A following of die-hard enthusiasts is what transforms a vehicle from simple transportation into an icon. Sure, the top of the pile belongs to Jeep—at least in the USA. That’s for several reasons. Jeep was the first mass-produced and widely available 4x4. Over the years, several models have mixed extreme off-road capability, looks, and ruggedness. But another brand with history almost as old as Jeep carries quite a bit of off-road clout internationally too. That’s Land Rover.
The problem with Land Rovers in the USA is that they were (and are) initially expensive. Parts could be expensive and hard to get too. The company just didn’t sell many vehicles here compared to Jeeps and Broncos and other 4x4s available in America since the 1940s. Also, rather than the bare-bones utilitarian models available elsewhere in the world, most Land Rover product sold in the USA were all tarted up with luxury fluff and chuff. Luxury items usually mean electronics, admittedly not one of the brand’s historic strong suits. Long life, moisture, vibration, and other factors caused the dreaded Lucas electrical systems to fail with fervor and frequency, dinging the brand’s reputation here in the colonies. But elsewhere in the world the Spartan Land Rover models just kept chugging away on farms, ranches, cities, and remote locations, for militaries, civilians, corporations, and more, often in countries where Jeep suffered the similar cost and supply problems that Land Rover suffered in the USA. Off-roading in Africa, Australia, Asia, and South America has always included Land Rover products.
So despite this history and Land Rover’s off-road clout, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road hasn’t messed with a Rover product for many years (if ever). But Ultimate Adventure 2018 will rectify that. We are taking the brand’s flagship Range Rover model and de-luxobarging it. It will still pay homage to Land Rover products and adventures of the past, but it will also be big, bad, and different.
With a tip of our pith helmet we say, “Cheerio, govna!” and introduce you to the official vehicle of the Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road 2018 Ultimate Adventure, the Derange Rover. With help from our UA sponsors and others, we will transform this 1989 Range Rover Classic from a neglected relic of off-roading past into something greater than the sum of its parts. As of now the project is just getting started, but we already have (or will be using) such parts as a Warn winch, a Cummins R2.8 turbodiesel, suspension parts from Skyjacker, big ol’ 38-inch Falken tires, a T-case system from Offroad Design, a pair of Ultimate Dana 60s from Dana, and some parts from Offroad Power Products. Tune in regularly. You’re not gonna want to miss this one!
What does searching Craigslist for old 4x4s under $1,000 get you? How about a dilapidated 1989 Range Rover Classic with what turns out to be a fairly desirable Great Divide Expedition aluminum front bumper for a paltry $600. The previous owner bought the Rover as a project and then realized he didn’t have time to work on it, so it sat for more years in the Arizona sun. Range Rover collectors would pay more than $600 for the front bumper alone. Score!
The interior of the Rover was in pretty good shape, although there had clearly been an issue with the wiring to control the seats, and some of the plastic in the dash was actively turning into plastic powder. In the back was a spare ZF transmission and one of the more desirable LT230 gear-driven T-cases. The previous owner told us the transmission installed in the Rover was no good. Either way, it doesn’t really matter since we’re using neither the transmission nor transfer case in our project.
The previous owner told us that the vehicle wouldn’t run, so we pushed it out of the spot it had occupied and then winched it onto our trailer. The steering box was also out of the vehicle and the track bar was disconnected, which made moving the rig an experience.
Under the hood of the Range Rover is what looks like a relatively fresh 3.9L V-8 that Editor Hazel is already eyeballing for one of his projects. We’re guessing someone had it installed and, shortly after the transmission gave out, gave up on the vehicle. Out of curiosity we added a battery and fed the engine some ether. It ran but didn’t sound great (watch the video in the web version of this article). Maybe a lifter has collapsed, causing the loud tick?
Here’s the spare transmission that inhabited the back of the Range Rover since the transmission in it gave up the ghost. Under the transmission we found the missing steering box. Unfortunately the extra weight of these parts in the back of the rig has done the rear coil springs no favors. Even unloaded, the Rover has a nasty gangsta lean to the passenger side. We have a few tricks up our sleeves and ideas when it comes to fixing the lean and maybe adding a little suspension lift.
With our new toy home, we rolled it off the trailer and pushed it into our shop with our 1949 Willys truck, since pushing the Rover by hand hadn’t gone well. Then we started right away tearing the rig apart to prep for a drivetrain swap, a rollcage, and some new wiring.
When building a rollcage in a vehicle like this, it makes sense (but isn’t necessarily easy) to remove almost all of the interior parts. That way the cage can be build tight to the inner structure. This also allows us to simplify the wiring and remove things like the nonfunctional and heavy electric front seats. We will build the cage so that we can re-create some sort of dashboard and also to fit around the factory rear seats so we can install them for back-seat passengers after the Ultimate Adventure.
We pulled the front end apart to extract the engine, followed by the transmission and transfer case. Even the factory axles are going. Cummins is back as the Official Turbodiesel of Ultimate Adventure, so we are more than happy for the chance to stuff an R2.8 in the engine bay. Behind that we will run a five-speed manual because we like manuals, but Axis Industries has adapters for GM autos as well as adapters and a controller system for the new Chrysler 845RE eight-speed auto. We plan to keep most of the Range Rover suspension but run Ultimate Dana 60 axles intended for a JK. Our plan for now is to repurpose some Skyjacker parts like springs, shocks, and maybe a control arm or two in the Derange Rover.
Out comes the old Rover powerplant. Editor Hazel has his eyes on the lightweight V-8, which is apparently a very popular swap outside the USA. We understand why. If he doesn’t want it, we bet we can find it another home.
We guesstimated that the gas tank of the Rover is good to hold about 17 gallons. We’re pretty sure it won’t mind if we reuse it to hold diesel. It does tuck nicely up and out of the way between the framerails of the Rover and has a skidplate we’d like to beef up and reuse. We expect the R2.8 to get in the neighborhood of 20 mph, so the Derange Rover should be able to go somewhere near 340 miles on one tank, maybe more.
Not long after we got the old engine out of the way, we received one awesome delivery. The R2.8 from Cummins is a great engine for swaps into Jeeps, Toyotas, Rovers, Nissans, Fords, Chevys . . . heck, just about whatever you can imagine. The cost gets you a new engine with a warranty, an engine harness and computer, a fuel system, throttle pedal, an owner’s manual and installation guide, and more. We’re pretty sure we can get the turbodiesel to run in the crate.
Clackamas, OR 97015