The eighteen months of our Land Rover restoration project brought us into contact with many people who in their own way contributed to the successful outcome. We met mechanics and electricians, welders and painters, upholsterers and air conditioning specialists. After returning from our trip one of our last Saturday afternoons in Ghana before departing for Canada was spent saying thanks to many of those individuals by inviting them to Opere’s shop for pizza and beer. We set up the Defender in full campsite mode, filled the fridge with beer and soft drinks and brought some pizza from Frankies and meat pies we bought from Rejoice at the High Commission.
The turn out was not bad, if devoid of female presence. Despite that, on request we put an Ebo Taylor CD in the stereo and the boys even danced.
It was our way of saying thank you and farewell to some people who helped realize a project that was, when you think about it, rather unlikely and against the odds.
Almost two years ago when this blog was started just before we purchased the beat-up 15+ year old Land Rover Defender for restoration we contemplated some of the possible options for disposal at the end (See Posts in Planning Category). Since that time the list of possible options has grown and evolved ifrom selling in Ghana, selling in Morocco, or shipping to Canada to include shipping to South Africa to explore southern and eastern Africa and retaining in Ghana, perhaps on a shared ownership basis, for future use in the region. At the time we wound up our trip all of those options save the Morocco one were still on the table. I had obtained quotes for shipping to South Africa and expressions of interest to purchase from within Ghana, We had weighed all these for some time and each had its merits, and its downsides. If we sent it to South Africa it would open up whole new horizons in southern and eastern Africa, but would carry a large financial cost associated with shipping and storage. Selling it or retaining it in Ghana would provide an incentive to return to try to get to Mali and other West African locations like Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, etc.
With the soundproofing in we could then do the ceiling and the floor covering. For the latter we had decided even before we bought the vehicle that we wanted carpet on the floor, as opposed to the vinyl stuff that is used in many of the Landy restorations here. I can hear the off roaders groaning, I know carpet is not the first choice for the floor if you are going to be crossing rivers or doing any amount of real off roading. For that the bare metal floor is probably best. However, most of our travel will be on roads so we can afford to opt for the comfort and quiet that carpet is conducive to.
Paani had taken out the roof liners last fall to patch a couple of the holes left by superfluous electrical plugs we removed last year and the ceiling has been bare metal ever since. I had asked Paani one Saturday who did ceilings and he gave me the number of one Agomah, who keeps a shop near the Tesano area of Accra, not too far a drive from where we live. I called Agomah when I got back from seeing Paani one Saturday afternoon. Thanks to accent and vocabulary differences, telephone conversations between foreigners and Ghanaians are never easy affairs, particularly so if you have not met yet. Explaining who I was and what I wanted, and then getting into the logistical details of meeting was not easy and when we hung up I was really not sure we were on the same planet. We reviewed different options of times during the week when he might come to my house to meet me and see the vehicle. It is very common here for mechanics to make house calls, they are very quick to offer to come to your house. I love it but it sometimes can be awkward, maybe they often want to come when I am at work, or it is difficult for them to find where I live. Wanting to simplify this I suggested we meet in an obvious location known to both of us, at a time when traffic was light. This led to a rendez-vous at 8AM Sunday at Kwame Nkruman Circle, which in addition to being probably the most well known junction in Accra, is also midway between where I live and where Agomah’s shop apparently is.
I called him at 7:30AM Sunday to confirm we were still on for 8:00 and to alleviate my fear that maybe we had completely misunderstood each other the day before. When I called Agomah said “but you said 8:00 o’clock” and I had to reassure him I was not looking for him yet, just wanting to confirm where and when we were meeting. I piled the old beat up roof liners into the back and headed off to Kwame Nkrumah Circle. The roof liner consists of three solid pieces of very firm but softish board that are about 1/4 inch think and covered with a fabric material. The problem in our Defender was the covering fabric was very dirty and discoloured and had become mostly detached from the board so it just drooped loosely.
