The cars : Land Rover GAME Series III development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mark Paget tells the incredibly detailed story of Leyland Australia’s very own Land Rover GAME. It’s an upmarket version of the existing Series III short-wheelbase model with one or two interesting tricks up its sleeve.


Game on, Land Rover

In the mid-1970s Leyland Australia produced an up-market, short-wheelbase Land Rover. The reasons for doing so appear to be lost to time, if they were ever clear.

  • Boost short-wheelbase sales?
  • Target the four-wheel-drive recreational market?
  • Extend the model range…

To achieve this they exploited the Meccano nature of Land Rover and added a handful of period styling touches. With the possible exception of extra traction from wider tyres, there no was no mechanical change whatsoever from the standard short-wheelbase model. The new model was at best a trim upgrade version and nothing more. This was the Land Rover GAME.

It was a shortlived model which didn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Production spanned approximately three years from 1976 to 1979. Up until this point the Australian market hadn’t received a short-wheelbase (SWB) station wagon and didn’t get a County-level model in any form until the arrival of 110.

So, what’s the story behind the Land Rover GAME?

The 2.25-litre petrol versions, diesels and 2.6-litre six cylinders were still being produced locally in most configurations. Considerable local development had taken place in preceding years and was not disregarded with the new model. Various nuts and bolts through to seat facings, wheels, tyres, paint colours and heater assembly represented just some of the Australian Land Rover differences.

Despite the relatively short production run, GAMEs are not exactly the same from go to whoa. A short but distinct evolutionary process takes place. Though ostensibly a Complete Knocked Down (CKD) or kit form vehicle, local content far exceeded mere assembly. Some parts were carried over from previous local Series IIIs and others were simply one-off purchases to meet production requirements, while still maintaining the quota of local content.

A considerable amount of input also addressed cost reduction and quality control. Within the UK there is a general ignorance that other countries were producing Land Rovers or changing their design, nor is there much acknowledgement of the vast array of export models that left Solihull for overseas markets and precise foreign orders. Unlike much of my previous work, this article contains little referencing. Quite simply because the material isn’t available. After several years of searching, I haven’t managed to acquire or even borrow a Leyland Australia (LA) parts supplement for this model.

What’s needed to make a GAME?

Not quite what the reader might have thought or may have been lead to believe:

  • big tyres,
  • fifteen inch white spoke wheels,
  • wheel arch extensions,
  • rear bumpers,
  • minor trim at the edge of the rear roof lining,
  • tyre placard,
  • three GAME decals, and
  • where fitted, the swing away spare wheel carrier, extra tall rear corner plates and radio cassette assembly.

The rest is all Land Rover or Leyland Australia off the shelf. Start with a SWB Land Rover knocked down kit, some standard station wagon panels, add a common Leyland Australia body colour, plus a couple of sundry shades, usual station wagon trim items, plus what’s listed above – GAME!

This 1976 cosmetic upgrade could be viewed as part of a series. Leyland Mini SS, Leyland Mini LS and Leyland Moke Californian all met the same criteria. The Leyland Mini Sunshine could easily be knocked up at a dealership by adding a sunroof and decals to the established Mini S.

GAME certainly presented something stunning for the dealership forecourt – whether at the car or commercial end of the sales lot. Even the Range Rover wasn’t available with such factory-fitted, exterior bling. Mini, Moke, Range-Rover and Land Rover were all rolling out of the same Leyland Australia/Pressed Metals Corporation plant at Enfield in Sydney. A curio of the company is that Mini van and Moke are light commercials managed by the car end of the business. Land Rover is a light commercial run by the heavy vehicle end. GAME existing at all is an accomplishment.

Land Rover GAME design problems

  • The spare wheel carrier opens to the left. The rear door to the right, not fully and without a stay. Creating a narrow funnel arrangement for rear load space access.
  • The swing away carrier immediately prevents the vehicle from becoming a station wagon. Straightforward safety/legality issues from passenger egress.
  • GAME’s radio cassette cabinet assembly reflects the Mini design available for the Clubman from 1971 and subsequent Leyland Mini SS stereo cassette, whereas the Series III lower dash panel has factory provision for a radio. Speaker location, potentially even stereo becomes the only concern.
  • The traditional ‘punch the dash’ first gear position made worse by the radio’s position.
  • Big wheels and tyres with no change to steering ratio.
  • Free wheeling hubs as an option, not a standard feature.

Presumably tyre rolling diameter was close to the standard 7.50/16 as the speedometer hadn’t been changed.

What is: Complete Knocked Down (CKD)?                 

CKD can literally mean anything and varies depending on what the client ordered. ‘Complete’ is frequently quite misleading. This can range from the complete jigsaw in a box, requiring only assembly and fluids, through to any number of the components missing, unfinished or partly finished. That allows the client to add labour and as many locally-sourced parts or procedures as required.

Potential variation is also compounded by product evolution. This period of Land Rover production is fairly intense. Precisely what LA purchased is unclear. Viewed with hindsight what did happen included:

  • Painting of panels and assembly of the body.
  • Production of sundry components for local conditions.
  • Substitution of minor components and fittings.
  • Fitting of running gear sub-assemblies to the chassis.

