24 January 1997


Sometimes, buying used can be almost as good as buying new. Andrew Pearce reports on an alternative route to off-road luxury

IF you have £15,000-£20,000 to lay out on a multi-purpose 4×4, where might the money go?

Lets narrow it down. Say you want five doors, good towing capacity, a high level of interior kit and choose to stay British. The last bit is the crunch; buying new is a non-starter at the money, so its going to be secondhand. Discoveries are plentiful but have their problems, and only the highest-spec ones have the full whack of entertainments. A Range Rover? Not at todays fuel prices, thanks.

But what if you could buy an economical one? Youd get 28-32mpg, potentially long vehicle life, 3.5t towing capacity and, if its a post-1990 car, all the goodies. Solihull started making half-decent rattlers in 1992 before changing to the quieter, marginally-stronger 300Tdi engine in 1995. Aha; close but no banana, as the first of these cars still costs upwards of £20,000.

There is still a possible way forward. Up near Harrogate, Yorkshire, The Stables 4×4 Centre specialises in slotting Land Rovers current diesel into late-model Range Rovers, and do a lot more to the cars in the price. The end product is affordable, warranted, resellable, insurable and has a huge pool of reasonably-priced parts to draw on. So we went to find out more.

Proprietor Phil Ainsworth lays out his logic. "Around 18 months ago it became clear that insurance companies were becoming less happy with non-standard replacement engines. So as Land Rovers own 300Tdi started to become available at a realistic price we began fitting them.

"Most of our buyers prefer an automatic. How well a diesel works with the existing gearbox will make or break the car; so, together with specialists Automatic Conversions weve developed a kit to match the box to the 300Tdi. Weve also found a torque converter that helps getaway and doesnt waste power in churning oil."

Base cars come from main dealerships. Phil Ainsworth says that hes able to pick from a network of sources, taking only 1990-1993 Vogues and looking for better-than-average examples as their life span is to be extended considerably. The customer chooses a car from the 15-20 usually in stock at The Stables Killinghall base (or brings one along), and the conversion process begins.

New for old

Out comes the original engine and in goes the diesel, along with new pipework, extra soundproofing on the bulkhead, scuttle panel and bonnet, and a lead-lined blanket to lay over the motor.

The gearbox gets its conversion kit and new torque converter, any paintwork is done, the interior is brought back to as-new condition, recoated wheels get new tyres, the brakes are stripped and given fresh discs, pads and pistons if needed, and the car is settled on to new springs, bushes and gas dampers. The whole job takes two men a week, and if you bring your own car costs £5,500.

Engines are not new but rebuilt by Essex firm Voycetune. Bought direct from Land Rover, they get the full treatment from crank to injection pump. If wanted, a £750 recalibration job lifts power from 111hp to a claimed 130hp. But, says Phil Ainsworth, careful building means his units generally deliver more than the standard product.

Prices range from £14,000 upwards, with the most popular buys re-engined 1991 Vogue SEs carrying everything from air conditioning to cruise control and ABS brakes. These go out at around £19,000. We tried the companys demonstrator – see box.

Right: The High Life with penny-pinching economy – diesel power and a late Range Rover can make a smooth team.

Below: Prefer this to something more mundane? A post-1990 Vogue SE has everything from ABS brakes to cruise control.

Proof of the pudding

Heading into the local moors with The Stables air-sprung, long wheelbase LSE, one thing quickly becomes clear; its good. Very good, in fact – smooth with plenty of urge. Theres the usual brief burst of direct injection rattle getting underway, though it soon submerges to a soft buzz as speed picks up. After that, turbo whistle is the only significant disturbance; there are no booms or vibes. The gearbox re-jig really works, keeping the engine in its most civilised (and economical) 2000-3000 rpm band and handling shifts deftly. The box always seems to be in the right gear at the right time, with quick kickdown available if you need it. Swanning along in the whole walnut and leather lap of luxury with a drab winters afternoon slipping past outside, the notion of recycling a used Range Rover looks to make a lot of sense. 01423-505883.

Left: Engine installation is neat and tidy. Substantial extra soundproofing keeps diesel noise low, unseen gearbox mods match powerplant and transmission brilliantly. Below: Phil Ainsworth – the man under the hood and behind The Stables conversions.

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