Classics World’s Paul Guiness test drives and reviews the Land Rover Series 3 Station Wagon…
The traditional Land Rover’s most obvious styling upgrade occurred in 1969, when the Series IIA’s headlights were moved outwards to the front wings – twenty-one years after the original Series I had gone on sale. This paved the way for the look of the Series III, which arrived two years later and featured a host of useful improvements for the ’Seventies – including a new grille, a more modern dashboard design, an all-synchromesh gearbox and much more.
The Series III was the most sophisticated Land Rover produced up until that point, and would remain in production through to the mid ’Eighties, when it would finally be replaced by the new coil-sprung 90/110 models. And although by today’s standards the Series III is a basic machine, its extra refinements over the Series I and II make it the ideal choice for anyone seeking a genuinely usable leaf-sprung classic Land Rover.
Values of the Series III vary hugely depending on the spec, condition and history of the vehicle in question. But this particular example appears to offer good value for money at its current asking price of £12,950, particularly as it’s one of the rarer members of the Series III family. While most classic Land Rovers of similar age are of the hard- or soft-top commercial varieties, here we have a genuine factory-built short-wheelbase Station Wagon, complete with its original safari roof.
The roof was cleverly configured, carried over from the Series IIA Station Wagon and comprising a two-layer design. The upper layer was around an inch higher than the ‘regular’ roof, allowing fresh air in (via four pop-open vents) whilst the vehicle was in motion, but also providing extra protection from the extreme heat of the sun in Land Rover’s crucial export markets. Being the Station Wagon, this Series III’s interior is also a cut above the rest, with full-length headlining (heavily insulated to help with sound deadening), three deeply-padded vinyl-covered seats up front, plus a further four fold-down seats bringing up the rear – making this a rather useful seven-seater when necessary.
Although this particular Series III looks original and extremely well-preserved, it was the subject of restoration work in 2010, when the Land Rover specialist currently selling the vehicle was commissioned by its owner to carry out some essential improvements. A brand new galvanised chassis was fitted, and the original 2286cc petrol engine was treated to an unleaded-spec cylinder head and new timing chain. The vehicle was also fitted with a brand new fuel tank, radiator, all-new brakes, leaf springs and shock absorbers, a replacement wiring loom and a stainless steel exhaust. The extremely well-preserved bodywork, meanwhile, was resprayed in its original Marine Blue with Limestone roof and wheels.
With the Land Rover’s current owner now putting the vehicle up for sale, Worcestershire-based Churchill 4×4 has been asked to find a suitable buyer. And whoever that is will be getting a very impressive example of a Series III, a vehicle still with fewer than 93,000 miles under its wheels. This genuine Station Wagon comes complete with free-wheeling hubs, a four-speed-plus-overdrive gearbox and selectable dual-range all-wheel drive, making it a highly usable off-road classic.
As for its on-road behaviour, there’s very little to criticise. No Series III is going to offer the performance or refinement of a regular car, but this one’s petrol engine is particularly smooth, aided by a gearchange that’s as slick as you’re going to find in a Land Rover of the ’Seventies. Progress through the gears feels surprisingly eager, and at a steady 50-55mph this Series III seems unusually quiet. There’s less of a compromise in terms of driving style than you’ll find in an earlier example, with this superbly prepared Series III being far from a chore out on the open road.
A later coil-sprung Land Rover will inevitably handle better than any Series III, but this vehicle’s relatively new braking system and replacement springs and dampers improve what is already a highly capable machine.
With its respray of seven years ago wearing extremely well, plus all the advantages of a galvanised chassis being fitted at the same time, this relatively rare Station Wagon offers both good looks and potential longevity. Its mechanical overhaul in 2010 (since when it’s covered relatively few miles) means it’s ready to use and enjoy, making this the ideal vehicle for anyone seeking a Series III in top-spec guise. With seven-seat versatility adding to its appeal, we can’t see this superb survivor remaining on sale for very long.
ENGINE: 2286cc 4-cyl
TOP SPEED: 70mph
0-60MPH: 29 secs
GEARBOX: 4-sp man