, but three of the five in very poor condition. On one the plate is so rusted the plate has begun to corrode away and a couple of others are badly twistted, like someone went off-roading without folding them up and they impacted with a piece of particularly unforgiving terrain. The rubber mats that sit on top of the steps with the cool Land Rover emblem are completely gone from two of the steps. Just two of the steps are in reasonably good condition, ironically the best one is the driver’s step. Either the driver did not use the step, as crew clambering in and out, or that one wore out first and was replaced at some point. Whatever the reason two have to be completely replaced for sure.
Laura and I devoted some time to discussing the relative merits of steps vs. bars. We both like the clean lines of the raider bar style, but they are not quite as functional. The raider bars also sit much higher, to allow for the clearance that is an important feature of anyy 4×4, but by being so high the bars do not really reduce the height one has to reach to get into vehicle that much, they are only about 4 ” down from the floor. The steps, on the other hand, are lower to the ground when folded down so divide the stepping distance more evenly and fold up when clearance is needed. The Land Rover insignia burned into the rubber step caps is another point in favour of the steps, as is price. All the people who quoted on the body work for this vehicle included the cost of reconditioned steps. Paani, the welder who I ultimately selected to do the body work said he could rejuvenate them for 50 cedis ($33) each, about half the cost of importing new ones. Stock copies of the steps without the Land Rover insignia on the rubber are available from suppliers for about $60 each, the raider bars can be imported for between $300 and $500 for a vehicle set, including shipping, depending on the model chosen. Another body work quote I got said 60 cedis each for the steps. What the bars lack is the distinctive quaintness of the steps. They fold up, for heaven’s sake, each with its own (not-so) little spring Very low tech, they epitomize English practical functionality, like the long metal vents under the front windshield that that one opens and closes by means of a big lever under the dash to gain air flow directly into the cabin.
When Francis was over one Sunday day we were debating the pros and cons of steps vs. bars. I think he likes bars better, but he accepted our preference for the authenticity of the steps. He asked if he could take one to a welder he knew to see if he could do something with it. I gave him the most twisted one and he brought it back a week later in like-new condition. The step plate and been replaced, the frame had been straightened, the swing hinge had been rejuvenated and it had been repainted. It looked good, and it worked. Francis said if I liked it he could have the others done for a price that was lower than either of the quotes I had gotten from others. I seized on that option. I was able to reinstall them myself, with the exception of one because I seem to have lost one of the horizontal supports that runs between the bottom back of the step to the chassis.
So we now have four like-new steps. The one on the driver’s side is in the best shape, it only needed clean up and painting and that was done by the paint shop as part of their package. Indeed, I never removed that step from the vehicle.The steps were sitting around for a long time and I only just reinstalled them, along with the recovered rear seats (separate post coming) over the Christmas holiday so we could use the Defender for some Christmas social calls in Accra and Laura, and our daughter Kat and her boyfried Allan, who were visiting, could get in and not have to sit on the floor.
Three of the four steps are still waiting for rubber caps. I have one that is restorable. Through a Land Rover on-line forum I found someone in England who has caps and is willing to sell them, we are just working out shipping options. If that does not work out we may find ourselves making some from rubber scraps. (P.S. 4 years elapsed before I finally obtained the rubber caps for the 3 steps that needed them; I picked them up at Rovers North in Vermont after I returned to Canada)