Rebuilding Bertha-AKA doing the happy dance- eventually

A peek at Bertha's refurbishment - from strip down to full rebuild- warning image heavy article- may involve sarcasm

4y ago

A few years ago we bought Bertha, A 1967 Series IIa 109. there in itself is a tale - if this post gets a 100 bumps- I will tell in graphic detail just how my wife persuaded me to buy a vehicle that at the time I had zero interest in owning

For many years she had been owned by a variety of farmers ( the Land Rover not the wife) and had some alterations. the technical term for her state was a "Bitsa".(still talking about the Land Rover not the wife)

We had a couple years somewhat enjoyable pottering about in her, but it was apparent she had issues.(Land Rover not wife, although-maybe.... no .... lets not go down that particular lane)

The 21/4 petrol engine was unreliable, the electrics worked sometimes and she hated the MOT man with a passion. This led us to get to know our local Land Rover garage owner very well and we became friends.

As with all Land Rovers of a certain age the time came when no amount of patching was going to get her through the next MOT. Our garage owning friend wanted to refurbish a classic Land Rover as a project so we struck a deal, we would pay for the parts and they would provide the expertise and project Bertha was born. ( note this restoration started a few years ago)

First thing was to strip her down and see how bad things were- and they were not pretty the chassis looked solid enough but was paper thin in places

And the bulkhead was not too healthy either- we still cant work out why the doors hadn't fallen off

Stripping the gearbox down it became apparent that there was too many bits inside, mostly broken. At least thats what the experts told me. Its all black magic to me , but I can recognise that some whirly things seem to be a little out of shape. On the whole the 6 month project we had hoped for started to look a lot more involved

So start with the basics- a new galvanised chassis - not cheap but saving an awful lot of welding and patching- serious note - cannot fault the workmanship of the Richards Chassis- if your going down the refurb route, they are worth every penny

The axles were in pretty good shape , but they were cleaned and all bits renewed. and reassembled- hopefully in the right order

A little research told us that from the factory Bertha had a 2 1/4 Deisel power plant, as the petrol engine was more trouble than it was worth a diesel engine was sourced and rebuilt. and painted . Why this colour I am not sure - it could be a historic colour that Land Rover used in 1967- although I suspect it was a tin of random paint that was lying around the workshop

Pretty soon we had a rolling, freshly painted, chassis and all new brake lines were fabricated - non of your off the shelf rubbish here son !

Also after a lot of searching a fully refurbished bulkhead was found- when I say found, to clarify it actually popped up on Ebay and involved us pawning the mother in laws jewellery and selling our first borns soul to the devil it was that expensive - I am still in therapy for the pain to our bank account

Although it needed a little "Fettling".- why does "fettling" a word that sums up ideas of soft easing and gently persuading ALWAYS involve big hammers and expensive cutting gear

And a splash of paint- I say splash because it was sprayed, but as none of us were sprayers we would have less runs if we tipped the can over it

Time to start putting all the pieces back together. the engine and newly rebuilt gearbox, complete with added overdrive dropped straight in ( believe that you are more gulliable than you look)

Fitting the bulkhead and getting it lined up correctly was more of a job <~~~ note the understatement. Coupling a 40 year old bulkhead to a virgin chassis is always going to be a tight squeeze (oooh errr missus)

Even worse was sorting out the birds nest of a new wiring loom. another dark art that only the truly gifted in black magic can understand

Slowly but surely she started to come back together, it was the little things that seemed to take the most time, Like finding where we put all the bits 4 years ago

The fuel pump decided it wanted to leak fuel so a reconditioned one was found gathering dust on a local companies shelf. side note: what sort of idiots go to a company that specialises in remapping ECU's to ask for an ancient fuel pump, and more to the point why does such a company have a rebuilt refurbished Lucas CAV sitting gathering dust? is it just me?

click on image to expand

click on image to expand

Inside the seat box was rotted away, so a new seat box was fabricated by hand, and the seats retrimmed- We were thinking of going Recaro seats but decided the expected performance of a 2.25 diesel probably didnt warrant the expense

Bolted back together is one thing, but does she run?, does she steer and brake, are all those nuts and bolts left over important?

Play video

OK she runs, steers and stops but the big test is her nemesis.. the MOT Man- ( Who actually is a very pleasant chap just in case he is reading this, Bertha is due her annual medical very soon :) ) And she passed in November 2013 nearly 4 years after we started her rebuild -= cue all the team doing the happy dance

The purists/rivet counters may note that many bits replaced/refurbished were not taken back to what Bertha would have had originally- she came as a "Bitsa" and we wanted to refurbish her "as is" not restore to concourse. she came with oddments. dents and wrinkles that reflect her nearly 50 years of existance and we felt she should keep all that heritage

Our "6 Month" project took nearly 4 years, although it was completed nearly 4 years ago it is still very much part of why she has such a special place in our lives, at times the refurbishment threatened to bankrupt us, our costs far exceeded any ones original expectations -Some very special people have become friends and shared the pain of rebuilding her. we know we will never recoup the money or hours spent on her. But what we have done is given Bertha a chance of another 50 years . She is not perfect with all her dents and wrinkles. She still plays up now and then and requires further "adjustments".

But was it worth it?

If you ever see me or my wife driving her then look for that beaming smile on our faces, that is worth every hour and every penny. sensible? probably not , but then again no-one who owns a classic is totally sane !

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Comments (3)

  • Love this story and would very much love to do something similar. I will one day......

      4 years ago
  • Thank you Chris-I wish you good luck, it is a journey , dont get a figure in your head you want to spend because you will ignore it. I dont know wether your doing concourse or "as is" either way there is no right or wrong- a landy is what you want it to be. . but it will become part of you and your family. I wish you luck and please share your adventure with us

      4 years ago
  • Fantastic read...I'm about to embark on a similar mission..😀

      4 years ago