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1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110 long-term review

By Matt Wood, 26 Nov 2018 Reviews

1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110  1

Temptation to own a Land Rover Perentie was too great to resist.

Introduction: Tour of Duty

SO I bought a Perentie. It’s all Robbie Emmins’ fault. If I hadn’t taken his 1956 Series 1 for a drive a while back, the Land Rover flame may not have been rekindled.

The Perentie 4x4 is actually a Defender 110 built in Sydney for the ADF. In soft-top form it’s a rough, tough, noisy, flapping tent on wheels that has all the ergonomic comfort of sitting in a hay shed during a hailstorm. They’ll happily sit on 100km/h all day long, but the sensation is similar to being in a low-flying crop duster.

However, the Perentie is quite possibly the most capable Land Rover ever built, and best of all they’re also part of Australian manufacturing history. And, for the beach bums out there, they sit on a galvanised chassis.

1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110
I’d been watching the Australian Frontline Machinery auctions on Grays Online, and the prices seemed to have stabilised somewhat. There were, after all, only 2500 Perentie 4x4s made and roughly 600 6x6 variants. As the clock ticked down on the auctions in Darwin and Sydney I couldn’t help myself and threw in a bid, and then another, and then got completely caught up in the hype.

Land Rover History

The Minto NSW auctions make the most sense for east coast buyers. These vehicles come with a NSW blue slip ready for rego, and it’s an easier location to inspect the goods beforehand. As a result, these trucks always go for more dough. I, however, did things completely arse about, and bought one for substantially less in Darwin, sight unseen – which, of course, you should never do. I then decided to do something even more inadvisable, I decided drive it back to Brisbane across the heart of the outback to give us some bonding time.

1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110  interior
I checked over the new purchase on arrival. It was cosmetically a little shabby; sitting around in the tropics had weathered a few bits and pieces. But the 66kW/245Nm 3.9-litre Isuzu diesel coughed into life with no dramas. The coolant was where the coolant should be and so was the oil. I checked for anything that may be loose, threw my swag in the back and then hit the road south. Perenties use a four-speed LT95A transmission and the gear ratios are quite tall, which is good for highway driving. They have a reputation for eating clutches if driven unsympathetically, though. Front and rear diffs are Salisbury and Rover.

1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110  tray
4x4 models are naturally aspirated, but the 6x6 variants are turbocharged. That said, the unstressed Isuzu donk took the drive in its stride. I was even able to pass a triple road train or two. I was tempted to divert via the Savannah Way, but figured I was pushing my luck as it was. On road these Landies handle like a bowl of porridge, but Perenties came standard with a 2.5-inch lift (over a standard Defender) and sit on coils all round, so show it a bit of dirt and it’s immediately at home.

Video: Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage Edition

The trip wasn’t entirely without incident as I had some lighting issues, so I had to drive mainly through the daylight hours – the wiring is a dog’s breakfast. It would also occasionally jump out of high-range, but some zip-tie engineering got me home.

1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110  canvas
I may now be a little deafer, but I’ve well and truly succumbed to the Peretie bug. Now it’s time to get it ready for rego and perhaps the addition of a turbo. Let the fun begin.

4x4 Shed Log #1: 1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110
Current mileage: 97,368km
Date acquired: February 2017
Price: $7700
Mileage this month: 3609km
Average fuel consumption: 11.7L/100km

Update 1: Catching the Perentie bug

1988 Land Rover Perentie

I’M AFRAID Perentie fever has well and truly taken hold.

That’s the thing about these Landies: they’re basically a big Meccano set that invites you to pull stuff off, bolt stuff on, and generally tinker with it. After the big shakedown trip from Darwin to Brisbane (June, 2017), it was time to get the old bucket of bolts roadworthy.

I tackled the obvious stuff: keyed ignition, light switches, wiper rubbers and shock absorber rubbers. The only issue that was presenting a real challenge was the intermittent jumping out of high range. And while I’m loath to treat specialist businesses as a free information resource, I finally bit the bullet and had a yarn with Brad at KLR in Sydney – these guys specialise in Perenties and really know their stuff.

1988 Land Rover Perentie
I was changing the oil in the transfer case anyway so, while I was at it, I removed the locking plate on the main gear cluster shaft. Sure enough, there was some play in the shaft, so I nipped it up, put the plate back on, and the issue was solved. While I was at it, I changed all fluids and filters to ensure all moving parts were happy and healthy.

So, with a Queensland safety certificate in my hand, the Landy was soon wearing a set of shiny new number plates. It became clear after a camping trip to North Stradbroke Island that the military rubber had to go.

