British Styling and Japanese Reliability
Matt Stoffregen has heard them all. "If the gearbox in your Rover isn't leaking, you'd better check the fluid level." "Nine out of ten Land Rovers are still on the road - the other one made it home." "Why do the British drink their beer at room temperature? Because Lucas builds their refrigerators."
Land Rovers are revered for their aluminum construction, low gearing, and solid axles (up until the recent advent of the LR3), but they have an equally strong reputation for electrical problems and leaky gearboxes. Dedicated Land Rover fanatics call this "character."
Stoffregen just smiles at the barbs; he doesn't let the joking bother him because there are no Lucas electronics or British gearboxes left in his '57 Series I. Stoffregen picked up the Rover for dirt cheap. It was in a state of disrepair, however the body was relatively straight and he already had plans to swap out the drivetrain anyway. The 52hp 2.0L engine and factory drivetrain were replaced with inexpensive, reliable parts from a Toyota pickup. The choice to use Toyota parts was simple since Stoffregen works for Inchworm Gear, which manufactures and sells a wide variety of aftermarket parts for Toyota pickups and 4Runners.
The new engine in the Rover is a fuel-injected 22RE four-cylinder from a '91 pickup backed by a W56 five-speed transmission and an RF1A gear-driven transfer case with 5:1 Advance Adapters Trail Tamer gears. The new drivetrain is a considerable improvement over the stock Rover components, being lighter and easier to source parts for. From there, the power is transferred through CV driveshafts to axles from an '85 Toyota pickup. With only an 88-inch wheelbase, the rear driveshaft is only 14 inches long, requiring Stoffregen to use a short yoke from an early Toyota pickup and then machine the ends down even further for proper fitment.
The front axle was rebuilt and fitted with 5.29 gears but otherwise left stock due to cost concerns. Stock Toyota Birfields are not renowned for their strength; however, this has not yet posed a problem on this light rig. The front differential will be upgraded with a factory Toyota electric locker as funds allow, and Longfields will be added if breakage becomes a factor in the future. The rear axle has 5.29 gears in an electric locking third member sourced from a TRD Tacoma.
The axles were affixed to the stock Rover suspension. Stoffregen anticipated some engineering difficulties when swapping the axles, but the front spring perches lined up exactly with the Rover leaf springs. In the rear, the spring perches needed to be relocated inward and rotated to line up the pinion with the rear CV driveshaft. Twelve-inch-travel Rancho RS9000 shocks are mounted on Ford F-250 shock towers in front, and 10-inch-travel RS5000s are bolted to the stock mounts out back. The suspension makes way for 34x9.5 Super Swamper SLs mounted on factory Toyota steel rims.
With few aftermarket options, Stoffregen fabricated his own body rmor. The heavy factory hardtop was scrapped and replaced with a six-point 'cage that protects the occupants and contains an integrated storage rack in the rear. The front bumper was constructed from 3x2 rectangular box tubing and houses a Warn 8274 winch wrapped in Rockstomper synthetic winch rope. To protect the rocker panel, trick tubular sliders were fabricated and skinned with steel plate. The passenger-side slider had to be mounted much lower than the driver-side due to the location of the factory fuel tank, sacrificing some ground clearance. A custom transfer case crossmember protects the undercarriage and rounds out the armor.
The interior and exterior are quite Spartan, with low-back seats and a small heater. Aluminum sheetmetal was used to cover the dash and mount gauges and toggle switches, while a similar aluminum center console holds small items on the trail. Otherwise, the Rover's body is fairly stock and devoid of cut fenders or carpet kits.
Stoffregen has done a wonderful job of building a capable, reliable trail rig that uses inexpensive, common components while still standing out from the crowd. It might make Winston Churchill roll over in his grave, but we applaud him for using his imagination to build such a unique rig on a realistic budget. While it certainly doesn't get the same mileage as a Prius, we much prefer Stoffregen's interpretation of a Toyota "hybrid."