Project: ECR Range Rover
So what do you do if you want a Rover that will perform off road, but don't have $30,000 and may actually need to pick up the kids or do car pool? Simple... plug into a large number of older Range Rovers that are becoming affordable and can be modified to "kick butt" off road yet still remain highway and daily driver friendly. Interested? Read on.
For dual duty (off road and street) we chose a standard wheel base Range Rover.The vehicle is capable off road, quite rugged, lots of aftermarket upgrades are available and it does the daily driver thing in comfort. Project ECR Range Rover started out as a used, high mileage 1989 Range Rover County. Well taken care of by it's two former owners it checked out to be in great overall shape. It had been dealer serviced all its life and had all the records to prove it. We plunked down our $8500. and drove away in our new (well new is a relative thing... it did have 100,000 miles) Rover. Rust and mechanical problems are the keys to this type of project. If you can find the right Rover that just needs a few items to be a good stock Rover, you can modify the vehicle to be a great off road/ dual duty vehicle. Plenty of these older Range Rovers are around. You may need to spend some time and look for the right one, but if you do your homework, or buy from a reputable dealer, you'll end up with a great rig.
Range Rovers already have some great assets, even in stock form. The coil spring suspension gives them great articulation, their fuel injected V8s give them trail friendly power (they won't stall on hills and descents like some V8s with carberators) and they lend themselves to modification easily. They also have a tough full frame and solid axles front and rear. In its stock form the early US Range Rovers scored well on the RTI (ramp travel index) test. Here you can see the stock Range Rover on our 23 degree RTI ramp.
Before any modifications the project truck scored a respectable 425 forwards, and a 465 backwards. However; these RTI scores can be improved... a lot! Our project truck did not have sway bars, and we suggest all sway bars be removed for any off road use (you'll never miss them anyway).
The first few steps when you transform a street vehicle into an off roader are pretty easy. The choices down the road get harder, and usually more expensive. First and foremost the thing that a Range Rover (or Discovery for that matter) needs to be capable off road is TIRES!!! Skip the roof rack and the Camel Trophy boxer shorts and invest in a good set of sneakers for your rig. What tires do you choose?? Good question. A lot of that depends on where you live, and what type of 4 wheeling you plan to do. Here in New England it is all about traction in mud, on slippery moss covered rock and trails covered in rain soaked fall leaves. In those conditions you are going to want a rugged tire with a tough sidewall to stand up to stumps and rocks and as aggresive a tread as you can stand. "As you can stand?" What does that mean? Off road tires are a give and take situation. What is good on the trail, usually is very loud on the pavement, and what is quiet on the road usually bites off road. A few dual duty tires are adequate, but you loose a lot of off road ability with a dual duty tire. A few examples: (Keep in mind this information is for typical Eastern US 4 Wheeling. Desert, dry rocks, or beach use is a whole different can of worms.)
B.F. Goodrich Radial All Terrains: Good on the road, but only average to poor off road
B.F. Goodrich Radial Mud Terrains: OK to quite good on the road, and average to good off road
Super Swamper TSLs: Average to poor on the road, but excellent off road
Michelin XCLs: Average to OK on the road and average to OK off road. Very few sizes available though
Stock Rover Michelins: Come on... we are talking off road here, not dirt driveway stuff. Excellent on the road, but useless off road.
For uses here in New England we would suggest the B.F.Goodrich Mud Terrain, a good all around tire, that wears quite well and is good on the highway. We went with the Super Swamper radials for this project. Now that you've done some research and picked what tire you plan to use, you'll need to look at your suspension, or you can skip the suspension for now and get some protection (skid plates and such) for your new toy. This is where the choices start. Do you do the suspension, get a winch, or what?! We chose to go with a suspension lift at this point because in most cases you can't install larger tires until you have lifted your Rover, and buying tires twice isn't cost effective. As we will need to keep up with the rest of the ECR staff with this rig, we needed big tires. Larger tires mean better ground clearance, so you get more tread and as much lift as possible. We also needed to progress to a higher level of off roading quickly, so 265/80x16s it was. Quite a few of your choices will hinge on what type of off roading you plan to do, or what people in your club or area are doing. (You'll want to get some friends to 4 wheel with, it can be hazardous and frustrating to start this hobby alone)
Suspension upgrades come in all shapes and sizes. A few work well, and a few are real turkeys. For example some company's "heavy duty" springs are only good for lift, but they will actually decrease your vehicles abilty to articulate or flex. Not a wise choice. The Old Man Emu springs are a nice balance of lift and articulation. They don't really increase flex, but they don't hurt it either, and they provide lift in varying load rates so you can set up your Rover exactly the way you desire. The other aspect of your suspension is your shocks. Your shock choice will depend on yur spring choice. For example the Old Man Emu "long travel" shocks are a good choice, but the "long travel" is a bit of a mystery. They have the same compressed and extended length as a stock Rover shock. Remember that the firmer the shock, the better the vehicle will handle on the road, but that can limit articluation off road. The "balance" comes into play again. A good road shock like a Bilstein is a good choice, but is quite firm. A good solution is something like the Rancho 9000. This shock is adjustable so you can have firm on the road, and soft on the trial. With just about any spring lift available for Rovers you'll want to relocate your rear shocks. (a few good kits are available) With almost any lift the rear shocks will limit the travel, the shock drop kit will change this so the axle uses all the available travel. There is extra travel in the front shocks as well. It can be found by using longer shocks or cutting down the shock towers.
