Land Rover Series II/IIA Buying Guide

It may not be the collectors’ choice, but as a workhorse classic the Series II/IIA is second to none. Here’s how to bag a good one

How much to pay

• Project £1000-3500 • Good £3900-12,000 • Concours £12,500+ •

Overview

Practicality ★★★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★

After the original Land Rover conquered the globe and set out its stall as a truly iconic vehicle, the second generation arrived in 1958 – sporting fewer sharp edges and numerous engineering upgrades. It proved to be a winning formula, with record sales figures and improved dependability.

The Series IIA – offering slight cosmetic changes and further-improved running gear – took the reins from 1961 until ‘71.

Leaving a cultural stamp like no other vehicle, appearing in the Born Free franchise and Daktari – not to mention Clarence the Cross-eyed Lion – the Series II/IIA personified the ideals of an archetypal Land Rover. It was largely indestructible yet almost romantic in its mantra as the 1960s exploration vehicle of choice; there are very few places a Series II/IIA can’t get you or hasn’t already been.

As Series I prices spiral out of reach for we mere mortals, enthusiasts are quickly turning to the next generation for a true taste of Land Rover’s raw and unbridled originality. Setting the classless design employed by the 90/110 and Defender right up until 2016, it won’t be long until the Series II/IIA goes the way of its predecessor and climbs the pricing scale.

The time won’t get any better to acquire the healthiest specimen on your budget – here’s what to look for when buying your ideal Land Rover Series II or IIA.

Engine

Ultimately improving upon the original 2.0-litre petrol and diesel variants, very early Series IIs (the first 1500, at least) utilised old stock from the Series I before the trademark 2250cc petrol unit was installed under the bonnet. This larger engine produced 72bhp and remained closely related to its diesel brethren, staying largely unmolested until the introduction of improved diesels with the arrival of the Land Rover 90 after 1984.

Both the petrol and diesel variants can easily cover 150,000 miles before requiring a rebuild, but maintenance remains key. Engine tuning for the petrol can be undertaken by those with very little mechanical experience, and only when the oil consumption is significant should the drivetrain raise cause for concern.

Examples from 1958 feature a larger 2.0-litre petrol engine with Siamese bores, meaning that there are no water passages for cooling between the cylinders. Cracks in the block where overheating has occurred should be obvious, but inspect for hairline cracks.

Listen out for low knocking sounds that signal worn crankshaft bearings, and ensure the exhaust is free of oil residue and blue smoke. All classic Land Rover engines belch from the exhaust, but if the smoke remains excessive then expense is heading your way.

A worn diesel will produce indescribable emissions when the crankcase breather is removed, and a higher-than-usual idle speed can indicate badly adjusted or worn fuel injectors. Oil drops are uncommon should the engine have received proper maintenance, but if the sump is contaminated with diesel then a rebuild is a must – regardless of how healthy other components may present themselves.

Check fluid levels and the condition of the radiator; it isn’t uncommon for those who abuse a Series II or IIA rather than caring for it to have run the cooling system dry. Also, should the engine have been run with little to no oil on the dipstick then a rebuild is also wise.

These vehicles have been used for serious off-road activity and decades’ worth of towing, so inspect all pipes for leakage and signs of stress. Head gaskets are strong but will perish over time. Check that all pistons fire without protest and timing is correct. These are easy fixes but can be time consuming.

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Gearbox

Shifts should be easy and distinctive. If there is difficulty or excessive noise when trying to select a ratio, the synchromesh may be severely worn – it is therefore common to find the ’box jumping out of gear.

Low range and the optional four-wheel drive should engage smoothly by operating the red-top lever and yellow plunger. Axles are noisy and driveshafts can judder, but these characteristics are presented by even the healthiest of examples. Leaks are common, but make sure they’re not excessive.

Expect some clunking from underneath due to the sheer number of joints in the drivetrain. However, do check that the front swivel hubs have a smooth finish on the chrome, as damage or pitting will result in oil leaks and wear.

Suspension and brakes

As this model has already plumbed the depths of the price trough and endured tough conditions with little mechanical sympathy, you’ll need to check for suspension damage. All Series II/IIAs employ leaf springs, so check for signs of stress, substantial corrosion, off-road damage and evidence of neglect – sagging and cracked springs are dangerous on road.