While the stiff army-spec run-flat Michelins will probably last forever, they are crap on sand and there’s very little bag to be had from dropping tyre pressures. Plus, being on tubed rims meant sand was getting between the sidewall and the tube, making annoying little pinhole punctures. So a set of 16x8-inch steelies soon came my way, and I opted to shod them in 265/75R16 Mickey Thompson ATZs. A review set of Narva 215 LED spotties also landed on the Perentie’s snout, but some mounting tabs needed to be fabricated to get them into the right place, which wasn’t an issue.

Perentie Defender 110  steering wheel
My attraction to the Perentie is based on it being a tough and reliable beast rather than any passion for military history, so the camo canvas top got the flick as well as a lot of the supporting bar work. Long-term plans are to ditch the camo paint job as well, but that will be a while down the track. The 4BD1 Isuzu engine may be a bulletproof powerplant with a very usable torque curve, but it’s a pretty agricultural thing. It’s loud and lacking finesse, and the torsional stresses it creates means it’s essentially trying to destroy the rest of the vehicle.

New Land Rover Defender coming in 2020

New engine mounts are on the shopping list. On the other side the coin, the engine is pretty simple and easy to work on. I realise the Moab crawler meets Land Rover look I’ve gone for may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes for a pretty awesome beach buggy. Mechanical upgrades are sometime down the track, but in the meantime I’ll keep on grinning every time I head out. Even if I do end up with bugs in my teeth.

Update 2: Improving the formula

1988 Land Rover Perentie

AS YOU stare at an invoice with lots of numbers and dollar signs on it you may find yourself asking ‘why’? As I was handing over a fair whack of my hard-earned recently, it occurred to me that there are probably much cheaper hobbies than farting around with old Land Rovers … pinning butterflies to bits of cardboard, for example.

The ‘why’ is most likely down to a childhood spent rattling around the family farm in my mum’s Suzuki LJ60, a bare-bones live-axle four-wheel drive that sounded like a thousand angry lawnmowers and had all the creature comforts of a sliced-open 44-gallon drum. 

That bloody thing went everywhere, albeit trailing a stream of blue two-stroke smoke from an exhaust mounted on the front bumper. Mum shed more than a couple of tears when time and tin-worm saw it pass into other hands.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

So now, I find myself embarking on the financially questionable journey of improving my Land Rover Defender 110 Perentie, code-named Project AWOL.

To date, I’ve been content to spin my own spanners getting the old girl into shape, but, for the sake of my neighbours (due to intermittent garage profanity), I elected to farm out the installation of a turbo kit and power steering to someone with much more expertise and patience than I seem to possess.

After dedicating valuable office time to scouring internet forums, I now know the correct colour code for a SWB Land Rover Series III Game. However, I was none the wiser on the best way to extract some usable, reliable grunt from the 3.9-litre Isuzu 4BD1 engine. So I had a chat with Brad at KLR Automotive in Sydney. These guys know Perenties inside and out and have put together a reliable yet rewarding turbo kit for the Isuzu donk.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

In naturally aspirated form this engine is only good for about 66 lazy kilowatts. The addition of a non-intercooled, relatively low-boost turbo is said to effectively double that output. The turbo in question is a Garrett GT22, and it manages to produce boost pretty much just off idle, which comes in handy in those mucky situations we find ourselves in away from the blacktop.

I then got onto Landy specialists MR Automotive in Redcliffe to see if they could handle the heavy lifting on my behalf. I was already using these guys as my go-to for parts, but they have a loyal following among Landy aficionados for mechanical work as well. The kit arrived complete with a crossover pipe, headers, etc.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

The old-school truckie in me couldn’t resist also getting an EGT gauge and tacho installed at the same time. The EGT ended up being an easier ask than the tacho, as the Perentie’s alternator lacks a W wire to transmit rpm to a tacho. I persisted!

Anyway, it also gave me an excuse to get a leak on the alternator-mounted vacuum pump fixed, which also turned out to be the reason why I was having issues getting the centre diff to lock. All this disruption to engine-bay plumbing required a new exhaust system, so a new 2.5-inch exhaust system was also installed.

And then we reach the point many car nuts reach: where to stop? And in the case of the Perentie, what is the weakest link with the gain in power? The answer to that question is, without a doubt, the clutch. The standard clutch is barely adequate at the best of times, so I opted to go for a heavy-duty clutch while I was at it.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

After a long week of unbearable anticipation, the day finally arrived to pick up my revamped rig. It was a revelation. As the 4BD1 is essentially a truck engine it has a long, flat torque curve from about 1000rpm, but take the revs above 2200rpm and you’ve pretty much run out of torque. That’s why the Isuzu engine doesn’t really need a very big turbo or a gutful of boost.

If you’re wringing the revs out to 3000rpm to get boost you’re not getting the benefit of the windmill where you need it the most. Not only that, you’re also thrashing it.

