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On the Subject of Shipfitters Disease

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Posted On: Jan 17, 2018 By: Dave Bobeck Category: Land Rover News


"What is this 'shipfitters' disease?" you may be asking yourself. If you are, you probably have never owned and worked on an old Land Rover. I looked online for a definition, and this is what I found, from John Osterhout, posted on Bill Caloccia’s LRO mailing list back in 1997:

“Well, it's a nice day to work outside, and that cleat is loose, so I'll just tighten the screws. Oops, one is stripped, so, to do it right, I'll remove the cleat and see what the problem is. Oh, dear, dryrot!! Well, it's only in this one plank, and I can easily replace it. Gee, all the screws are loose, better replace the whole frame while I'm at it...


Not this Defender's proudest moment

This is how it all starts.

....Oh, shoot, I'll have to take out the wiring harness and chain plate, well, the wiring harness really needed to be replaced anyway, and now's a good time to get that chainplate re-galvanized. Fooey, now it won't match the other ones, so I'll just do all of them, won't that look nice. And since I'll have to repaint the new planks, I might as well do the rest of the hull or it won't match...And the shiny hull will really make the cabin trunk look chalky, and I really wanted to strip and varnish it, so what better time? And since it'll be out of commission for at least a week, and I'll have to take out the cabinets to redo the wiring properly (all those funky splices can finally go), I can redo them at the same time. Gee, with all that room, and nothing to get dirty I can finally pull the head and find out why the engine's been burning oil. I'm sure the shop can have it done before the cabinets are ready to go back in. In fact, this may be an opportunity to rebuild the bottom end, after all, it's 30 years old and bearings and rings will never be easier to put in. I could even paint the block while it's out, and galvanize the through-hull fittings, paint the bilge, and get that new pump for an early Christmas present, maybe new sails to go with the new paint, revarnish the mast, replace the sticking sheave while I'm up there, maybe a new antenna, or at least the coax. Heck, the radio's as old as the boat, and since I'm this far into it..... “


To give a perhaps more relevant example, I just recently finished putting the windscreen and frame back in my 90, along with all new seals, repairs to the bulkhead underneath, and a lot more. That’s just one step in a fairly involved renovation project, the result of which has been that the vehicle hasn’t left the rear yard since January of 2017. It all started because I had to replace the battery. Which I still haven’t done.

About two years ago, on a winter foray into the great state of Maine, USA, I found myself one particular frigid morning, attempting to start my old Land Rover 90. I turned the key. NOTHING happened. I was attending the Winter Romp in Waterville, Maine. The nighttime temperatures were getting down to about 25 below zero, and the days were only going up to about 10 at the warmest part of the day. Everything was frozen solid, including my Land Rover. Up until this point, everything was working just fine. We tried to jump start it, and still, there were no signs of life. Everything else we tried had the same result. In the end, the only way to get it started was to drape it with tarps and aim a propane-fired salamander heater in the general direction of the engine bay.


That's cold!


After suffering that humiliation, (see pic athe tip of the article), the poor 90 worked fine for the rest of the weekend. Monday morning we loaded it on the trailer and headed back South toward warmer times. I drove the vehicle all year without any further issues, until the following January. During the first cold snap, we were again dead in the water. After some deliberation, it was decided to replace the battery. I pulled the old one out and found a few good- sized holes in the battery box, which had been repaired once already by a previous owner. Those repairs were now falling off. I’d just paid a fair chunk of cash to have someone sandblast, paint, and waxoil the chassis and underside of the truck, and the battery box repair kits available are not too expensive so I decided to swap a new one in to further improve the overall condition of things.

Of course, getting the battery box out is not a small project. To remove the battery box, I discovered, one has to remove the lower seat belt anchor, the steel sill channel between the front of the rear bed and the firewall, and any rock slider if those are installed. Then, there are about a zillion spot welds or pop rivets to drill out. On my vehicle, the same previous owner had also done some repairs to the aluminum seat box panels and the front of the rear bed, using some thin gauge steel. They were very nicely done, but aluminum and steel don’t play well together, especially when you add road salt into the equation. So the steel patches came out, and the swiss-cheese condition of the corroded panels became truly apparent. With all that out of the way, I was finally able to pull the battery box.


