Reliable Budget Rover Adventures: Part 1

I love Land Rovers. I always have. My favorite books as a kid were Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross-Sections. I can’t remember for certain, but in one of his books, or a similar book, there’s a cutaway picture of a Range Rover showing all the major components. I studied that picture. I think those books and pictures are what encouraged me most to study engineering and design.

I almost purchased several Rover’s in highschool and college but was always advised by friends and family that I would never be able to afford the maintenance and upkeep a Land Rover constantly required. I played it safe and bought a WRX instead. Don’t get me wrong- the WRX is a great car and if I can ever find a stock, blue, bugeye, manual, low mile WRX again, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat. Sadly, a WRX with even a clean title barely exists these days, but I digress.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I finally bit the bullet and bought my first Land Rover. By that time, the LR3 had been out for a few years and I was able to find a great example- a 2005 LR3 HSE, fully loaded and low miles. The color was not my favorite, but it was five years old, had 42k miles on it and was priced at 26% of it’s original $65,000 sticker price; I could deal with Maya Gold. I somehow talked my wife into letting me fly out to pick it up on our anniversary of all days. I’m not sure why, but it was the only day that worked for myself and the seller.

Much to the disbelief of Doug DeMuro, it was one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. I will admit, I did have the dreaded suspension compressor problems, but after installing the updated LR4 compressor, I never had an issue with it. It even did over 20mpg on the freeway at times.

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I sold my LR3 earlier this year and I’ve missed it ever since. It was a great car, but I still wanted to get some money out of it before it fell any more in value. I was promptly on the hunt for another.

I wanted a Discovery II. Something I could pick up for a few thousand dollars and drive it a few times a month when I wanted to. It would be a third car, I work from home and I ride motorcycles as much as possible, so it would sit on the street outside my house most of the time.

I looked at several cars but most had thrashed interiors or needed head gaskets, both of which I did not want to deal with. I gave up looking for about a month, until I stumbled across an ad listing a 1998 P38 Range Rover HSE 4.6 with 150k on the clock for $1200. This is the only picture shown-

I assumed for $1200 it needed everything under the hood and had another ripped up interior like every other Rover I looked at over the previous few weeks. It was only a few miles from my house, so I made the call. To my surprise, he was the original owner, had many service records, and was just tired of the many small issues that were rising. He considered having all the issues taken care of at a local indie Rover shop, but the quote of $1000 in parts and $3000 in labor to fix it scared him off. Craigslist was his next best option.

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When I arrived, the owner told me it had been sitting for the better part of a year and hadn’t been started in a few months. He left a charger on it the previous night, so it should at least have enough juice to start. When I got inside, I was shocked to see how clean the interior was.

The floor mats were dirty and it needed a good detailing, but all the leather was in great shape and the rear seats looked like new. I crawled underneath it to see how many oil leaks I would need to deal with and found something very interesting- It had coil suspension. This was great news to me as I didn’t want to deal with the Rover Electronic Air Suspension again. Apparently, he had it installed a few years before after burning through a few air compressors. It had fewer leaks than I expected, but like almost every other car here in Idaho, it had no rust. But would it start?

It took a few sessions of cranking and sitting. Cranking and sitting. The seller was very up front that the fuel pump was going out and that was the major reason it hadn’t been used in a while. Finally, it fired up and idled at a reasonable level. We jumped in and drove it around the neighborhood. The tires were mostly bald and probably low on pressure, making it pull to the right, but it drove, stopped and didn’t overheat. So far so good.

We struck a deal at $1,000 and made plans to pick it up the following day. I was very excited. I went home and started making a list of everything I thought it would need and made a large Amazon purchase. A thermostat, fuel filter, plugs, wires, air filters, fuel pump, valve cover gaskets, and a can of BG44k were all on the way within a few hours of the deal.

I have a small warehouse/hobby shop that I rent just for my motorcycles and small fabrication side business. My shop was just two miles from the seller’s house so he offered to bring it down if I could give him a ride home. He showed up on time with it and we sat around talking motorcycles and mountain biking for about an hour.

It was in my possession and I had a large pile of parts waiting to be installed.

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Part 2 of this series will deal with the first wave of new parts as well as a breakdown of all the costs involved. So far, I’ve been driving it every day for a few weeks, no new issues have shown up, and I’m still right at or under $2,000 into it in total. Stay tuned.