Series Land Rovers
How to Repair That Pesky SIII Body Rot- A Primer For the Naive Student
by Dave Bobeck
Introduction- Any of you out there who own a Series III Land Rover, i.e., one of 1972-74 vintage, (we're talkin' NADA spec. only here, bub) are probably more than aware that there are funny little holes forming around the rear wheel wells. Now this would be normal on your standard steel bodied gas guzzler of the same vintage, but on aluminum? What gives? I'll tell you what gives. In the early days of Automotive Safety Engineering, it was discovered that a seatbelt would be beneficial in a wreck. So American engineers decided to inflict their whim on all seats in all vehicles, No Matter What. So as it were, the Land Rovers sold in the good ol' US of A from 1972 on had to have seatbelts mounted for the rear side facing seats. This of course was useless, since the human spine doesn't like to bend sideways too well, and since they were only lap belts you were probably more likely to find yourself separated from your lower half as you were to survive unharmed. In order to assist in the seatbelts ability to keep your hips and legs from flying loose along with your torso, they were reinforced with a large chunk of steel bolted to the underside of the truck. Of course, a couple of pop-rivets were necessary to keep this chunk of steel in place. Now, let me introduce you to our friend, Mr. Electron. Mr. Electron doesn't particularly like being cooped up in that stupid aluminum body panel, so when a nice, luxurious, large chunk of steel is pop-riveted to his current home he takes the first opportunity to jump ship. This is best done when there is a nice bridge of calcium chloride to walk across. This defection is known as galvanic or electrolytic corrosion. Same thing happens in your car's battery. Two different metals, electrons pass from one to the other in a bath of electrolyte. Only problem is your body panels just happen to fall apart when Mr. Electron bails out. So back to our brilliant seatbelt engineers. They've all gone home, or actually retired, and 25 years later Mr. Electron's relatives are still happily emigrating to the Large Chunk Of Steel. This leaves essentially a seatbelt, bolted through a Large Chunk of Steel, that is in turn pop-riveted securely to a pile of white powder. Aluminum Oxide, to be precise. In other words. you now have big holes in the side of your vehicle. The first step towards the cure of this unsightly affliction is the removal of the ever offensive and now more useless than ever Large Chunks of Steel. This can normally be achieved with a slight exhalation of breath directed in the vicinity of the pile of aluminum oxide dust that used to hold the pop rivets fast. Failing this, heavy application of the usual grinding and pounding devices will normally suffice. Now, of course, you are left with Even Larger Holes which is better than slightly smaller holes which will get larger anyway. This may all seem very confusing to the novice or beginner, as to which stage of hole you are at, but as you proceed it will all become crystal clear. The view of the top of your tires, that is. Yes, these holes are an excellent way of getting a quick eyeball on the tread wear, and could likely save you from letting that abnormal tread wear get too far, if perchance you cared. How ever we are dealing with Land Rovers in particular which seem to cause improper tire wear regardless of which steps are taken to avoid it. And with as much time as we spend crawling about underneath them we'd be hard pressed not to notice the tires once in a while. So this makes any rationalization of functionality for these holes in the body null and void for all eternity. Which is how long they will be there if you don't fix them. Mind you, once the steel is gone they won^t get any larger, but they wont get any smaller either. SO THAT'S WHY I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS CONFUSING LONG WINDED STORY ABOUT HOW I BOUGHT A STUPID ALUMINUM REPAIR KIT AT THE LAST CARLISLE SHOW AND NOW THE HOLES ARE BIGGER THAN EVER. O.K.. Here's the ticket. You get 20 rods of this soft aluminum looking stuff, a stainless steel pick, and a nice handy little instruction book. This will not help you. Basically what you want to do is heat the work up to 700 degrees or so until this stuff melts into it. End of story, right? Wrong, Problem One. Its a vertical surface. Problem Two. Gravity. Stuff just runs out of the seam. So what do you do? Well, I'll tell you. The first step is to cut away all the thin, crumbly aluminum. Make a nice even square type hole. Just cut it away, don't be shy. If there's bondo around the holes, you need to get rid of it. Get out the torch and burn it off. Careful don't buckle the thin aluminum. That's it, get it all. What the hell was it for anyway? And how did they get it so THICK?!! Now, cut some cardboard and stick it behind the hole. Take a pen and trace the edge of the hole onto the cardboard. Then cut the cardboard out. You now have a pattern to work with. Trace this onto some spare aluminum of the right gauge. Proper Birmabright "works best". Cut out the Birmabright patch and fit it up. Does it fit? Of course not goddammit! Recut it so it fits, and place it in place. Polish up the edges so they're nice and smooth and shiny. They've gotta be absolutely spotless. This of course is impossible on a Landy so do your best. Heat it up, melt the goo into it, and watch in horror as the panels writhe and buckle in a dance of tortured heatedness. Pick the dropped panel up and try clamping it in place. Welders clamps are the way to go here. C-clamps work but only very poorly. Remember this is not really going to work so don't get too excited. We are just trying to make the neighbors think we are really cool. Grab a lawn chair if you haven't yet. Beer helps too. Now for the hard part. As you are melting the solder, be sure to drip some of the molten stuff on you thumb. You don't really need opposing digits anyway. It's been proven that the remote control can be operated without one. So, slobber as much of this goo onto the parts as you can possibly muster. Let it cool, and remove the clamps. Carefully remove the patch which has only stuck to one spot and toss it into the weeds. Call your friend who has a perfect rear tub and try to convince him to let go of it. Tell him no, you can't help him put his gearbox in, but you'd be happy to take care of his Mom for a year... Go stick that burnt thumb somewhere wet to cool it off (not in your beer, idiot!) and practice channel surfing primate style. Every now and then go outside and look at the huge mess that now exists here there once were a few small holes, and ponder solemnly the wisdom of ever trying to fix anything at all on these blasted things.
God I love my Land Rover.
Reprinted from the OVLR Newsletter, October, 1997