Agomah and a colleague showed up at the right time in the right place in a tro tro and after looking at the Defender suggested we go up to his shop in North Industrial a short distance away to see materials. The shop is just another ramshackle shed, one of a number along a exitramp from a main Achimota Road leading into the North Industrial district. He had some samples of other recovered ceiling panels for me to look at that were quite lovely, and with some choices of colour. I settled on a very plain but bright gray, seeking to accent the dark gray dash and interior door panels.
Agomah not only had quality roof liner, but seeing that our Defender floor still only has soundproofing on it he was
quick to pull out some ready cut carpeting pieces he had on hand for someone else, in a colour that matches our seats and door panels very nicely. The carpet is a short pile with a woven substrate and a smooth nonporous plastic backer. The set consists of 8 or 9 pieces that fit the front and back seat floor, over the transmission tunnel and around the seat boxes. When I said we did not want carpet in the cargo bay because it would not be functional and be too hard to clean Agoma came out with a heavy backed vinyl that he said they use quite often. Indeed it is probably the same vinyl that we had seen in the front of the Defenders and Opere restores and which was part of the inspiration to do our own restoration. As much as we may not have wanted it for the front, it looked just right for back.
Anticipating a moment like this I had brought with me for my own reference a quote I had received on ceiling and carpeting work from someone else a few months earlier. We got into price and I countered his original quote of GHC 500 (CAD 300) for ceiling and carpets with an offer of $450 (CAD 270). We shook hands on it and I gave him GHC 100 down, all the money I had in my pocket at the time. That was probably the most spontaneous of any decision I have had made on this project, and one of the best. The price was much lower that the other I had got earlier, from Michael who had done the back seat for me, and Agomah was recommended by Paani, who did my body work w (SEE SEPARATE POST) and that recommendation counted for a lot. We are very pleased with the result.
The best part was I did not even have to leave the vehicle with them, they just took my old ceiling panels to recover, the carpets they can produce based on their knowledge of Defenders, and if there were any doubt there were 3 or 4 Defender 110s I saw hanging about they could use for measurements.
It was sometime before I could get back to Agomah to have him install the roof liner and carpet, and I think he was wondering why after a couple of weeks I still had not returned. I was hesitating anyway because I wanted to run wires to the back for an outside area light and for speakers and thought I should do that before the carpet and ceiling went in. The problem was I was having trouble finding quality wire. With the lapsed time I was feeling guilty because I had given them such a small deposit and Laura and I were about to head for South Africa on two week holiday/outfitting gear shopping trip. Before we went away I went by and gave Agomah another 200 cedis, leaving a 150 cedi balance. I also picked the new liners and carpet up and brought everything home, having seen the “shop” I was a bit nervous that it could get dirty, rained on or otherwise damaged.
Finally on a Saturday in mid-March after we got back from our shopping trip to South Africa I was able to back to Agomah with the Defender and the ceiling and carpet pieces I had been safeguarding so he could finish the installation. It did not take very long, although I did have to ferry back to the house in a taxi to pick up a can of odds and ends that Paani had given me six months ago after he stripped the interior to do take the electrical plugs out of the roof and upgrade the doors that included, inter alia, the plastic plugs that are needed to put the roof liner in. Very pleased with the end product, they even put the mirror and sun visors back in and installed the interior ceiling lights front and back. Amazingly, the lights worked right away. The roof liner actually surpassed my expectations, the old ceiling was so loose that I thought I was going to get a new, clean fabric hanging loose, but instead I get a new, clean fabric fully moulded to the panel. It looks superb.
