Heading home after buying an old Land Rover & it breaks down 30km later

I stopped at a fuel station to fill up some diesel & the next thing I know is that the battery has gone completely flat. Fortunately, I had jumper cables in the Range Rover Sport.

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First signs of trouble:

After buying the 50-year-old vehicle, I was on the way back and I stopped at a fuel station to fill up diesel. I used the auto-cutoff method that I have always used and went to pay inside the shop. When I came out I saw quite a few people pointing at something beside the car. At first, I thought they were excited to see an old Land Rover.

Getting closer I realised that there was a pool of liquid beneath the vehicle which I cannot remember seeing earlier. I got down to see what was happening and was shocked to see diesel pouring out at an alarming rate from the fuel tank. By the time I could think of what to do, I saw a gentleman crawling underneath the car and saying something to me. He was reassuring me that there was no leak in the tank and that it was overflowing as I had put more fuel in it. He then asked me if I had used the auto cut-off method and said never to do that in old Land Rovers.

Next bit of shock was that the car did not start when I turned the key. The battery had gone completely flat. I could not understand what was happening. It had started at one go at the owner’s place and then I had driven it a good 20 miles before stopping for fuel. Anyways, the gentleman who had crawled beneath the vehicle again came to the rescue. He had asked a few people from the fuel station to push the car to a side and then see what can be done. Fortunately, I had jumper cables in the Range Rover Sport.

Rajsri gave a little gift from the adjacent shop to the gentleman for his help. After that, a funny thing happened. The gentleman was driving a very old Citroen. When he went back to his car and turned the keys it refused to start. After a lot of coaxing and a bit of pushing the vehicle fired up. We had a hearty laugh about the incident before going our own ways.

The rest of the journey was uneventful but excruciatingly slow. I was driving such an old car after a long time and was scared to drive fast due to the terrible brakes!

The next morning I had a look at the engine bay and realised that the fan belt was loose and as a result, it was not charging the battery. Ordered a belt online and it was quite easy to change it. Over the next few days, I kept on fixing things like replacing the door locks, a few electrical issues, changing headlight bulbs etc. I was enjoying it as I was able to work on a car myself!

The car turned 50 the day after we got it. A few photos of the interior –

The Experience:

The Series 3 was originally a petrol version but somewhere down the line one of the owners had put in a 2.5 litre diesel engine from a British Leyland van. It is called the Sherpa engine. It is crude but reliable and has a bit more power than the original 2.25 diesel LR used to supply. It is good in terms of fuel efficiency as well, easily giving 10 to 12 Kilometers per litre. The rest of the car is mostly original and has got a Fairey overdrive as well. It makes it a bit more easier to drive on the highways but it makes a howling noise. There are many articles on the Series Land Rovers on the internet, so not getting into too much detail about the driving experience here. But I would like to mention that it gets a lot of attention on the road, especially from little children who get very excited to see the car.

The vehicle is exempt from MOT, Tax and ULEZ charges as it is more than 40 years old. So I started taking it to the office in Central London on most days.

The main reason for getting the vehicle was to go greenlaning and I started doing that after gaining a bit of confidence driving it on the road. Being a Land Rover, it was superb off the road. We took the car to a famous spot near London, it is called the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Sam had come with my ex-Defender and another person had joined us with his Defender 90. One part of the track was challenging. Sam’s Defender went up the obstacle quite easily after locking both front and rear differentials, but I was quite skeptical and was almost sure that the Series 3 and I would not be up to the task. Nevertheless gave it a shot and it went up after a bit of a struggle.

  • Video – 50-year-old Land Rover Series 3 going up the Devil’s Punch Bowl
  • Same video from another angle

The Defender 90’s owner had said that he would give it a go if my Series could make it. So he had no choice but try The 90 is an older model and does not have traction control. It struggled a lot on the slopes but finally made it up with some guidance.

Over the next few months, we did several greenlaning trips and the car performed beautifully every time.

Trouble again

Rajsri carried the apprehension towards the car from day one and did not want to sit in the car. Initially, I did not ask the reason, I thought that she did not like such old cars with tattered seats, strange smell and horrible ride quality! But on pressing her for an answer she replied that she did not like the previous owner. She said that she has never seen anyone so happy to be selling a car, so there must be some inherent problem with it. Fair point! So whenever I had to go somewhere alone I would drive it.

One such occasion was the cricket matches that I used to play a few times a week in the evenings after office. That day I scored a golden duck and was dejected. It was our last match of the season as well, so all the more reason to be unhappy. On the way back from the ground which is about 12 miles from our home, the car started shuddering after a few miles. Then it shut down at a junction. Tried several times and it would not start. I was blocking traffic at the junction, but I could not do anything.

Just as I was going to call RAC for help, I tried once more and it started. For the next few miles, it ran as if nothing had happened. Then on the highway, it started shuddering again and I somehow was able to take it off the main road and park it on the grass before it shut down again. This time it did not start after quite a few attempts. Called for help and was waiting outside the car as per the rule here. Before the RAC could come for help, two police officers came and towed the car to a safer place. They chatted with me for quite a while as they were fascinated by the 50 year old vehicle.

The RAC vehicle came about 10 minutes after the officers left. Strangely when the person tried to start the vehicle it started at the first twist of the keys! I did not know what to say. Anyways the person said that he would follow me till I reached home just to ensure that the issue does not happen again. Thankfully it happened after a couple of miles, to confirm that there was indeed a problem and not make me look like a fool for calling the breakdown service. This time the vehicle did not start after trying for 20 minutes, so the RAC person said that he would tow the vehicle to my home. The rest of the journey was uneventful and the vehicle was parked safely in front of our apartment late that evening.

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