1983 Land Rover Santana 109 Turbodiesel
The Kings Of Leon
I think I have mentioned it before, but Spain is a rather large country, particularly by the standards of Western Europe, and one of the things I enjoy most about my job is that I get to see pretty much all of it. I have had reason, and continue to have reason, to go to most of the corners of Spain, from Murcia to Santiago de Compostela, and from Sevilla to Barcelona. I have driven through the Pyrenees all the way north to Andorra, and taken the ferry south to Melilla, on the northern coast of Africa. I have seen the Portuguese border to the west and stood on the sands of the Mediterranean to the east, and I feel like I'm starting to get a pretty good handle on this varied and fascinating nation.
But I haven't seen it all, and one of the places I have been wanting to go is Leon. Capital of the Province of Leon and located in the northwestern part of the country, it seems like I have been everywhere around Leon without actually having set foot in it, and I've been angling to get up there and look around.
Leon isn't a big city, although with almost half a million people in the greater metro area it isn't insignificant either, but it has a lot of history packed into its 15 square miles. Established by the Roman military in 37 B.C., Leon is famous for its varied architecture and numerous churches, the most famous of which are the gothic, 13th century Catedral de Leon and the Romanesque, 10th century Basilica de San Isidoro, with its beautiful frescoes and ancient royal tombs. The resting place of the kings of Leon.
So when we stumbled on a good looking, rust free 1983 109 Turbodiesel for sale in Leon, it seemed like providence. I would go to Leon, look around, photograph it in front of the Basilica, and drive it home. Bam. Done and done.
But Life Is Like A Sweater...
Unfortunately, nothing is ever quite that easy. While Bill and I were jointly negotiating with the seller in Leon, something else came up. We found a rare Series IIA in Extremadura, and it appeared I might have to go out there to check it out. I simply wouldn't have time to make both trips.
As much as I wanted to go to Leon, the Turbo there was obviously in good condition, the seller had sent us copious photos and videos, and we were very confident in the truck. It would need some upholstery work, but we're used to that at this point, and we didn't have too many question marks over it. The Series IIA, on the other hand, was more of a wild card. I needed to see that one, so the decision was made to have this Turbo trucked down from Leon to my house in Javea. I would evaluate it there. The kings of Leon would have to wait for me a little longer.
I scheduled a flatbed to collect the vehicle, paid the seller, and went about my other trips, excited to see it when it arrived.
The Land Rover Santana Turbodiesel is a relatively rare and interesting take on the Land Rover Series. Using essentially the bodywork of the later Defender models (albeit with some minor differences) and the leaf-spring suspension of the Series III, the turbodiesel was a way to maintain the stellar off road performance the series Land Rovers have always been known for while dramatically improving the power and driveability on modern day tarmac. With a beefed up and turbocharged version of the trusty 2 1/4 liter diesel that has always served Land Rover so well, and a new a five-speed manual gearbox, the turbodiesel offered substantially more torque as well as a welcome boost in peak power, which, when combined with the five speed gearbox, offered cruising speeds of over 100 kp/h with an additional 20 kp/h in reserve. Pulling power up long hills at highway speeds was no longer much of an issue, and the turbo is stronger and more flexible everywhere, making it thoroughly more useable on modern roadways. This particular turbo was fitted from the factory with optional parabolic springs and an auxiliary fuel tank, which can be accessed with a plunger at the base of the passenger seat. A switch on the dashboard changes the fuel gauge readout from primary to secondary tank, allowing the same fuel gauge to be used for both tanks. Other changes include a more luxurious interior with more comfortable seats, full carpeting for the front passengers, a larger center console with space for a radio, triple wipers, and other details. The result is a high-spec Land Rover that is more powerful, comfortable and useable than any that came before it, and one that was much more of a match for the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagens, Nissan Patrols and Toyota Land Cruisers that were starting to rival their long-held market dominance.
Rugged, reliable and comfortable, a good turbodiesel is a very good Land Rover indeed, and I couldn't wait to see it and put it through its paces.
...And Sometimes Sweaters Have Strings
When the truck arrived, I got it up in the air and crawled around it. A couple little leaks, some corrosion around the brake lines, but otherwise very solid. No serious rust, and best of all, it fired right up and drove beautifully.
Downsides? It had the original "turbo" striping and graphics on the sides, which I am not personally very fond of, and the upholstery was torn in a couple places, on both the front and second row seats. Also, while crawling around it looking for any hidden damage, I noticed the tires were dry rotten, and one had cuts on the inner sidewall. Not the end of the world, but it meant new tires all the way around.
I had our upholsterers come and remove the interior, so they could get to work restoring the seats and making carpet, and with the interior out, I called Bill in the USA.
"The exterior is really pretty good," I told him. "No damage. The paint is a little flat, but otherwise, the only thing I don't like are those stripes."
"I don't like them either," he replied. "And there's no sense sending it here unless it's exactly how we want it. Let's paint it, and make sure they do the roof and wheels in Alaskan White."
So the decision was made, and this is where you can sometimes feel like you're pulling a string on a really nice sweater. What starts out as a good truck, and by all accounts is a good truck, is suddenly getting four new tires, an entire interior renovation, and complete bodywork and paint before you even realize it.
And so it began.
In For A Penny, In For A Pound
Weeks went by, and the restoration progressed. The interior came back stunning, as I have come to expect from the handcrafted upholstery artisans who I trust here with these types of jobs, and the body was painstakingly block sanded and prepped. Trim came off, wheels came off, and paint work began. The result, when completed, was well worth the effort. Striking Warwick Green paint with Alaskan White roof and wheels, new tires, and all new upholstery. When I went to pick it up, I couldn't have been happier with the results.