The carpets also went in, as well as the vinyl floor covering for the cargo bay. There were a few minor trims Agomah and his helper had to do but it all went in quite nicely. There are a couple of things that I am not entirely satisfied with, for example for some reason they did not carpet a 4 inch vertical piece between the back seat and the cargo bay that is quite visible. The roof liner panel also needs to be tightened up around the sunlights on the side of the roof. I had already gotten them to fix a couple of other bits, like making sure there was enough clearance between the accelerator pedal and the carpet so I was running out of time so I paid them the 150 cedis holdback with a 40 cedi dash and they said come back anytime and they would put the missing carpet piece in. My experience with Ghanaian tradespeople is that once you have established a business relationship and as long as you don’t squeeze them too much on price they are more than willing to do follow-up fixes. I am also going to ask them to recover the sun visors, which they had offered to do initially but which I declined thinking we had cleaned the old visors up so nicely they did not need to be recovered. However, once installed they don’t look quite so nice against the new ceiling. Those are details that will be get looked after, but it all looks very nice now. Also worthy of comment is the further noise reduction. After driving around in a bare metal box for six months the addition of soundproofing, roof-lining and carpets makes a remarkable difference.
I just had a very productive weekend. I took the Defender up to the Land Rover farm on Saturday for Panni to put the door panels and fittings back in. Some of that I could have done myself but it would have taken me a lot longer. He also put the wheel arches back on. As a final touch, he fitted the one remaining step that I was not able to do myself because I was missing the steel stabilizing bar that runs from the step to the chassis.
He said the cost was included in the original price I paid for the body work, which makes a certain amount of sense, but for his trouble I dashed him 10 cedis ( about $6.50) for his two hours work, which he seemed to appreciate greatly. I was very impressed that he had all the pieces that he had removed when he did the orginal body work last summer,all the door liners, the inside mirror, the window surrounds and the buttons to put them back on. He even came up with a plastic surround for the rear window wiper/washer which I had forgotten I had. Much of this I had purchased months ago and completely forgotten about, but he had kept it safe. Panni and I were also able to discuss two other projects that would benefit from his skills, a fold away table to stow under the roof-tup carrier and an awning to be attached to the carrier, but these are really part of the expedition outfitting that is the next phase of the project. I am going to do a separate post on those under expedition outfitting
I was expecting to see Eric the electrician at the shop on Saturday but he was not there. I had phoned him Friday to confirm he was going to be there. Then when I was about to leave home the Defender would not start. I inspected the battery terminal, which is perennially loose and up till now if the vehicle did not start playing with it solved the problem. This time it did not. However, I noticed that the terminal was sparking when I engaged the ignition, which suggests there was a short somewhere. I thought through the various possibilities and wondered if the problem might be in one of the loose wires that are hanging in various places waiting to be rewired to interior lights, or the stereo, or to one or another accessory that may have been in at one point in the vehicles history. I started with a bundle of wires that is on the dash that I had moved around when I was cleaning the dash a few days earlier and sure enough that was the problem. I re-taped all the loose wires protruding from the dash and the battery stopped sparking and the Defender started right away. I called Eric and harangued him for leaving the wires in such a sloppy state. He said he was on the way to the shop would be there by the time I arrived.
Eric never showed up, but I was approached by his “helper”, who went around and taped up any wires that were obviously at risk. I also had him run the wire for the front and rear ceiling lights so it would be easy to get to those after the roof liner was back in. And I had him replace the battery terminal that did not fit the post properly. No more loose connection. I feel dumb for not having it fixed earlier, but there were so many other higher priorities I just never focused on it. Of course this would have been done right away months ago by a competent electrician with a service mentality. I recall Brian, my colleague who had done a Defender the year I arrived, saying he had had some trouble with electrics at Opere’s shop. And all I have had done so far is very, very basic. In the next stage we need to instal a dual battery system, numerous accessories and switches to support them. I just don’t see these guys being able to handle that.
I am somewhat sorry I left the pieces with Paani because I could have been cleaning them. This is something I prefer to do myself because it does ot require any particular skill and I can see the limits of the process. Everything is really dirty but dirt does not explain all the visual defects.