What hidden secrets lurk underneath YOUR Land Rover?
Where did all that metal go?

To make a good, long-lasting repair, I cleaned up all the adjacent surfaces, and patched the seat box and tub with some new aluminum pieces I bent up myself. Of course, the bit of chassis behind the battery box was previously not visible to human beings, so it needed to be cleaned up and painted to match the rest of the freshly re-done chassis. The wire brush went right through in one of the common problem areas, so I had to fix that before replacing the battery box, or it would just keep getting worse, out of sight and mind and eventually seriously weaken the chassis. Which isn’t good, if you’re wondering. So, out came the brand-new-to-me welder. Except, the new welder is 220 volt and the house is about 60 feet away. A side project thus ensued to acquire materials and make some super heavy duty extension cords.

Repairs progressed and came out pretty good if I do say so myself. At this point, I noticed that the outrigger for the front of the rear bed had some rough spots on it, so I decided to patch those up. That outrigger also holds the back half of the rock slider, so it needs to be good and strong. After some rough treatment of the outrigger to prep it for welding, I noticed that I could see daylight coming through where it attaches to the chassis. Yikes. Also not good. I ordered up a new outrigger, which subsequently arrived, and after spending hours trying to remove the last bits of the old one, found that the new one would not fit the hole where it goes and was also slightly defective in that it wasn’t welded up square. After a week or two, a replacement outrigger arrived and was offered up to the vehicle. It took some doing but I got it to fit up, lined up the bolt holes as needed, and welded away. The heat required to get a good weld caused the outrigger to move a little bit, so now it was about a half inch from where it needed to be.


Outrigger needed replacing

There should not be daylight where this meets the chassis. I unbolted it and it just fell off.


There was no way to remove the outrigger for a second try without destroying it, and I didn't want to wait for a new one. Hammers were of no avail. Eventually, I got the bright idea to heat it up and pull it into place with a come-along. But, first I had to get myself an oxy-acetylene rig to do the heating bit. This took a few weeks to find a decent deal on one. That worked a treat by the way and I was quite proud of the result, though I suppose it would have been better to get it right the first time.

Finally, I was ready for the battery box. That was pretty simple, though it was sized a little differently than the old one. Apparently, they are not all created equal. Moving right along now, the repairs to the tub and seat box required the removal of the front door seals, which were in bad shape and will also need to be replaced. Upon removing the doors seal, it was evident that the front door A-pillar was rotting in places where the seal was trapping water that was coming in around the windscreen hinge area. A common problem.

I brought out the welder again, but couldn’t, try as I might, ignore the rust that was showing through on the front upper corner of the bulkhead. A bit more poking and prodding revealed that the upper corner needed some serious work. This would require removal of the windscreen and its frame. Oh boy. To pull the windscreen, you can just unbolt the line of bolts at the front of the roof, and the two front bolts where the roof meets the rear body. I used some 2-by-4s to prop up the roof high enough to allow the windscreen to come free. In pulling the windscreen, it was revealed that the hinges attaching it to the bulkhead are themselves rotted and were allowing water to get behind them. Also not good. A set of new hinges were procured, as well as all the seals for the roof and windscreen.


Rot under the windscreen
One way to get air-con in a Defender

Budget air-con for your Defender!


It took me a good while to get all the welding done and repaint all the repair areas using a spray can of “Land Rover Blue” that I picked up some years ago on a trip to the UK.  The roof is now bolted back in with what I hope is a proper job of sealer to keep as much water out as possible. The gutters will still need to be done as the sealant in them is all cracked and falling out.


Seatbox repairs
Bulkhead corner repaired


The new door seals are now in, I replaced the door check assemblies that crumbled to bits when I removed them, and at some point, I will also need to remove the doors to recondition the bottom edges. I still need to replace the sill channels and rock sliders, weld the outrigger in one spot that I couldn’t get to without a lift, finish putting the rest of the interior back together, and get some grommets for the various cables where they pass through the side of the battery box.

Maybe then, I can finally get that battery replaced. Oh, and of course the tires have all gone flat. Hmmm, I wonder where THAT will lead.




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