Keith’s Blog: Unrestored in Costa Rica

The crappier the car the better. That seems to be the mantra of some collectors these days.

Instead of trying to restore cars to better-than-new condition, they look for the most original vehicle they can find. The more bedraggled the better. You can even find people who will “un-restore your car” and make it look old and nasty.

Finding original, unrestored cars is becoming more difficult.

However, I came across a perfect “preservation” example a few days ago in Costa Rica at the town of Fortuna. Sitting outside was what appeared to be a Land Rover 110 — a 4-door version with an open bed in back.

Land Rovers of this era have all-alloy bodies. That is all that saved this Rover from melting into the earth. If it had a steel body, like most cars, the combination of the tropical rainstorms and the thick, humid air would have given it a case of terminal rust.

I walked around this Rover, and I have to admit I was interested in it. The way the paint was flaking off of the body looked like something an artist would have envisioned.

The interior was a total mess, with missing gauges and hanging wires. I didn’t look under the hood to even see if it had an engine.

But showing up with this rig would make you the top attention-getter at any Rover or English car meet.

I’ve owned a couple of vintage Rovers, and I’ve learned enough to know there is a relatively simple way to get this rig back on the road.

First, you go to an expert like Doug Shipman at “Ship’s Mechanical Services” in Portland. (He doesn’t have a website, you’ll have to Google the shop name to learn more). Doug has maintained my Rovers for the past eight years, and he currently takes care of our 1984 RHD D90 Turbo-diesel.

Have Doug find another 110 chassis, and drivetrain, and restore them. You can decide whether you want an original 4-cylinder engine or upgrade to the Rover V8.

Then you just unbolt the body from the Costa Rican junk pile and transfer it to the restored chassis. I suppose you could call this a resto-mod.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would peg this at a $25,000 to $50,000 job, depending on what you learned “once you were in there.”

Then you have to add in the cost of the 110 (I’m wondering if $500 would buy it, but figure $2,500 to be safe). You would need to make sure all four wheels turned so that it could be rolled on and off of various car transporters. I say $5,000 to get it to the United States on a roll-on, roll-off ship, rather than in an container.

Adding this all up, you’re in the car for $33,000 to $58,000.

Does this make financial sense? Probably not. The vintage Land Rovers that bring top dollar are the ones that are restored to perfection. In general, auction audiences prefer restored cars over preserved ones. Auctions are about immediate gratification and shiny new toys. Auctions are not about contemplating dents and dings on an original car and developing a love for patina.

I’d like to see someone bring this Rover back to life, but it’s a not a project for me.

What would you do — get it running and leave the body alone? Or would you restore to the condition it was in when it originally left the factory?  I look forward to reading your posts below.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

Posted in Blogs, Keith Martin

5 comments

  1. Why on earth would you spend your hard earned money to make this unique jewel look like any other restored Land Rover 110? There should literally be a law against that!

  2. I think the driving experience should be as vintage as the car, so I would prefer a 4 cyl and a manual gearbox. Skill and patience vs. speed and power would be my choice for this model.

  3. Keith,
    You should have looked us up while in Costa Rica!
    Land Rover were the work vehicle of choice during the 50’s and 60’s here, mostly because the British were bringing them in when the built the railroad that connected San Jose to Limon, our port in the Atlantic Ocean. There are literally 100’s of the in the provinces, many in unrestored but drivable condition. They are not cheap like they used to be, as people now realize their value.
    Do look us up next time your in town.
    George Blau/President
    Club de Autos Antiguos de Costa Rica

  4. Plenty of these still on the road in Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. I suppose those over 25 years could be easily driven back and into the US.

    Brian McCall
    Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador

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