Friday, 22 November 2013

Let the lift begin

This blog post is a work in progress. Do check back later if you are interested in how the project to lift a 2012 Land Rover Defender 110 HCPU is coming along, or not.

A custom-made double cardan front propshaft from Bailey Morris Ltd.

A proper mod job begins with an assessment of the problem. What needs to be better? Car too short, or too low? Then make it taller. Simple, no?
Errr, no, it's not that simple. There are choices and decisions to make. Do I do a body lift, or a suspension lift, or both? How much would one, or both, cost? And here's the part that many people leave to the last, but which I believe should be right up there near the top of the list, what problems can I expect with each particular mod?
And, there usually are some problems, it's only a question of whether they are major or minor.
I have faith in the engineers who designed and built the cars I buy. If I did not, it'd be silly of me to buy their products, wouldn't I?
So I have to believe that they've done their homework, and their maths, and dotted their i's and crossed their t's before committing a design to production. Which means anything I do to alter their designs could, and usually would, have consequences.
Sine I am neither engineer nor mechanic myself, that means I have to find out what those consequences are, and ways to work around them. Thank God for the Internet! There's a lot of information out here, it's just a matter of sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat.
So after much research and sifting, the conclusion was that the Land Rover Defender from year 2007 onwards, powered by the Ford-derived TDCI 2.4l engine codenamed 'PUMA' (and 2.2l for later models, from around 2011-2012 onwards), would benefit from a suspension lift like all other off-road 4X4s.
But such a modification comes with risks that are unique to this configuration of car and powertrain.
That bulge in the bonnet is not just for show.
The PUMA engine had to be tilted upwards slightly at the front in order to fit, and the distinctive bonnet with a bulge was also necessary to accommodate the taller engine. So, no, that cool looking bonnet is not just a fashion statement even if many restorers choose to use a copy of it for the older model Defenders.
With the tilt, it means that the front propeller shaft (propshaft) is tilted at a more acute angle where it is joined to the front of the transfer case.
If an extreme lift is applied, the angle of the propshaft can become too acute, to a point where it starts stressing the universal joint, which could lead to vibrations. In the worst case scenario, it could destroy the transfer case. That's not a good thing.
Do note that this caution applies to lifts that exceed two inches or 50mm. Mild lifts of up to 50mm should not pose any problem in most cases. Then again, there are reports that some cars have vibrations after even a mild lift.
Fortunately, there is a solution - replace the front propshaft with one that offers a wider angle of articulation, or better stiil, one with a double cardan joint. Even with this solution, there are options to choose from. Look for a used propshaft that already has a double cardan, like that off a Land Rover Discovery 2, or off ebay, or look for some local propshaft specialist to make up one.
Or, buy one from the many online retailers, especially the UK-based ones who offer many upgrade bits for Land Rovers. I noticed that some of the cheaper (and thus attractive) offerings seemed to be generic propshafts that needed an adaptor flange to fit my Defender. Add the cost of the adaptor, and this option is no longer that cheap.
My search led me ultimately to Bailey Morris Ltd, a company that specialises in making propshafts. Their products are also offered by some online retailers as premium options alongside other cheaper ones.
I may never get a bespoke suit from a Saville Row
 tailor, but Andy the Landy gets this ...
Might as well go direct to the source, I figured, and made email enquiries to them. A few pleasant enquiries and back-and-forth requests for information later, I placed an order and, less than a week later, have the custom-made propshaft in my hands.
At £354 for the shaft and another 100 quid for the freight (by DHL, five days door to door), it's not exactly cheap.
But what price do you place on peace of mind, which is what I'm getting with this bespoke shaft made just for my car (based on the VIN number, which they asked for)?
I have been in situations before where a vehicle breaks down because some critical component has failed, and it always happens in the most inconvenient places. Under such circumstances, I am sure the victims would gladly spend a similar sum, or more, if it would make the problem go away immediately.
Just to be on the safer side, I have also placed an order with Land Rover Malaysia for eight pieces of the proper, original Land Rover-specs nuts so that the new propshaft will be installed with new nuts. At around RM25, not exactly cheap for a few nuts but I'd rather spend this than kick myself later should the old nuts fail in the jungle. I'll be keeping the old ones handy, just in case ...
When it comes to doing modifications, I like to play it safe. Find out what could go wrong, find out the remedies, and take the appropriate steps to PREVENT the problems.
Others may choose to try first, see if problems crop up, then take action. It could be cheaper that way, or more expensive if the problem shows up suddenly and catastrophically. Which way to go, that's your choice.
Soon, there will be other items to source and pay for ... longer springs, shock absorbers, option of cranked trailing arms, caster-corrected radius arms, bigger tyres, etc.
For now, I am satisfied that the transfer case, at least, won't suffer.

By the book ... discard old nuts, fit new ones. Tighten to 47 Newtons.