1976 Land Rover Santana 109 Series III Station Wagon
Hecho A Mano
To many enthusiasts the term "amateur restoration" is an oxymoron. Amateurs don't restore anything correctly, they say. They screw everything up. They don't know what they're doing. I have never agreed with that line of thinking, myself. Sure, it can be true, just like pretty much anything can be true, but in a lot of ways I think amateurs have a couple of advantages over professional restoration shops, assuming they have the requisite resources to see the project though. First, they aren't hampered by the profit motive, so they don't tend to cut corners. Second, they work for the love of the vehicle, not for money, so care and attention to detail is often even higher than professional shops.
Sergio never intended to sell this vehicle when he started restoring it four years ago. He was just putting it right for the love of putting it right. Living in a sprawling home on the outskirts of Jerez de la Frontera, in the southwest of Spain, he most certainly has the resources to see a project through, and as he showed me around the Bronze Green Series III, his pride was evident.
"When I did the seats, I didn't like the kits from Paddock Spares and Britpart and the like. They aren't the same as the originals. The vinyl is harder. The foam is harder. The originals were softer. No one makes kits that feel like the originals, so I sourced the vinyl and the foam separately and made the seats myself."
It took him four years to complete this Land Rover. Four years working evenings and weekends. Rebuilding mechanical components, priming and painting, reupholstering... He went to extraordinary efforts sometimes to make things right, such as when he took the trouble of replicating by hand the original half headliner that came on this particular "Especial" model, and he took some liberties when he wanted to, such as when he installed a pair of modern power ports in the cargo compartment near the rear door. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. On one hand it's funny to be so obsessive about some details and so cavalier about others. But on the other I saw myself in almost all the decisions that were made. I think I would have done it pretty much the same way.
"I like the way it looks," I told Sergio.
"I think you'll like the way it drives, too," he replied, pulling the keys out of his pocket.
The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss
If you're a normal human being, you probably know Jerez de la Frontera (often called simply "Jerez" and pronounced 'hair-ETH') for the famous sherry and vinegars produced in the area. But if you're a car junkie then you probably know Jerez for the motor racing circuit nestled in the outskirts, the Circuito de Jerez. Built in the 1980's, it has hosted numerous Formula 1 grands prix and motorcycle grands prix, and remains one of the most involving circuits to drive in all of Europe, as well as a popular winter testing location.
I love Jerez. It's close enough to the southwestern beaches around Cadiz to have a somewhat tropical, resort feel to it, but history drips from every stone of every building, including the 11th century Moorish fortress that forms the center of the old quarter, numerous Spanish equestrian centers, and plenty of Flamenco. To me, it's the right size city in the right location - the best of old and new - with a world class motor racing circuit right in the back yard. You really can't ask for much more than that.
I had made my way down to kill a couple birds with one stone, as this lovely Series III happened to be located very close to a grey Defender 110 we wanted to buy as well. When I met the seller, a very personable man named Sergio, we started talking about restorations, past and present. He had done many over the years, always for himself, always for the love of the vehicle, and, it turns out, always Land Rovers. His first had been an 88, which he still owned and drove regularly, but he had restored a couple 109's over the years and even a Ligero, the Santana version of the Lightweight, and the only such version offered for civilian sale.
"Do you ever restore Solihull trucks?" I asked.
"No," he said flatly. "Only Santanas. They are better. Less sloppiness in the assembly."
This was not the first time I had encountered this opinion, and when I have, it always comes from Land Rover experts. People who actually work on them. The first couple times it came from Spaniards and I had a tendency to pass it off as a form of national pride. I have never considered Santanas inferior to their counterparts built in Solihull, but I never considered them superior either. Just Land Rovers, built with Land Rover parts and tooling. Same as the old boss. The third time I met someone who preferred Santanas, however, it was from an Englishman who restored the vehicles for a living. And then I heard it again from a German restoration expert. All say the same thing: "The trucks are essentially identical, whether built in Spain or England, but the assembly was better in Spain. The build quality was better."
For those who may not know, Metalurgica de Santa Ana, SA was a Spanish manufacturing company formed to build Land Rovers under license from England, starting in 1958. From 1958 to 1983, Land Rover Series II, IIA and III vehicles, in almost all body styles, were assembled in Linares, Spain using "CKD" ("Complete Knocked Down Kits") with parts and tooling from Solihull. Through 1968, Land Rover Santanas were truly identical to their Solihull counterparts, but beginning in 1968, very small improvements started being worked into some Santana models. This was likely due to many Santana Land Rovers being used in Morocco and other areas of North Africa, in some of the harshest conditions anywhere, so Santana was probably more rapidly aware of the failure point of certain Series components, and owing to the severe financial constraints of Land Rover's British Leyland owners in the UK, the comparatively flush Santana company was in a better financial position to engineer small improvements as they became needed. Almost all major Land Rover improvements to the Series trucks (disc brakes, turbo diesel engines, parabolic springs, 5-speed transmissions, etc.) were introduced on comparable Santana models first.
So that's Santana in a nutshell. Land Rovers built under license using CKD kits and the same parts and tooling as their counterparts in Solihull, but unhampered by Leyland's infamously shoddy build quality and financial difficulties. It's not a bad recipe. Ask ten people and you're likely to get ten different opinions on the subject, but with so much misinformation and prejudice against various forms of Land Rovers, usually wholly unfounded, it's nice to meet people who put their blood, sweat and tears into Santanas, and Sergio swears by them.
Driving through the "Sherry Triangle," west of the city, the 109 is in its element. Lovely to drive, lovely to stare at, and looking right at home among the historic buildings and sherry production houses of the area. After trundling through the old town, past the Moorish fortress, and back out of the city center to the east, I eventually make my way to the Circuito de Jerez and park briefly in front. If there was a vintage race here, this 109 would make the ultimate tow vehicle for a proper 1970's formula car. A Lotus 73 perhaps?
I head back to meet Sergio and we shake hands and fill out the paperwork. I tell him again how impressed I am with the effort he put into this particular project, and how much I like it. How much it suits me. He smiles with a little embarrassment, and tells me he'll call me next time he finishes one. Four years, maybe?
I can wait. After all, I just bought a truck from him. He's not an amateur anymore.
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