Some of the pieces are in good shape, others are worn beyond what any cleaning can hope to restore. I can’t install all the interior window surrounds until the roof liner is redone and that is the next priority.
It has now been a year since we took delivery of the an old Land Rover Defender in very poor condition with the intention of nursing it back to sound mechanical health and outfitting it for a trip somewhere in West Africa. It is a good time for a review, which in effect is a summary of the blog posts over the past year.
Mechanical: While it was sold as a “drivable vehicle”, the Defender we bought in February 2011 hardly met that criterion. The alternator was gone and the battery very low so it did not really start. The motor smoked badly and much of the running gear – clutch, brakes, wheel bearings, etc. , were badly in need of renewal. By June, within 3 months or so of purchase, we had replaced the TDI300 motor, all hoses, all the clutch and brake pieces, wheel bearings, track rod ends, front differential and front propshaft. The motor was a bit of a high stakes gamble, but it is one that so far seems to have paid off, because it is running so well and there are no leaks and I have not noticed any oil consumption. The first phase of the mechanical work also included installation of new heavy duty Biltstein shock absorbers all around and replacement of the original rubber bushes (the pieces that go between the chassis and all the suspension and axles) with high quality polybushes. As a result the ride is smooth and confident. The Defender seems to be able to perform in all the gear settings, high and low and two and four wheel drive, although we have yet to take it on any off-road tracks. Little things that did not work before, like the fuel gauge and hand brake, now work. Even the clock works.
Bodywork: The body was essentially sound, but with plenty of dings and dents in the aluminum body and rust at the base of the doors, a common affliction with Land Rovers where the aluminum body comes into contact with the steel door frame and water can be present. Particularly severely rusted were the foot wells, the drivers side right through to daylight. By September, within 6 months or so, the body had been completely restored, including installation of new foot wells and repair of any dents in the skin. The doors had been rehung with new hinge screws and any rusted door frames replaced. The bonnet latch which did not work now does, complete with a new functioning security cable from the interior. The broken rear “safari” door frame has been repaired. The windows that rattled no longer rattle. The door steps have been completely reconstructed. The front bumper has been straightened. The front grille has been (broken by someone at Opere’s and) repaired. The Defender has been completely cleaned inside and out, and rust removed from underneath. It has been repainted, and it is beautiful. We purchased and installed a new Defender decal for the front of the bonnet. Remaining bodywork includes the installation of the chequerplate aluminum panels on the fenders and bonnet and insertion of the new locks on the front and rear doors, and new Tdi 300 decals.
Air Conditioning: Within seven months the old air conditioning system that did not work had been replaced with an old air conditioning system that does work, sort of. This aspect does not inspire confidence and we may yet soon find we have to take advantage of those cute uber-functional vents that open an close in the bulkhead below the windscreen to keep us cool when the air conditioning system fails. I am rather sure it will, you get what you pay for and we did not pay very much.
Electrical: Within eight months the basic electrics mostly worked (lights, horn, wipers), and the contract is signed and parts procured for new lighting inside and out. Like the air conditioning the quality of the electrical work is a bit dubious and will require some careful monitoring to have Phase Two of the electrical completed properly, which includes the installation of a dual battery system and various accessories like the fridge (purchased in South Africa more than a year ago), fog and rear area lights.
Interior: The interior was worn and dirty, with the front seats on their second cover, consisting of old flour bags. Something which we did not really notice until now is the condition of the ceiling roof lining, which was taken out and stored at Opere’s Land Rover farm when the body work was being done. 15 years of road dirt and seasonal harmatan dust had left the light grey lining a dark shade of brown that spews dirt on slapping.
By December, within 10 months, the interior had been ompletely stripped, cleaned and repainted.
The vehicle has been soundproofed throughout, with material brought in from Canada.
The front seats have new foams and covers from Exmoor Trim, the front seats slide back and forth and the backs adjust. The back seats have new foam and covers locally done and the cargo area seats have been removed to make space for expedition gear storage.
