Adopting a Hippo

We needed a tow car, we wanted an off road toy and probably should have something reliable to do the donkey work. The biggest obstacle to this purchase was budget, shortly followed by the need for the vehicle to have good towing capacity for pulling rally cars around the country. Jeep Cherokees, Land Rover Discoverys, Range Rover P38s and pickup trucks were all in the running. Unfortunately all of the above were either too bad on fuel for the donkey work, too expensive to buy or suffer from rust; in some cases all of the above. The solution was to think medium sized…

A good friend of mine loves his Land Rovers and convinced me that not all Freelanders suffered the K series head gasket fate. There are diesel versions too. We opted for an early Freelander 1 with the ancient, but solid, L series turbocharged 2 litre diesel engine. Our particular example had spent the majority of its life with some sheep farmers in Somerset. Right up to a ripe mileage of 160,000 miles. Full service history helped my confidence and even the MOT tester a year later was surprised by the lack of rust and oil leaks on this old Landy.


The Fix

Cambelt and a good service was first on the agenda. The cambelt was a bit of a pig of a job. There isn’t a huge amount of room in the engine bay of one of these as the engine is transverse mounted, but we persevered and once that and the service were complete we moved on to more exciting modifications.

One new years eve spent hammering and welding in the barn saw the Freeloader get a custom made lift kit and some big mud tyres fitted. The lift kit was simple box section steel welded together with some studs through it to space the body up from the top of the shock absorbers, giving an extra 2” of ground clearance. By about 11pm one shock was lift kitted, by 2am the job was complete and just a long drive from Leamington Spa to Bristol was between me and bed time. Trundling along in the driving rain I could see blue flashing lights ahead. Christmas lights I was just thinking, then the car slowed rapidly and threw itself from left to right. Scrabbling and limping the Landy to the side of the road I could see helicopters circling, and 4 police cars drove past. Confused just didn’t say it, I hopped out and noticed both front tyres were completely flat, stinger trapped by the Police. I quickly recapped the journey in my mind and feeling fairly confident I hadn’t robbed a bank or anything, I flagged down a police car to enquire why I had been stingered. Obviously the whole thing was bad luck. I happened to drive past at exactly the same time as the assailant and got caught in the crossfire so to speak.




A lift home in a police car, a bit of running around getting more tyres to replace the two brand new ones I had fitted a few hours previous, and the Freelander was back in action.

The Drive

After all the excitement of new tyres, lift kit fitting and a chat with the police about money for replacement tyres, we finally got a day to test the off roading ability of the taller, muddy booted Freelander. The results were better than I had expected from a school-run mum machine. The lack of low down grunt while the lagging turbo catches up hinders up-hill restarts, but a throttle happy disregard for the clutch soon gets round that problem. Around the muddy and rocky byways of Wales the little Freeloader achieved all we asked of it. We were certain of this right up to the point when, on top of a distant mountain in Yyylllssassyyllss or something like that, a lunch time stop revealed a profuse oil leak from the engine bay…


Laying in a muddy/oily puddle on a cold mountain to investigate the issue confirmed the 1mm steel sump guard I had lashed up one evening wasn’t up for the job, had lost an argument with a rock and split the oil filter open. Once again the Freelander was down, but not out of service yet. A slow tow home, including some spectacular off road up-hill towing and engine free descents, a swift trip to another unpronounceable Welsh location to buy a new oil filter, some fresh oil and the Freelander was fixed again.


The Tune

Clearly our first few adventures in the Freebie were thwarted with some minor set-backs. Never fear for I had a plan. Some google searching gave up some interesting facts about diesel cat removal, boost increases and MAF sensor improvements to make the L series diesel engine more raucous.

With another Pro Bomb exhaust (cheap version of Cherry Bomb see our Fiesta ST for that story), some leftovers from previous exhaust mods and a welder, landy rover was soon de-catted and equipped with a rather cool looking, and sounding if you like a diesel, side exit exhaust. Unfortunately the first routing of the side exit pipe put all the fumes straight into the rear wheel arch, gassing out back seat passengers, so the pipe was turned around and poked through the side of the bumper.


Next job was boost increase. A cheap boost gauge from ebay, coming in at a whopping £10, was fitted to monitor the adjustments. These old L series engines have the advantage of a mechanical waste gate on the turbo. It’s possible to increase boost by just adjusting the preload on the waste gate actuator. Extending the arm between the wastegate and the actuator stops it opening so quickly and more boost occurs. Within limits the engine reads more air going past the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor and increases fuelling accordingly. Not an exact science but to bring a few more horses out it was worth a go. The first thing this revealed was a boost leak. Great.  The second thing this revealed was a worn out MAF sensor. Excellent. Both of those issues fixed and the Freelander was pulling 19Psi of turbo whistling boost. This boost increase coupled with exhaust modification, definitely improved response. I would be willing to say a 7-10BHP on the bum dyno, but it was mainly an improved low down response we were driving for. There was and still is an intermittent, unexplained flat spot in the mid-range, but one day we will ferret that issue out. For now we need to find some mud and take the landy for a play.


4 Replies to “Adopting a Hippo”

  1. Nice write up mate


  2. I took have the L series best car I’ve used for off roading


  3. […] guru’s, molyslip and Nissan’s own specialist gearbox oil. After a month of driving the Freelander it was awesome to be back in the Z. The new box worked perfectly, selecting gears is no problem […]


  4. […] of it mattered when it came on boost. Having never driven anything with a Turbo except our diesel Freelander, I was addicted. The more I drove it the more I began to get it. The Subaru is unsubtle and […]


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