Thursday February 11 2016

End of the road for defender

Julius Mugambwa has driven this Land Rover

Julius Mugambwa has driven this Land Rover Defender for four years now and he says it is a strong vehicle. PHOTO by Dominic Bukenya 

By Roland D. Nasasira

January 29, 2016 will go down in the books of history as the day not only when internationally recognised motor vehicle manufacturer, Land Rover celebrated 68 years since they started manufacturing the Land Rover Defender but also when the very last model of the Land Rover Defender was manufactured.
On the same day, the chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover, Dr Ralf Speth, in a press release in Pretoria, South Africa, announced a new heritage restoration programme to oversee the restoration of a number of series of Land Rovers, including the Defender.

“The world has changed dramatically in the last 68 years, but this vehicle (Land Rover Defender) has remained a constant – something no other vehicle can claim. The last of the current Defender models embraces the vehicle’s simplicity, honesty and charm. Creating the Defender of tomorrow, a dream for any engineer or designer, is the next exciting chapter and we are looking forward to taking on that challenge,” said Nick Rogers, the group engineering director at Jaguar Land Rover at an event to announce the new heritage restoration programme to breathe new life into classic series vehicles, including the Land Rover Defender.

When you take a walk around Kampala City and its suburbs, the number of Land Rover Defenders being driven around are very few, with the very old ones being used as towing cars, also known as breakdowns.
This, in a way, makes the defender a special British car. Those who own and drive them hold them dearly.


Can withstand faults
Julius Mugambwa, a car enthusiast who has driven his Land Rover Defender TD1300 1996 model for the last four years explains that the advantage of the Land Rover Defender over the other car brands is that when it develops a fault, it can still be driven. “Sometime back I was heading to Jinja but along the way, the gearbox got a problem. It was beyond repair and it required me to buy a new one. I continued with the journey and drove back to Kampala from where I replaced the gearbox after a month,” he recalls.

Commands authority
The other merits of driving a Land Rover Defender, Mugambwa says, is that it commands authority on the road when you are competing with inexperienced terrible drivers and pedestrians because of the road space it occupies. He adds that; “When you are driving upcountry on a dirt road, the Land Rover Defender is home and dry because its performance then is far better than when it is on a tarmac road,” he says, adding that it’s a big car that carries many people, a lot of luggage and firm on the road because of its big tyres.

“If I call my mechanic when on the road and the nozzle is leaking, he just advises me to get dust, mix it with super glue, apply it on the leaking part and get back on the road,” Mugambwa says, adding that the Land Rover Defender is a car he parks by the road side, leaves the keys inside and no one ever dares to steal anything from it.

An all-terrain suspension system
Dan Nyakahuma, a mechanic at Ssesanga Motors garage in Nsambya that specialises in servicing and maintaining Land Rovers explains that maintaining a Land Rover Defender and keeping it in a good mechanical condition is all about the love that the car owner has for their car.
“You need to understand the dynamics of the Land Rover Defender and have technical knowledge about it. It is a car with an all-terrain suspension system that when it is faulty, the car will still move though the driver will still feel the noise,” he says.

Strong and durable car
Because of its metal body, Nyakahuma says it makes the Land Rover Defender a strong and durable car that when it breaks down, it can still be driven even when it has heated up.
It is air cleaner cannot only be blown to remove dust and look new but its diesel filter can also be used for a long time of approximately one year before it is replaced.
It’s mainly the oil filter and grease that should be changed during car service.
Additionally, he notes that a Land Rover Defender is a car that can have a problem but still moves even in the roughest terrains like hills and wetlands. This explains why some of the tourist agencies within Uganda still use this type of car in game parks and forests.
Nyakahuma adds that cases of a Land Rover Defender being involved in an accident and it claims the occupant’s lives are rare because of its strong and hard body that protects the occupants of the car.