With just 15psi of blow and the addition of Isuzu power steering, my camo-clad 110 is in serious danger of becoming almost zippy. It has transformed the Landy to a usable and fun off-road animal.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

I just can’t stop smiling when I drive it. The turbo has even quietened the engine to the point where an actual conversation is possible at speed. Not only that, it also manages to elicit an off-idle whistle that is reminiscent of an old 14-litre BC3 Cummins truck engine… it doesn’t take much to make me smile.

4x4 History: 70 years of Land Rover

With all this new-found power and aural satisfaction, I’ve decided to head to Moreton Island for an extended weekend – the perfect environment to put my newly boosted Perentie to the test. That said, in the back of my mind I am wondering if this newly minted turbo powerplant will cause issues with the rest of the truck. Stay tuned, more money may be required… stuff may break.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

4x4 Shed Log 2: 1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110 
Current mileage: 
104,140km
Mileage this month: 
N/A
Average fuel consumption: 
N/A

Update 3: Moreton bash

1988 Land Rover Perentie

THE LONG-TIME Moreton Island resident squinted at my Perentie as it sat in the sand outside the general store at Bulwer. “I suppose if you’re going to get stuck on Moreton with a two-wheel drive, a Land Rover is the one you want.”

As John trundled away in his weather-beaten Disco 2, I thought he was probably right, as my maiden off-road voyage post turbocharger, clutch and power steering upgrade wasn’t exactly going to plan.

A few days on Moreton Island had seemed like the perfect way to play with the newly upgraded Perentie. Plus, it had been too long since I’d ventured across the bay to one of my favourite weekend getaway destinations.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

It’s hard to be in a bad mood as the ferry churns its way to the island – wind in the place where my hair used to be, a fresh espresso in hand and the glowing beaches of Moreton just peeking over the horizon. The warning signs on what was about to come should’ve been there, in hindsight, of course, but I was feeling way too cocky about the Landy’s capabilities.

After dumping our gear at Cowan Cowan I was pretty keen to explore the island, so we trundled down the beach towards the middle road that traverses the island, with the aim of running down the ocean beach to Karingal.

However, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. Warm weather and a long weekend for Queenslanders meant the sand was soft and badly churned up along the middle road. More than a couple of stock fourbies had given up and headed back to the beach; but not me, I was driving a Land Rover, after all.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

As the going got tough I kept my foot planted to maintain as much momentum as I could muster, but the Landy started to bog down and then there was a cracking sound from the front end. I stopped. I may have even used a couple of bad words.

After crawling around in the sand to check if there was anything obvious, I tried to gently move. With the centre diff lock in, I had two-wheel drive; without the centre diff lock, I had no drive. It was pretty clear I’d snapped a front axle; there was the even worse possibility that I’d blown the front diff, but I figured that would be pretty unlikely for a Perentie.

Luckily, a well-kitted Triton soon idled up behind me. I explained my predicament and old mate kindly offered to tow me back down to the beach ... not the most dignified of journeys.

I should’ve expected a development like this. After all, I’d just increased the power output of the Isuzu mill by a large margin, and if there was a slight weakness in the driveline somewhere, churning through the sand was going to find it.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

So while I sat under a tree contemplating what the next four days of two-wheel driving was going to look like for me, I thought I’d call ahead and book the Perentie in for an axle upgrade ASAP. The guys from MR Automotive were going to get another visit when I made it back to the mainland.

While its off-road capability may have been limited, I still managed to tackle the beach at low tide to get to Bulwer for supplies. In fact, the Landy did quite well as a 2WD; although, getting off the beach required a fair pace. I also managed to shred my Treds when I did get stuck; it’s safe to say that I’ll be replacing them with a different brand of recovery track.

After limping home and delivering it to MR Automotive, we discovered the front right-hand axle had indeed busted. So I bit the bullet and opted to replace both front axles with heavier duty Maxi-Drive items, as well as convert the hubs to oil bath. I know there are different schools of thought on greased bearing versus oil bath, but I’m definitely in the oil bath camp ... maybe it’s the truckie in me.

1988 Land Rover Perentie

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to head bush since picking the old beast up from the shop, however that doesn’t mean I haven’t been driving my camo-clad wheels around with a stupid grin on my moosh. It’s brilliant.

However, I have a trip to Fraser Island planned in the next couple of months, and this trip better be hassle-free as I’m heading up with a mate of mine and his Jeep Wrangler.
If anything breaks on the Landy, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Through rough tracks and rough times on 4x4 Shed

1988 Land Rover Perentie

4x4 Shed Log 3: 1988 Land Rover Perentie Defender 110 
Current mileage: 
104,610km
Mileage this month: 
N/A
Average fuel consumption: 
N/A

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