Two Into One

Originally Published: January 2016 Words: Paul Looe Pictures: Harry Hamm

Got a Range Rover with a dead engine and a Discovery with a rotten body? An heart transplant might sound like the obvious answer, but why just do that when a body swap would be more interesting? That’s the logic behind Paul Wood’s hybrid – which combines two everyday dead Landies to make one unique off-roader.

Land Rover likes to go on about its vehicles’ breadth of capability. And it’s right. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny that there are few manufactuers anywhere in the world whose vehicles can do so many different things well.

It’s been that way for a long, long time, of course. Consider the Mark 1 Discovery, for example. It was stylish, well equipped and practical. It could master any road, and it was unbelievable off-road. It could tow like a champ. It could do almost anything.

Like rust. Boy, could it rust.

The Disco 1 had a chassis that could survive anything, be it the trials of off-road action or the test of time. But its body? Lower your head, avoid eye contact and back away slowly.

That’s exactly what Paul Wood’s mate Johnathan Wharmby didn’t do when he found an old 1995 3-door Disco going cheap and picked it up to use as a runabout for a while. ‘It had several months’ MOT left,’ says Paul, ‘so it didn’t seem a bad buy at the time.’

Not that this is the story of someone going into it without knowing what they’re looking at. Both these guys are well seasoned in the 4x4 game – Paul alone has owned about six Discos, a couple of Rangeys, a Defender, an SJ and a Frontera before this, so he’d had plenty of experience of old off-road machines.

Johnathan bought the Disco after an interesting experience involving not one but two semi-retired Range Rovers. One was running and had a Brooklands body kit on it (yeuch), while the other had spent the previous eight years laid up in a barn, and he struck a deal at the right money to take them both off their owner’s hands.

The one with the bodykit ran well, so Johnathan set to work on fettling it for the MOT. Like any person of taste would do, he started taking the kit off… only for the body to come with it.

Was it as crumbly as the Disco? Maybe, maybe not. But once again, getting it back on the road would have cost way more in welding time than the vehicle was worth. It was fit only for being broken and sold as spares, so that’s exactly what happened to it.

Which left one other Range Rover, sat in the corner covered in mould. The reason it was kicked into the barn in the first place had been that the owner bought the other one, so the guys assumed that it must have been worse. But when they went at it with the jetwash, something remarkable happened.

‘We couldn’t believe how clean and straight it was,’ says Paul. ‘We found no rust or rot anywhere on it. The sills, inner wings and boot floor were spotless.’

Now, that’s not normal for an abandoned Rangey. But there was a reason. ’As we were going through it,’ continues Paul, ‘we discovered paperwork showing how it had had a full body-off restoration which was completed just before it was MOT’d and then parked in the barn.’ So recomissioning it was a piece of cake, and soon it was MOT’d once more and back on the road.

All went well, for about six months. But then they stopped going well and went phut instead, when a completely unidentifiable electrical fault cropped up and killed the engine stone dead. ‘We did checks on the engine, loom and everything, but could not figure it out. Several people came over to try and help, but with no success.’

So, two Range Rovers. One has already been stripped, the other is rock solid but doesn’t run. Enter stage left, the Disco. Johnathan used it as his daily driver for a few months, all the while wondering what he was going to do with the beautiful Range Rover that was sat on his drive and steadfastly refusing to fire up.

As it turned out, the answer was waiting for him to uncover. And all he and Paul had to do was get in there and start doing a few pre-MOT checks.

They’d already seen that a few panels were going to want replacing, so as part of the job they stripped off the old ones. And that was when they saw the truth.

Johnathan’s original intention was to replace the Disco’s grotty panels, but as it so often the way it wasn’t until they stripped the truck down that the extend of the rust around the whole of the shell became obvious. ‘It only had one good body mount holding it to the chassis,’ says Paul. ‘The boot floor was gone all the way round and the inner wings front and rear were non-existant, as were both rear seatbelt mounts.’

So, one good runner with a wreck of the body, and one good body with a wreck of an engine. Sounds like time for a heart transplant, right?

The guys did look at that idea. But then they had a better one. ‘Why not just swap the bodies over from the Range Rover to the Disco,’ says Paul. ’They are after all the exact same chassis. And the Disco’s chassis and running gear were mint, with an all new suspension lift kit on it.’

This was back when the bureaucrats whose job is to stop everyone from doing everything were yet to realise such clever thinking was possible and therefore ban it. No doubt these days it would involve more paperwork, more time and, of course, more admin fees, but back then all it took was a call to the DVLA (something else you can’t do now, at least not if you want to have a grown-up conversation with an intelligent adult) and they were reassured that yes, what they were proposing was fine.

The job itself was a lot less remarkable than what came before, because it was so straightforward. Off came the old body (something you could just about have done by sneezing on it) and the whole plot was thoroughly cleaned and prepped. Then it was a case of splitting the Range Rover from its chassis, lifting it into the air (a big thumbs-up to the guys on the farm next door for dropping by with a telehandler) and wheeling the Disco frame underneath it.

The trickiest bits, both of which should make you shudder, were relocating the Disco loom and dashboard into the Range Rover. The latter required a lot of trimming and test-fitting before it would finally marry up to the new bulkhead, but by taking it slowly the guys got it spot-on – the result being that it feels like it was always meant to be there.

Paul and Johnathan took the chance to fit a wading kit while the body was off, then plumbed in a snorkel and modded the original bumpers to work with the combination of Disco frame and Range Rover body. And that was it, job done. Now, instead of a shot-through Disco and a non-running Range Rover, Johnathan was the proud owner of a sound, solid and very much functional truck with a brand new MOT and, after a bit of wrangling with VOSA, a V5 describing it as a Range Rover Hybrid.

Well, he WAS the proud owner, but it won’t have escaped your notice that he’s not anymore. ‘After such a lousy year, he decided to sell up,’ says Paul. ‘Well, I couldn’t let it go after all the hard work I’d put into it was well!

‘I can honestly say I know every nut and bolt on the vehicle. So I sold my own Disco to pay for it and started to make it my own. Since owning it, I’ve made a few changes, like bigger tyres and +3” springs instead of the +2” ones we put on. I’ve had it for four years – it’s mainly a green lane toy, as well as my daily driver and tow vehicle.’

That’s not to say he doesn’t get in there too. In fact, he’s currently scratch-building a 100” challenge truck for the really hardcore stuff – and being Chairman of Trans Pennine Off Road Club, he gets plenty of chance to do that. ‘I was getting ribbed by my mates in TPORE for not using this one at our pay and plays, so I went for a trundle round Holymoorside to show them that it is a capable off-roader. I got stuck three times in there and damaged the wing a bit… It wasn’t too bad considering it’s not what it was intended for, but my mate Joey Handley found it hilarious as he pulled me out each time with his Pajero!’

As well as the off-roader he’s building, Paul is currently restoring a 3.9 Range Rover on LPG which will eventually replace this one as his all-rounder and lane machine. He’s talking more lift and bigger tyres this time, which along with the engine will address the only real regrets he’s got about this one.

So once again, he’s working on two trucks at once. This time, they’re not going to end up as one on top of the other.

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