Most folks in the U.S. don’t know much about late-1980s Range Rovers. Given its 1989 price tag of $30,400, that’s not surprising. Some car nuts know that at least part of the body is aluminum, but if you’re like us you probably didn’t realize how little is made of the lightweight nonferrous metal. The frame is fully boxed steel (really a tubular steel with multiple layers and internal gussets) that’s thick enough to be rigid but thin enough to tear and dent more easily than we would like. From there up is a steel internal body structure, which extends up into the roof.
Outside this body “skeleton” are a few bolt-on aluminum body panels, including the roof, quarter-panels, cowl, door skins, and so on, and excluding the hood, tailgate, and rear quarter corners, which all bolt-on but are good ol’ weighty British steel. Even the doors have a steel inner structure.
The point is that there isn’t much weight-saving aluminum in a 1989 Range Rover Classic. As a result, Range Rovers are strong, but they ain’t anywhere near light—especially when you add in about 200 pounds of electronics in the form of relays, wires, computers, CD changers, amps, and motors to make this thing late-1980s-fancy. We like vehicles that are lightweight. In fact if we had our druthers, we’d prefer a four-cylinder Jeep, Kia, or Suzuki. Oh, did we mention that the Derange Rover will have dual transfer cases, 1-ton axles, a diesel engine, winch, armor, a rollcage, and so on? Even on paper this thing is getting heavy.
So given all this info we knew the Derange Rover wouldn’t be a bantamweight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to keep things as light as possible and at least place weight down low where we want it. The 1-ton Ultimate Dana 60 axles aren’t light, but that weight is down really low, in theory adding stability (to a point). The Offroad Design Magnum Box underdrive isn’t bad in terms of weight, but that bulletproof NP205 is heavy for sure. But like the axles it will sit relatively low in the chassis. The Cummins R2.8 weighs more than the Rover’s original aluminum V-8 but it’s lighter than many other diesel engines and it makes gobs more torque. That is weight we want and can compromise for.
In Part 1 of the Derange Rover buildup (Aug. 2018; bit.ly/2M9D8hx) we showed you how we stripped down the factory interior. The point of this mass destruction was to remove most (if not all) of the Rover’s factory wiring. Starting fresh allows us to avoid chasing any issues with the factory harness, and as said we don’t need most of the options this thing has or had. We are going to retain the column (ignition switch, turn signals, windshield wipers), lights, window motors, and that’s about it. We replaced the Rover’s harness with a Painless Performance 26 Circuit Customizable Weatherproof Off Road Chassis Harness (PN 10140, $675). This harness has plenty of circuits for what we need and is much simpler than the factory one. We will wrap the harness with Painless Performance Power Braid from one of the company’s Power Braid Chassis kits (PN 70920, $160).
What we can’t compromise for are electronics that we don’t need (that don’t work anyways), especially ones that are high up in the Derange Rover’s body. The original seats aren’t all that comfy to begin with, and with multiple electric motors tucked under them they aren’t lightweight either. Easy—we’ll toss them for a set of MasterCraft Baja RS seats. How about that huge and nonfunctional electronic sunroof? Yep, gone. A Legacy Products Soft Top is a much better solution for us. Add in just about every inch of factory wiring and all of the modules relays, computers, black boxes, timers, factory HVAC . . . all of it needs to go! An easy decision is to replace one of the Rover’s weakest links (the wiring) with a smaller, simpler Painless Performance wiring harness.
When it comes to the Derange Rover, whatever we don’t need we don’t want. In short, we gutted the Rover’s interior, only adding back in the things we need, like a stout rollcage, a simple dash, comfy seats, and not much else. Did we save much weight over stock? Probably not, but the Rover is safe and comfortable without all the heavy fluff that a late-1980s luxo-ute would have. Oh, and did we mention almost none of the electronics worked anyways?
The factory sunroof is huge, and although we never tested it we doubt it worked well, if at all. One of the biggest problems is that it hung so low that our rollcage would be awfully close to the occupants’ heads. Heads banging on steel tube is bad news, and a heavy, leaky sunroof is also pointless. Plus, we have an idea to make the Derange Rover a bit more . . . airy.
With a call to Legacy Products we got hold of one of the company’s universal 40-inch-wide, 55-inch-long Sliding Ragtops Folding Sunroof (PN RAG4055, $645). It’s the same idea used for decades in VW Bettles and buses and other European classic cars.
The top is easy to install with the online instructions and opens well over the heads of the back seat passengers (for when we have the back seats installed). We opted for black matte canvas, but many colors and fabrics (including vinyl) are available. Just be sure to measure twice—nay, three times—before cutting your roof. It’s easy to screw up measurements on a huge hole. You want to be especially careful to make the cuts square rather than diamond shaped. The top won’t like that. Measure diagonally from corner to corner until those measurements match.
A good air saw is a must for this install, and Legacy gives a few tips on how to use it in the instructions. One thing we’ve found to be especially true when cutting aluminum is to use some sort of lubricant. Aluminum likes to gum up blades, and a little lube goes a long way in helping.
With the hole cut and the mounting holes drilled for the aluminum framework, we test-fit the top to make sure it opened fully and easily. We then removed the top and frame, applied a generous bead of seam sealer, and started bolting the frame in place. C-clamps help hold everything in place and make starting the retaining nuts easier. Once the frame is in place the fabric and sliders can easily be removed from the frame for paint or while we are welding the ’cage.
