Land Rover Series III 109 Wagon

Part 1: Highline Autos Puts the Gloves on

Hop in and hold on to your Highline Autos.

This issue, we begin an exciting new series of car builds. For each project we’ll take you from the first steps — acquiring the vehicle, stripping it, assembling the team — through each of the remainder such as suspension, drive-train components, customizations, interior and paint and finish.

We’ll be depending on you, Highline readers, for suggestions on future projects and vendor partners — maybe you. This should be a kick, so hang on.

We’ve decided to start out with a three-decade-old Land Rover Series III. With our build team, we’re going to transform this tired workhorse into a contemporary high-powered flex vehicle, as capable as trekking to the mall as into rugged four-wheel drive country.

Series I Land Rovers, 1948–1957, were proletarian and utilitarian. They primarily served farm and light-industrial uses. But with Series II, 1958 to 1961, the image of the vehicle began to broaden.

By Series III, 1971 to 1985, the Land Rover was becoming a multi-purpose errand-doer, child picker-upper and all-terrain vehicle for the weekend adventurer. For that series, the English company rolled out 440,000, with the one-millionth Land Rover off the line in 1976. Today, the car has gentrified into an-terrain status symbol — a Hummer for the upwardly bound and environmentally conscientious.

The company introduced Synchromesh on all four gears for Series III and included a molded plastic dash. In 1980, the four-cylinder 2.25-liter engines were updated with five-bearing crankshafts for heavy-duty off-road work. The transmissions, axles and wheel hubs were also re-designed for increased strength and options were offered to upgrade the interior.

This three-decade-old Land Rover was wandering from peak performance with a rough running engine — a car with good bones but in need of a full restoration, more power and some of today’s amenities.

So, the owner delivered the rugged, weathered and partially torn-down four-wheel-drive to Dahn Automotive, 781 S. Arizona Ave., a half mile north of the San Tan Loop 202 in Chandler.

The three-year-old full-service shop is owned by Weston Dahn. He and his team will provide most of the work on our project car. Weston is known for his ability to transform a car to better-than-new performance and appearance.

In addition to full-service repair and maintenance expertise, Weston is fabricates parts for collectible and custom vehicles — pieces that either can no longer be found in salvage shops or that must be created. There’s a talent that’s always handy for redo’s.

The owner purchased the 109-inch-wheelbase truck with the original 2.25-liter 73-horsepower engine, four-speed manual transmission, two-speed transfer case and Selectable four-wheel drive. The odometer shows 57,000, but this is at least the second time around the block. He reports three prior license plates, one from Europe and one from Virginia and the last from Oregon. Nothing else is known about its history.

Expected after-build components: a 300 TDI Turbocharged Direct Injection engine; five-speed transmission and new two-speed transfer case and four-speed Selectable four-wheel drive.

For safety, Dahn and his crew will add a roll cage and rock/tree sliders, which are installed along the sides of the vehicle for off-roading and a 2–4-inch lift kit for better all-terrain clearance. Power steering will be added, as well as four-wheel disk brakes.

The new fully insulated cab will include four bucket seats, a new rear bench seat, an updated dash and a custom stereo system.

Before delivering the car to Dahn, the owner and a friend tore it down and began media blasting the smaller pieces.

So far, Dahn has removed the body, the engine and transmission, tore down all small pieces, media blasted all metal chassis, including body and doors and all small trim to expose rust-damaged areas that were found on the chassis following blasting. They prepped the chassis with a rust-removing acid to neutralize any remaining rust and primed it with metal-etching primer to stop any new rust.

Before the final moldings are installed, the revitalized Land Rover is off to paint at Bill Wallace’s Preferred Collision Shop in the Scottsdale Airpark.

We’ve got some work to do before Bill and his crew unholster their spray guns.

Part II of Jon Brun’s series will appear in the next issue of Highline Autos.