I picked the truck up from paint and headed off through the mountains to Benidoleig, where our resident Land Rover technician lives and works out of a citrus grove in the hills. As with almost all our Land Rovers, I just wanted him to check the vehicle over one last time and give it a service - new fluids and such - to make sure it would be 100% ready for daily use in the states.
Driving through the Spanish countryside in a vintage Land Rover is not a bad way to travel, and I stopped in town for some puchero, a local peasant soup made from chicken and beef broth and served with a massive plate of meats and root vegetables. While eating, people kept coming to the table and asking me about the Land Rover, telling me how they never see them so nice anymore, and relating their own stories and memories of having owned or driven one. Vintage vehicles do that to people. There is no better friend-maker than an old Land Rover. No better conversation-starter. No better bonding agent. They are emotional things, these old trucks, and they tug at what makes us all human, whether we're car junkies or not. People who see them, and see you driving them, always feel compelled to talk to you, just to share in the experience for a few moments. They don't just want the vehicle, they want your life, at least for the moment...
Tom had much the same reaction when he saw the truck. "Wow,' he said, running his hand along the door. "Did you buy it this nice, or did you make it this nice?"
I told him it was a little of both and he laughed then let me know he'd give it a good once over and I headed back to Javea to leave him to it.
He called a few days later.
"It's a good truck," he said. "Engine is super strong, with great compression. The turbocharger is new. Suspension is all good, and the electrics are all good. Couple little leaks that I fixed with new gaskets, and I'm doing some adjustments and changing all the fluids, but basically it's fine."
I told him that was good news.
"Shame about the rust, though."
My stomach went into my mouth.
"Rust?" I said, shocked. "I didn't see any rust, and I crawled all over it."
"It's hard to spot," he said. "Really hard to spot, but it's there. Tucked up along the tops of the front and rear crossmembers, and just starting to bleed into the floors a little. Just a little perforation. It's no big deal. It's not a structural issue at this point."
But it was a big deal. A very big deal. We don't buy trucks with rust, and we don't sell trucks with rust. Not unless it's utterly insignificant, or of the surface variety. But perforation in the crossmembers? That was a very big deal indeed, even if it was only minor.
I felt like I had been punched. "Tom," I told him, "we need to repair it. You see this truck. It's beautiful. It can't have any rust. I need to repair it."
"I can repair it," he said, "I've done it probably a thousand times in Germany. But the only way to do it right is to replace the crossmembers with new units from England. They're galvanized, and will be stronger and better than new, but it's a big job, and it's going to mean cutting up some of your fresh new paint work. Why don't you just disclose the rust and sell it as is? Every one of these in England and Germany and everywhere else has this same issue. It's a beautiful truck, and it will run for another ten years like this with no trouble whatsoever."
What he didn't realize is that Bill and I had already made a decision about situations like this, a long time ago. When we formed Valencia Classic Vehicle Consulting, we told each other than it would be a different kind of company. We told each other that we weren't car salesmen and never wanted to become car salesmen. We told each other that we were car enthusiasts, and we wanted to treat each vehicle as if it was our own. As if we were going to keep it forever. Disclosing rust is fine, but repairing it correctly, so the truck is better than new underneath, is better still. Even if it's only minor. Even if it means we lose money. The decision had already been made, even before the problem occurred.
"Fix it," I told him. "Just make sure it's right. Do it like it was your own truck, or your wife's. Make it 100%."
And Finally, The Butterfly
More weeks went by. More money was spent. The correct, galvanized pieces were brought in from England and Tom got to work. Everything questionable was replaced, and everything treated and prepped to be better than new. When it was done, it went back to the paint shop for more paint work. I went back to Benidoleig for more puchero, but driving my own car this time. No one spoke to me. They didn't want my car today, or my life.
After what seemed like a month, Tom called. "It's done," he said. "You're going to be happy."
I was. It was... perfect work. Painstaking, hand fitted, exhaustingly prepped, and utterly perfect. Just like it was my own truck. Or my wife's. Costly? Yes. But whoever buys it will know it's right, and that's exactly what we want for our company.
It's a funny business, this. A few times a month we hear from people who sort of dismiss our efforts, and imply it's easy to buy and import vehicles from Europe. "Look at this ad in France," they'll say. "It's a great vehicle, and much cheaper than yours." And who knows? They may be right. It might be a really good vehicle at a really good price. But they are every bit as likely to be dead wrong, and the phone calls, in multiple languages, the train tickets and hotels to go see vehicles, the foreign paperwork to complete a sale, the trucking and delivery to the port, the export documentation, the shipping costs, the import documentation, customs inspections, and inland delivery on the USA side... it's not insignificant effort. It's tough work. It's tough even when you don't have problems, like a hidden mechanical fault or a bit of rust that sneaks past my flashlight. The result, though, is generally worth it. Not always financially. Maybe we make a little money on one vehicle, and less on the next. We have even lost money on vehicles before. It happens. But it doesn't matter, because we're not as much a business as we are "car people helping car people," and when viewed like that, everything comes out okay in the end.
So here is our butterfly. A 1983 Land Rover Santana Turbodiesel 9-seat Station Wagon, with a five speed transmission and factory auxiliary fuel tank, in fresh Warwick Green paint with fresh Alaska White roof and wheels, new tires, a complete new hand-made interior, new carpet cut and fitted by hand, and completely serviced and ready to drive anywhere.
Oh, and no rust. I should probably mention that it has no rust.
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