We have also purchased other important bits and pieces, like the door locks, although those have yet to be installed. Removal of all the interior decor and seats is an achievement that is also worth noting – it took a lot of time and painstaking work, much of it done ourselves. do Having stripped it down not only allowed for a good clean paint job inside, it also made the interior soundproofing and carpeting easier. Just this week we have taken the final step in the restoration stage with signature of a contract to redo that dirty and ugly roof liner and install carpet in the front and back seats, with vinyl in the rear. With that the restoration/upgrading will be complete to our satisfaction.
One minor disappointment on the interior was the failure to find a used Discovery I back seat to replace the Defender bench-like back seat in order to acheive greater comfort for passengers. As an alternative I am going to try to customize the old Defender seat a few inches further back and lower down to gain leg and head-room, but I am not sure this is worth it. We are outfitting this vehicle for expedition and do not expect to carry passengers for very long once we hit the road. The best arrangement might be to to retain the 1/3 portion of the back seat split and devote the rest to expedition gear and storage.
How much did it cost?: It is also appropriate at this point to look at the cost to date. I believe the accrual accounting method would just look at what we have actually installed to date, but if I add everything up that we have actually spent, cost of parts, shipping, and installation, it comes to is almost CAD 9,500, including the rebuild Tdi 300 motor, and all the body work and paining. That can be rounded up to CAD 10,000, for all the odds and ends and sundry labour and dashes that I did not write down. That sounds like a lot, and it is twice the original purchase price. With that we will have a completely restored vehicle for something in the neighbourhood of CAD 15,000. That is about 50% more than the GHC 14,000 (CAD 9,250) price that Opere wanted for a 1995 Defender 110 he had redone himself. However, there are some important improvements that justify the additional cost:
The fact that the vehicle needed so much work means that more of the vehicle has probably been renewed than if I had purchased another that had been done by Opere.
With a couple of important exceptions (A/C and motor) the parts in our restoration are all new, and most are genuine Land Rover or Original Equipment Manufacturer. We know exactly where they came from.
The material and workmanship of the interior finish and upholstery is of much greater quality than what is done here.
Our cost includes soundproofing, which does not appear to be done here at all.
We have a very good roof rack and ladder, which will be a tremendous boon to organize for expedition.
Preparation for and implementation of the painting is of a high quality, and the paint job is two tone, and includes the wheels and roof rack and ladder.
It is also worth mentioning that one of the objectives of the DIY approach was to be able to become acquainted with the vehicle. I am still far from being a Landy expert, and there are whole systems that I do not really have a first-hand knowledge of, but I have been able to gain a great deal of familiarity with this vehicle, far more than I ever would have been able to had I purchased it rebuilt.
Last and not least, over the past year managing the restoration ourselves has been a fabulous window on Ghana, offering an access to the day-to-day culture that we would not otherwise have had. I have met a whole bunch of everyday Ghanaians and been able to gain new understanding of how they think and work.
There is no question I underestimated the amount of work this vehicle needed. I negotiated hard for the vehicle but I did not negotiate as hard as I should have, I think I took a sense of false confidence from Opere who referred me to the vendor Gomez. The EPA Defender had been driven hard, maintained poorly and stripped of many parts before it was sold. I knew it would be necessary to replace the engine and running gear like the clutch and brakes, but I did not expect to have to replace the front differential, or to be annoyed by the absence of small but very important things like the fuel sender unit, or the parking brake shoes (which Opere felt so ripped off about he actually “dashed” the parts to me). However, we probably now own the best 15 year old Defender in the country, and we are not finished yet. We have definitely raised the bar for Opere and his crew, this Defenders seems to get the attention of everyone coming in to the shop with their own, which pretty much all pale in comparison.