Bushes and shackles are serviceable items and need to be changed regularly – especially if venturing off the beaten track. If the stance is lop-sided then the wrong leaf springs may have been fitted. If you spot coil springs, you’ve got a modified vehicle on your hands.

Brakes can suffer from prolonged off-road use. Lines and drums perish, which results in an unresponsive pedal and excessive stopping distances. While the Land Rover may not be overly quick it still weighs in at over two tonnes, and therefore the braking system is hugely important – again, especially when traversing off-road. Tightening a slack handbrake is neither overly expensive nor difficult.

Bodywork

While panels and outer bodywork are made from Birmabright, and so escape the dreaded tin worm, the bulkhead and chassis are a different matter. They can rust spectacularly. If the chassis outriggers have gone, you can weld fresh ones on – but if the main structure is unsafe you’ll have no option but to take the financial hit and re-chassis the vehicle. Mounting points are hugely important; ensure these are healthy, or else walk away.

The bulkhead is also critical to the entire structure, and can rot badly. We would recommend scrutinising the edges and windscreen base, as they are the first areas to suffer.

Corroded footwells are the biggest telltale sign of looming trouble. While re-manufactured bulkheads and chassis can be purchased from specialist suppliers, they aren’t cheap.

Door frames are steel and can corrode the alloy where they meet, along with the bulkhead seams. If you are after a long-wheelbase model (109-inch) be prepared for all the challenges and costs brought about by maintaining extra bodywork and a lengthened chassis.

Interior

Although there is barely an interior to mention, seats are hard wearing and the minimal electrical systems – ignition, lights, indicators and dials – are usually strong. If the wiring loom is frayed, then new looms can cost upwards of £400 to purchase and have professionally fitted.

There is little in the way of creature comforts, but for good reason – the cabin is far from fully weatherproof. If door rubbers have cracked and perished, you can expect Mother Nature to inject a healthy dose of rain and wind into the interior. When wading through water, the frame is designed to allow water in – ensuring wheels grip on the riverbed to provide forward motion – so check for signs of water damage to seating.

Rear benches face inwards, with the 109-inch Station Wagons offering an additional centre row. Replacement seating was once a nightmare to source, but can now be purchased brand new. Upgrades are available to provide extra comfort and sound deadening should originality not bother your conscience.

History

• 1958: Series II production starts, using old stock from the Series I. Series I 107-inch production continues until early 1959
• 1961: Series IIA arrives in showrooms with improved running gear and styling tweaks
• 1969: Record sales figures hit 60,000 units a year
• 1971: Last IIA rolls off the Solihull factory line as the Series III is introduced

AutoClassics says…

The Series I may be the Land Rover genesis and have collectors falling over themselves at auction, but the Series II and subsequent IIA make for more usable vehicles. They aren’t fast and they sure aren’t comfortable, yet none of this matters. Never before has a cruising speed of 53mph been so exhilarating.

They’ll get you as far into the wilderness as you would ever need to go, and prove an excellent workmate for skip runs and carting things – and people – about. Interestingly, the law still classes 12-seater 109-in variants as a mini-bus – meaning you escape London’s Congestion Charge!

Values are on the up, and with the original Land Rover almost out of reach for those of us stuck in the real world, it won’t be long before the second incarnation of the classic Landie joins the ranks as a prime collector vehicle.

We would strongly advise you to buy now if you have a hankering for a classic Land Rover that can still keep modern rivals firmly in second place when the going gets tough.

Specifications

2.0-litre
  Power 52bhp
  Top speed 65mph
  0-60mph 55 seconds – if you are patient enough
  Economy 19mpg approx.

2.0-litre Diesel
  Power 51bhp
  Top speed 65mph
  0-60mph 58 seconds – downhill. With a wind behind you
  Economy 20mpg approx.

2.25 Petrol
  Power 72bhp
  Top speed 68mph
  0-60mph Depends on how brave you are
  Economy 16-22mpg

2.25 Diesel
  Power 62bhp
  Top speed 63mph
  0-60mph Sometimes
  Economy 17-23mpg

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