Profiles in Courage: Crash Course in Range Rover Surgery
Jul 20, 2017
This month we bring you a story of true dedication and the bond between a young man and his faithful steed. In this version of that classic tale, the steed is a 1990 Range Rover Classic, and the young man is one Patrick Turbett, from Penfield, New York.
In March of 2015, Patrick and his wife Jacque embarked on a full-body makeover of Patrick’s Range Rover. The infamous frozen road salt margarita mix of New York winters had taken its toll, and most of the metal connecting the body to the frame had completely disintegrated.
Patrick posted some photos of the ensuing project to the internet, and the response he got was largely along the lines of “you are nuts.” Not one to argue with sound reasoning, Patrick agreed that he is, indeed, nuts, and proceeded to start hacking away at what was left of the Range Rover’s bodywork.
Patrick’s obsession, I mean, dedication, to this particular Range Rover is (unsurprisingly) sentimental in origin. This was his first car, and he has shared much of the joy of ownership with his father. This father-son partnership began the day the vehicle was delivered to them by the previous owner. The engine had fetched up during the 25-mile drive to their house, showing evidence of a blown head gasket. Patrick and his dad worked together to rebuild the engine. Twice. Since then they’ve put over 70,000 miles on it and had more adventures and memories than they can count.
Over the course of about a year and a half, “Little Red” was painstakingly welded back together. Patrick did take some advice from the internet wonks- he purchased another vehicle for parts and used much of the rear bodywork to replace the floor and wheel arches.
Patrick's interest in Range Rovers began early. “It all started when I was 12. It was Thanksgiving, and my uncle brought his 1995 LWB RRC from Columbus Ohio. While Mom was cooking dinner he decided to take me driving. He handed me the keys and let me drive up and down the street while showing me the difference between the transfer case, gears, and air suspension heights. Since that moment I knew that I wanted that truck and was really hoping that when I was finally ready to buy my own, he'd be willing to give that one to me.“
By the time Patrick was ready to start really learning to drive, the Uncle still wasn’t ready to let go of the ’95. So Patrick made it his mission to find his own; “Obsessed with finding a range rover to rival my uncles I finally found the red 1990 RRC in a neighboring town and, with some negotiation, was set to purchase it.
“When I purchased the truck, it had a blown head gasket and Dad and I decided to rebuild it ourselves. From that point forward, any time that this RRC broke, we fixed it instead of taking it to a shop. This RRC has too much sentimental value for me to simply give up on it due to rust.
For what it’s worth, the initial intention was to simply replace the rear cross member and lower tailgate. The tear down was jaw-dropping and I simply couldn’t put it back together without all the additional work.”
I caught up with Patrick recently at one of the local Land Rover gatherings and asked him to share some more specific thoughts about how the Range Rover, how he and Jacque will use it, and what makes Range Rovers so appealing.
RoverLog: Congrats on completing this project. It really was quite an incredible effort. Now that it’s back on the road, do you have any plans for it?
Patrick: I plan to use it as a street-legal, off road truck. I don’t want it to become a trailer-queen.
I’ve been planning a trip cross-country in it where I’d circle through highlights such as the Grand Canyon and MOAB before entering California. From there I’d continue to head North then head back East starting from Vancouver.
RL: Will you knowingly transport your loved ones in it? Is it a daily driver for you? Have you had any issues keeping it running?
PT: Always! They complain about how noisy it is and the fact that it doesn’t have AC anymore. My Border Collies don’t seem to mind. Since finishing the rebuild it’s been a weekend warrior, no matter the conditions.
Overall, I’ve been lucky. I’ve battled bad alternators, throttle position sensors and other sensitive parts in-between, but that’s about it. The exception is this strange issue where if the truck is left outside for the very first snowfall of the season, it won’t start until you drag it back into the garage for 24 hours. It’s fine for the rest of winter afterward.
RL: What’s the spec on it? Suspension, motor, wheels, tires, any other items of note. What improvements did you make? Did you do anything, in particular, to keep it from rusting like that again?
PT: The truck is essentially stock, though I plan to upgrade the tires to 235/85r16’s soon. It has a Terrafirma suspension kit, a P38 brush guard, and customized Defender 90 roof rack. I would also like to add additional recovery gear, such as a winch, re-gear and add a locker.
The original steel trunk floor was replaced with an aluminum floor from a 1989 RRC. The rear cross member is 100% custom, made from 11 gauge steel and I put in all the work. The firewall no longer has ‘non-essential’ holes in it. Passengers can now safely sit in the seats without fear that the ‘structural carpet’ is going to fail.
I sprayed everything in Eastwood's Rust Inhibitor and Chassis Black and then proceeded to apply copious amounts of under-coating to the exterior. Finally, I doused the entire truck in Fluid Film.
RL: Do you have a decent workshop? What kind of tools do you have?
PT: My workshop was a two-car garage. I took over one side, put the truck on 3-ton jack stands, and just started hacking away. As for tools, I have the basics: A sawzall, angle grinder, assorted hand tools (sockets, box wrenches, etc), and a MIG welder. From all the Land Rover books I’ve read this seems to be all one really needs.
RL: Have you done other rebuild work of a similar nature?
PT: No. This was the most extreme project I’ve ever done.
RL: Have you done any trips since the rebuild?
PT: The most recent was to Winter Romp and it’s memorable because it’s the first adventure in the truck since rebuilding it. I replaced the heater blower motor and core a week before hitting the road. The door seals still need to be replaced but my wife, Jacque, and I managed to survive the low temperatures as we traveled from DC to Maine.
RL: Would you do it all again, knowing what you know now? Was it worth it? Any other big projects in the pipeline?
PT: I’d do it again in an instant but with a few modifications to the design. It was totally worth it to keep this RRC on the road. My LWB (Uncle finally came around. –ed.) needs a similar amount of work. The rear cross member is bad, the quarter panel needs replacing, and the trunk floor is rotting out. I really like the LWB and it’s the first Range Rover I ever drove. It’s certainly another I want to keep on the road for years to come.
RL: Anything else you’d like to add? Any advice for others who are contemplating the daunting prospect of performing major renovation work to keep their beloved old clunkers on the road?
PT: I recommend that everyone gives a project like this a try, despite the circumstances around it. Cutting and welding metal turned out to be one of the best stress relievers I’ve found after a tough day at the office.
We couldn’t have said it better. The Range Rover Classics aren’t getting any easier to find in and prices for good ones are rising. Despite their idiosyncrasies, they are delightful to drive both on and off the road and are extremely capable in stock configuration. They are truly iconic vehicles that are worth the effort and expenditure to maintain.
When it comes time to decide the fate of your ailing aluminum friend, remember the times when it unselfishly got you to your destination despite the lack of oil, coolant, #2 exhaust valve, 3rd gear, etc.
Don’t give up on it.
Give it a chance.
You owe it that much.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In almost any part of the world, you can find a great community of like-minded Rover owners who are most likely more than eager to help. At the very least, they will stand around, give opinions and advice, eat all of your pizza, and drink all of your beer- while you do all the work. Still, it’s better than going it alone.
Take a page out of Patrick and Jacque’s book. Have Courage. Be your Land Rover’s hero this time.
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OG Rover aficionado and believer in 5 replacement U-joints in-vehicle at all times. Rover club enthusiast and event crasher.