The Legacy Products Sliding Ragtop allowed us a few more inches of headroom than the factory sunroof and allowed us to start working on the rollcage. We started with the A-pillar. Keen eyes will see the splice halfway up the windshield to make getting the compound bends of the A-B pillars easier. To strengthen the joints, we used 1.75x0.120-wall DOM and made sleeves out of 10-inch lengths of 1.5x0.120-wall DOM. Be sure to center the sleeve in the outer tube and round the cut edges of the sleeve so it won’t act like a can opener on the inside of the tube during a roll. We will also drill 1/2-inch holes in the outside for rosette welds. And leave a nice gap for a full penetration bead at the joints.
We built the whole rollcage with legs that were an inch or two short of the floor. This allowed us to drill 2 1/4-inch holes in the floor below the feet so we could drop the rollcage down and weld the tops of the tube joints. We will then lift the ’cage back up against the ceiling of the rover and add 2.00x0.120-wall DOM to the feet and tie them into the frame and rock sliders.
Books have been written on building a rollcage in a 4x4. There are many ways to do it right and even more to do it wrong. Experience helps with placing bends, coping tube, and building nodes, but a tubing notcher, like this old one from JD Squared, also makes things easier. Consistency and patience are key to building symmetrical rollcages that look good and make the vehicle safer. You can easily waste tube on a ’cage like this if you are not careful.
If you are interested in learning about building rollcages we recommend taking your time and assembling the proper tools so you can educate yourself and build a strong and safe ’cage. You’ll have to be good at measuring and also marking tube as well as knowing where the tube bender die starts to bend the metal relative to how you load it in the bender, and the radius of the bend. We mark our tube at the start of the tube, but some fabricators mark right at the start of the inside of the bend. Up top, above the tubing, you can see a test 90-degree bend we use to get solid measurements between two bends. Below is a simple angle finder we made out of some bar stock so you can get an idea of a bend and duplicate it.
Once you have two parts of a rollcage, one for each side, you can check to make sure the bends match by laying them on top of each other or tracing their bends on the floor. These are our right and left D-pillars. Making two or more bends in tubing in the same plane is hard enough, and building two mirror-image tubes with bends out of plane can be a geometric nightmare. If you don’t want to waste money on scrap steel and you don’t think you can build a safe rollcage, don’t. It’s a safety component that’s best farmed out to a competent fabricator if you have doubts.
Building seat mounts can also be very frustrating. You have to keep the mounting points square (again, a diamond-shaped mount will ruin your day). Even tack-welding nearly brand new seats is a guaranteed way to make holes in them before you even hit the trail. For the Derange Rover we decided to try a set of MasterCraft Baja RS Seats ($500 each) and the company’s universal towel-bar seat sliders (PN 620031, $85 each). The mounts will be tied into the floor of the Rover as well as firmly to the feet of the A- and B-pillars of the rollcage.
Mastercraft Baja RS seats are civilized suspension seats. They are comfortable, strong, made in the USA, and a lot lighter than the factory Rover seats. They also recline, making them that much more adjustable for individual comfort. The MasterCraft Seat Sliders also allow for a variety of drivers and co-drivers to fit the Derange Rover. Remember the towel bar goes up. On the road we will use the Rover’s original seatbelts, while for the trail we added a set of MasterCraft lap belts from our friends at Rusty’s Off-Road Products (PN MAS-RESTRAINTS-2; $45 for blue or red while supplies last; $120 for black).
Corner Gussets & Triangles
There is a lot of art and science in building strong steel structures like rollcages, but a few simple rules can make a big difference. The corners are generally weak points, and triangles are your friends. One way to beef up the corners of a ’cage is with corner gussets (little triangles), but most of us are not born knowing how to build good corner gussets. Sure, you can buy some, but these that we copied from our friend Rob Bonney at Rob Bonney Fabrication are relatively easy to make and add a ton of strength to our corners.
We totally stole this design from Rob Bonney. He is probably not the first guy to use this design, but we know it must make sense if he uses it and he was lucky (read: unfortunate) enough to be our patsy for borrowing the idea. These corner gussets are pretty easy to make once you get the idea.
Using 1.5x0.120-wall DOM, we added a bend of 15-20 degrees. We also marked the start and end of the bends (inner two marks) so we could cut the tube legs to a uniform length. The overall length of these gussets is 8-10 inches. Longer ones are better for sharper corners, and you may have to bend the tubing more or less depending on whether the angle of your corner is more or less than 90 degrees.
You will need more than one gusset depending on how many pairs of corners you are adding them to. With the tube cut to length we marked the center of the tube (and bend) and then useed our angle finder to mimic the corner and make rough cut lines parallel to the center of each leg of the tubing.
With those cuts marked you can use a sabre saw, port-a-band, or chop saw to make the cut. A chop saw is going to be the most dangerous since it’s practically impossible to chuck the tubing into the saw’s clamp while matching the angle of the cut. Please be careful. You only get 10 fingers, and we’re too busy looking out for ours to be responsible for yours.
If you still have all your digits and aren’t at the hospital, this is what you should have at this point. Most of the cope on the end of the gussets is already there for you, but the inside still needs work.
To cope that inside bevel, we like to use a 4 1/2-inch angle grinder with a 36-grit flap-wheel.
You will have to fine-tune both ends of the cope on both ends of the gusset to each corner, but with a little experience you should get it figured out. When one gusset is done, do the same to the one on the other side of the truck. Slowly remove metal and test-fit often to get a consistent and tight gap.