Mechanical issues

Like any other motor vehicle, the Land Rover Defender is also vulnerable to mechanical issues. The common faults it develops are mainly with the suspension system, water leakage in most of its parts when it rains and shaky windows and mirrors. It is also hard to start in the morning or any time of the day when the engine has taken a long time without being used. Its lights are also dim when it comes to the old model of Land Rover Defenders. “Most times when you work on an engine leakage, another develops. It requires extra attention and care for the crucial parts especially the gearbox that sometimes develops leakages,” Nyakahuma points out.

Because of the current market that is characterized by fake motor vehicle parts, Nyakahuma advises that it is suitable to buy a used Land Rover Defender spare part from recognized dealers such as Cooper Motors Corporation and Ssesanga Motors Garage that will last a longer period as compared to those that look brand new. He adds that; “The interior of the car can sometimes be hot in the dry season because they are not air conditioned. The only way to keep the car aerated is opening the windows.”
“If it is driven by someone who doesn’t take care of cars, when it develops a mechanical problem and it’s not fixed in time, it will lead to the development of another fault,” Nyakahuma cautions.

The new model

Although the manufacture of the Land Rover Defender has come to an end, mechanics like Ssesanga say he has been aware of the development because of the research he does about Land Rovers. It is from his research that he found out that the Land Rover Defender Concept DC100 that has not yet hit the Ugandan market was manufactured with air conditioners and has leather seats, features that the old model Defenders don’t have.
“This means that as mechanics, we have to adjust and learn new things. It will be a challenge because most of the Land Rover Defenders are typical manual cars. With the new versions of the Defenders that will be manufactured, it means they will be electrical and computerised. A mechanic will have to use a diagnostic machine to detect a mechanical fault. At the same time, it will also ease the work because the new versions will communicate with the driver to identify any mechanical fault,” Nyakahuma explains.
Hamidu Masanga, a mechanic at Ssesanga Motors garage, says with the phasing out of the old model Land Rover Defender, the newer version will come with its own challenges. “It will be hard to detect a mechanical problem with the newer versions of the Land Rover Defenders if the diagnostic machine fails to detect the fault. It also means that mechanics will have to do a lot more research to know more about the new models that will be manufactured,” he says.
Ssesanga, however, doubts if the new version of the Land Rover Defender will be as hard and durable as the old version. “The old model gives you enough space and chance to service every part but with the new version, it means the parts will be compacted and congested. It also means that the cost of spare parts like the headlamps will also go up,” Ssesanga adds.

what they say

Ronnie Kyazze

One time I drove on a very steep slope around Mt Elgon National Park in a heavy rainy season and when I reached the park gate, there was no one. But because I had booked in advance and knew the place, I opened the gate myself and drove in. When the park authorities came an hour later, they apologised for not being at the gate but told me that for an entire week, no vehicle had made it to the park so they lazily had gone away since they knew no one would come without them knowing. I have done very many road rescues for friends and strangers. The last one was a truck on the way to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that was about to fall over a steep slope because the road was dangerous and there was no car that could tow it. With the help of the Land Rover Defender Trojan 1 I was driving, I towed it within a short time.”

Simon Kaheru

I have owned my Land Rover Defender since 2007. It was a dilapidated 110 (pictured above) that was sitting in a garage in Industrial Area and got the mechanic to restore it from scratch. It had not been used for many years but after six months of restoration, it was transformed into a healthy, good-as-new truck running on a 300Tdi Discovery engine and gearbox. I have had a fascination for Land Rover cars since I was a child and used the one restored enthusiastically in Kampala City for a while and upcountry doing some hard work. It was as reliable as one would expect a Land Rover Defender to be, but performed very well. Unfortunately, it fell into disrepair when I got in with a terrible mechanic, which is why I eventually got together with other enthusiasts to start the Land Rover Uganda group on Facebook and also started our own mechanical workshop.

I am looking forward to the new Defenders and if I earned enough money, I am certain I would buy a couple of my own - but I must keep a few of the old ones as well, since they work perfectly in spite of age, wear and tear.”