The image below shows a good cross section of Rover lifts. We are using Range Rovers, but the same basic lifts apply to Disco's, Defenders, etc. The Range Rover on the far left has a Safari Gard Stage III. The one in the middle has an Old Man Emu HD lift, and the one on the far right is a stock Range Rover. This image may help you choose you susepsnion modifications. Remember that the higher the lift the more sytems come into play. With a tall lift like a Stage III you will now need to think about drive shaft angles, brake lines etc. The higher the lift, the more complictaed the install and more parts you will need to purchase or alter.
What did we choose for our project? Well... in typical ECR fashion we had to go "all the way" with our suspension choice... Safari Gard Stage III, one of the best you can get. We also went with the Fox Nitrogen shocks. (Where else but ECR can you get a photo of 3 Range Rovers with all the popular lifts?)
The Safari Gard kit comes complete with springs, shocks and most of the needed hardware. When installing your lift consult the supplier you bought it from, they should have extensive knowledge of the installation and should have done many. If they haven't, you may want to switch part suppliers.
You can see some of the increase we'll get just by comparing the stock springs with the new units. Installation of the kit was relatively straight forward (although some modifications are always needed in this type of work) and gave our Rover quite a lift. When you do a lift such as the Stage III you have to consider the entire vehicle. Do you now need to change the drive shaft angle? Do you need to change the brake line length?
The brake lines on our project did need to be extended. If they hadn't been, the first time we would have fully extended the axles the stock brake lines would have ripped in half. These small costs can push your project budget over your limits, so be sure and do your homework.
Here the Stage III lift has been installed. Next step install the tires and the remaining goodies, then the fun stuff... testing!
This image shows a stock 1989 Range Rover next to our ECR Project 1989 Range Rover.
The tires we went for were Super Swamper LT265/80R16s. These will give us the traction we need here in New England and will be OK for road use. The tires spec. out to be 32" tall and have one of the toughest sidewalls available. The turning stops on your front axle will need to be adjusted and if you don't use a wider offset rim your turning circle will be increased, but it is a small price to pay for this type of traction and ground clearance. So what does all this look like? Here it is the finised Project Range Rover.
This Rover will keep up with almost any Rover and is a great way to start setting up your Rover for some harder off road work. It is a great hobby and most people who off road are more than willing to accept and help new-comers. We hope we'll see you out there! RTI scores for the newly set up Range Rover were a 710 forwards and a 620 backwards on a 23 degree ramp, much better than stock.
So what's next? Well, as your budget allows you'll want to think about protection for your Rover. Even the best drivers can get into situations that mean damage to the vehicle. One of the weaskest points on a Range Rover is the location of the steering stabilizer. It is mounted behind and under the front axle and is almost the lowest point of the Rover. It is just waiting to be squashed by that rock you didn't see or the stump hiding in that tall grass. It should be relocated to the front like the Defender 90s. ECR sells a kit with all the parts you need to do the conversions.
After that you will just need to feel out your driving style and figure out what you feel is needed. If you are in rocky terrain you may want to go for a tie rod protector or rock sliders. If you want a little more security you could go for a winch. If you want to step up to the next level go for lockers or ? I've been off roading for about 16 years now, and I have a set group of options that I want on every Rover I off road with, but depending on where you live and how often you go 4 wheeling, and with who, this list can't really be set in stone, a lot of it is personal choice, and sometimes budget come into the picture as well. Don't forget the obvious things you need in your Rover for off roading, like some water, appropriate clothing, some spare parts, fluids, recovery equipment, tool kit and first aid. Remember most 4 wheeling takes you far off the beaten path and that is part of its appeal, but it also means you'll be miles from people who can help you, and an ambulance or a tow truck can't drive up that rocky trail you just drove up, so be safe and be careful, especially if you are new to Off Roading.
PROJECT: ECR Range Rover 1989 Range Rover County $8500. Safari Gard Stage III suspension $1880. Custom Radius and Trailing Arms $700. Extended S.S. brake lines 4 @ $25. Front diff. guard $95. Custom drive shafts (front and rear) $990. TSL Super Swampers 265/80R16s 5 @ $125. mount and balance Project so far $12,890.
UPGRADES: The "ever changing" Land-Rover
As with any Land-Rover that you will own, you will continually change and modify the vehicle to be exactly what you desire. The ECR Project Range Rover is no different. Some recent improvements have been the addition of front and rear diff. guards, a steering stabilizer relocation kit, tie rod guard, and an ARB front bumper and Warn 10,000 winch.
These additions make the Project Range Rover both more capable off road, and better able to handle some off road mistakes or abuse. The guards and such are a great idea. They will usually make it so you can always drive home, even if your off roading gets a little tougher than you first thought. If you've progressed to a higher level of 4 Wheeling, then this type of equipmnet gets to be almost mandatory to keep up, or go on tougher trails.
Please feel free to call ECR if you have questions or needs about/ for your Rover. As you can see from our web page, we do this everyday and all our knowledge comes from "hands on use" of this type of equipment, not just what a magazine said. We will be gald to help you in any way we can.
See you out there on the trail!
Back to the Table
Back to the Articles Section
East Coast Rover Co.
ECR would like to thank to Jason Tyler. The owner of the "Project Range Rover" for letting us use build up his Rover and use it in these articles.