It is now reasonable to say that the restoration portion of the project is pretty much complete. The focus now has to shift to all the extras required for expediton outfitting. We started that with our trip to South Africa in December 2010 before we owned the Defender, and came back with a fridge, stover burners and a bunch of other things.We now have to shift to the outfitting stage. There are things we have purchased and not yet installed (ie. fridge, chequerplate aluminum panels, dual battery isolator, camp gear) and lots more we have yet to purchase (roof top tent, camp table, awning, mobile storage system, water storage system, sound system, etc.) but most of that falls outside the scope of the restoration phas.e. Expedition outfitting will easily add between CAD 3,ooo and CAD 4,000 to the cost, and most of it will have to be (or already has been) imported.
We are going to have to pick up the pace to be able to be expedition- ready in six months. The internal storage system still has to be designed and installed, including potable water system. We will need a rooftop tent and awning. a camp table. a cookstove, and various other accessories. We have started to accumulate the gear, including the fridge we bought in South Africa last year. One more holiday in South Africa would certainly come in handy, there are literally dozens of supply places there, and not a single one here.
The task which I should have mentioned first is to obtain legal registration and insurance. All the shuttling back and forth between shops and more recently, just running errands, have been done quite illegally. I was stopped by a policemen recently, who told me to do up my seat belt, which I did, I did not have the heart to tell him the ends were just hanging off the sides of the seats without being bolted to anything. The seat belts are now reinstalled, the lights all work, and I have all the papers to be able to register it. Top priority now is to go to the Vehicle Licensing Authority to make it legal. Can’t wait to get those red DP plates on it. There is a backstory to that, but it warrants a separate post.
What with all the body work and painting of the past six months most of the interior and exterior fittings were removed and put aside, either on our terrasse or carport or in the shed at Opere’s. I have become quite accustomed to driving around in a vehicle with no door panels, mirrors, or window winders, that is so empty and hollow it rattles and bangs and echos. The past month or so has seen tremenduos progress restoring the interior finish. I had not been in a rush to put it back together, until Opere told me that the Department of Vehicle Licensing will not pass it if the interior is not finished, or if the rubber wheel arches are not on. One might argue the logic of some of that, or wonder how the tro-tros driving around with doors hanging by rope managed to pass, but I don’t mind the additional incentive.
The work needed to get the inside finished, not kitted out for expedition, but just finished, will involve three steps: soundproofing, electrical carpet and ceiling, and reinstallation of door panels and interior trim. The soundproofing had to be done first, and fortunately we were very ready for that, having obtained the material sometime ago from B-Quiet in Lethbridge, Alberta. (See Separate Post: SOUND REDUCTION PUZZLE) Laura and I did the installation ourselves, starting with a layer of “Ultimate” the thin butyl-based sound deadener throughout, on the inside of all the doors, the floor, and the roof. It is not difficult to work with once you get the hang of cutting it with a box cutter. The two challenges are to make sure it is set where you want it because it is almost impossible to move once it is on, and to avoid getting the rather gooey butyl rubber stuck where it is not supposed to be stuck. I had to use some acetone more than once to get it off surfaces where it did not belong, including on the outside paint.
Once the Ultimate was in on the floor we added a layer of B-Quient’s V-Comp foam and high density rubber composite sound absorber. This stuff is heavy, more than a pound per sq ft. and we did not have very much of it, just enough for the front floor through the footwells and over the transmission, the tops of the seat boxes, and the back floor. But every little bit helps.
I was able to use some of the rubber flip flop material I bought from Ghana Rubber Products on some floor areas and inside the seat boxes, but there is lots lof that eft over.
We then we covered the underbonnet with their Hiliner heat resistant foam. This is much lighter than either the Ultimate or the V-Comp, which means we can still lift the bonnet!
The sound “proofing” adds about 75 pounds to our running weight, but it is definitely worth the weight, and the CAD 300 cost. The noise reduction is quite remarkable and the whole vehicle feels more solid and finished. That will no doubt improve further once we get the interior door panels and roof liner back in, and get carpet on the floor.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.