Staring down a new project car purchase

It’s like standing atop a high cliff. You’re either going to make a smooth dive into the water below, or bounce off the rocks on the way down. These rocks are labeled for your convenience. They say “Head Gasket”, “Wiring”, “Cooling System”, and there are many more rocks to go before you splash down.

I can’t stop thinking about everything that could go wrong. But I can’t stop thinking about how right this one might be too. This is the project car dilemma, and it’s in full swing in my brain right now.

While I was away on a vehicle launch trip the past week, I began chatting with a colleague. She’s raced off road for decades now and has friends all over the world. One of her friends happens to live in Northern California, and that friend happens to own an old Range Rover that she’s looking to get rid of.

What are we dealing with here?

It’s a rare Range Rover Classic Hunter Edition, and it belonged to her son. This son passed away and the truck has been mostly sitting. The valve cover gasket is leaking oil. The power steering hoses need attention. This is an old Rover, so it’s likely the suspension needs an eyeball too. The mileage is high as well.

But the truck is clean. Minus two minor dents, but all project cars have bruises.

I’ve always loved the old-school style of the Range Rover classic. And now I have the chance to scoop one up for potentially very short money. Sure, I need to then figure out how to tow it home from its current location nearly 450 miles north of here.

I can’t get this one out of my head though, even if there are plenty of reasons why I should. Is this a fool’s errand? Am I biting off way more than I can hope to chew? Or is it time to get greasy and embrace a real deal project car… a classic British vehicle that may be eager to have me love it and hate it at every turn.

I’m torn here. But I’m also working on the logistics of bringing this one home. Stay tuned.

21 Comments

  1. Is this no longer being considered as a Benz replacement, and would become a full-on project car, like the Wombat?

    1. It would be separate from the Wombat. And I would sell the Benz sedan if the Rover proved solid enough. So it would replace the Benz sedan, but only once it was sorted.

      Waiting to hear back from seller re: pricing.

  2. To paraphrase the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, new projects are like razor toothed gree worms, they are succulent but you can get bitten.
    On the bright side a California car is unlikely to be rusty, on the not so bright side a 30+ year old English car will be suffering both oil leaks and electrical weirdness.

    1. To expand upon what Manxman said below, the motor oil leaks prevent bad rust, and the electrical problems mean you don’t have to worry about the brake fluid leaks.

      Can’t crash if it never moves 😉

  3. “These rocks are labeled for your convenience.”

    Addressing both the metaphor as a hobbyist mechanic and the underlying reality as a professional geologist, I’ve found that the real problems arise when the rocks either aren’t labeled or aren’t labeled correctly.

    1. In the cliff metaphor, ideally one would strive to avoid the rocks.

      That’s good advice academically, too.

  4. I’d say go for it Jeff. A leaky valve cover is a pretty easy fix, and being a truck, it’s suspension should be fairly simple. Power steering might be a little tough, but at least it shouldn’t be all rusty. And being high mileage should mean most of the “British” issues should have been already taken care of.

    1. Most of the body is aluminium, but check the firewall which is steel, also I think the tailgate frame is a prime area for rust. A friend had a 1970s 2-door V8 4-speed which was a great high-speed tractor, did a few overlanding trips with it. His was on LPG which didn’t do much for power but helped the considerable thirst of the thing. Need I say, LS swap?!?

    2. Everything I read about RR Classics (and talk to ACTUAL owners and RR enthusiasts) is that the trucks are supremely simple and the Internet has embellished the major issues. They still HAVE plenty of issues, but nothing that can’t be worked through.

      As long as the truck isn’t rusty (it isn’t), I should be ok.

  5. With my limited experience with British cars I noticed that the more the lubricated bits leaked the longer the body and frame were protected from rust.

  6. Range Rovers leave me cold, uninterested. Now, if you were talking a 1928-9 Model A Ford, I would say “Go For It!”

    –We all have our “thing.”

    Have you noticed how frequently we enthusiasts become distracted by, ‘nee infatuated with, new “things?” It seems that once we get past about the 36th month of life together, its off to find another shiny thing. This is fine. Just make sure you treat your wife better.

    1. I have noticed this in myself, and when I do not obey my whims I am not unhappy as a result. but I have great memories of pretty much every time I *have* obeyed my car-related whims – I have stories and memories and experiences with those cars that I am very happy to have had.

      my whims are getting more expensive, though. might need to keep a damper on that.

  7. There’s a great Irish Youtube channel called SOUP, episodes are on the long-ish side, but really well put together and watchable by a guy who’s restoring both a Range Rover and a Lotus Esprit. He doesn’t claim to be an expert, in fact it’s meant to inspire other amateurs, but he doesn’t seem to bodge stuff just to get it done either. Highly reccomended if you’re taking on a RR https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl9I7RgD0i7JZ58CK17kKHQ

    That “Hunter” sticker would have to go if I were buying that RR, the aristocratic English toff associations of regular RRs are liveable, but to be associated that sub breed of high class vandal that goes after foxes with a pack of dogs while trampling over peoples farmland because it’s an “ancient Noble tradition” are a special kind of asshole. Banned in the actual UK, but still goes on in Ireland.

  8. Can’t be much worse than my Miata, I hope. Worse comes to worst, would an engine swap be legal, in this case, in California? Or does that kind of kill the whole allure of it being a Hunter Edition?

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