From this you might expect that every GAME would be a CKD 88-inch station wagon. In particular, with a station wagon chassis and matching chassis number. However, they’re not. The reality of local production meant that whatever was the next SWB petrol chassis to hand was utilised. If the British placards weren’t pre-printed with fuel type, you could expect diesel chassis numbers as well.

What’s the difference between ‘basic’ and station wagon chassis? The wagon doesn’t have tailgate hinges. The difference between petrol and diesel chassis? The chassis number. The bolt-on components actually define the classification.

If you encounter a GAME that decodes as basic without tailgate hinges, it may well have encountered an angle grinder on the assembly line. From a small sample of actual GAME chassis numbers, most have the prefix 903. Only a few have 923.

  • 903 – SWB, basic, RHD CKD
  • 923 – SWB, station wagon, RHD CKD

Configurations – SWB Station Wagon?

GAME presents as Australia’s first SWB station wagon, however it’s not. Very few, if any, appear to have been equipped with all the expected features of a SWB wagon:

  • station wagon chassis,
  • rear seats and safety belts,
  • rear door and grab handle,
  • external spare,
  • deluxe bonnet,
  • complete safari roof
    • two skins, vents, alpine windows and head-lining
  • opening side windows, matching panels, fixed rear windows, interior trim and
  • Compliance Plate for seating capacity of seven.

A true 88-inch wheelbase station wagon would mimic the existing four and six-cylinder 109in wheelbase versions. As can be seen from known GAME, the Pressed Metals Corp. (PMC) assembly line grabbed whatever was the next SWB chassis to hand. Frequently, if not predominantly, an original GAME will be found with a basic chassis. Certainly not the wagon chassis you would expect. Whether tailgate hinges were being cut off is unclear. Decoding a given vehicle’s chassis number will identify its intended use if not actual.

The mandatory Compliance Plate was fitted to all GAMEs. This quotes seating capacity. Despite owner recollections and what may be presently fitted, I haven’t yet located a single vehicle that has factory compliance for anything other than the base figure of three (the front row) – certainly not any with factory-fitted seven seats and swing away spare wheel carrier. Though far more monitored these days, State or Territory modification schemes require changes to seating capacity to be certified and logged with the relevant departments. Hopefully compliant, legal and safe as well.

Are they only available in Canary yellow?

Actually Yellow Devil. One of the 1970’s stylised colour titles. Notably common with other concurrent vehicles on the PMC assembly line:

  • Mini,
  • Moke, and
  • at least two long wheelbase Land Rovers.

The standard white roof persisted regardless of features. As was the 1970s stalwart for the sportier model – add black paint. Sundry components and the windscreen vent panel were painted silver – presumably, this was intended to blend with the standard galvanised features. As sundry colours they don’t warrant a paint colour label nor a mention in most colour charts. Silver is similar to the standard Australian wheel colour, possibly Silver Birch.

Up to this point Series III colour choice had dwindled to almost one, plus the white roof of course. Virtually every Series III you saw on the road was Camino Gold, to the point where Toyota found it necessary to copy the colour. Paint finish can be considered ordinary at best. New Birmabright panels are an odd mix of painted and raw. Primer colour varies from light grey to black. Steel and mixed panels are typically primed in black. Once sub-assembled, little or no additional primer is applied. Major components such as the bulkhead receive little or no rubbing prior to receiving a wafer thin application of colour coat.

Factory rust proofing was neither a feature nor option. Despite having become popular in Australia in the mid-1970s, it hadn’t yet become part of the salesman’s up selling spiel. Private rust proofing businesses usually had to be sought out by the new owner. Typically, these were found in a shed at the end of an industrial laneway. Companies such as End-Rust were on the demise and newcomers like Ming hadn’t quite arrived.

Land Rover GAME interior

Normal poverty-pack Land Rovers were equipped with local Series III brown trim. This was essentially the seat facings. Where fitted, lap sash seat belts had been in matching brown. Door tops remained bare. Floor mats appear to have been optional. Glued on insulation to the bulkhead (black, coarse vinyl, hemp backed matting) eventually becomes standard.

Top of the line was generic black and only found in station wagons. Door cards, tops and sundry items were of UK production, whereas seat facings were locally made. Although upholstered in black, no effort was made to match the grain of the door cards. Rear inward facing seats could have a different texture again. The UK Deluxe seat pattern did not exist in Australia. Instead, it was one simple pleated seat pattern for all forward-facing seats regardless of model. Front row, squab backing panels (aluminium) and those for factory fitted, inward facing rear seats are painted in body colour.

The GAME brochure does list trim as Deluxe. In reality, it is only Australian-produced station wagon black as just described. Door cards required large holes to be drilled in the door frames for Rover type push clips. However, a liberal use of self-tapping screws is also present.

To meet Australian Design Rules (ADR) safety belts were fitted for each seat. Parts were locally sourced and similar to the intended UK items, inertia reel now becoming standard for front row outer occupants. By the time GAME arrives all seat belts were black, regardless of interior trim colour. The prominent supplier to LA and the wider industry was TRW Australia.

How much did the Land Rover GAME cost?

Obviously this varied for many reasons; year, time, location, options, trade-ins… A vehicle sold in December 1976 had a list price of $7695. Selectro hubs cost the new owner another $95, plus stamp duty and on road costs. The 1978 Wheels magazine article quotes GAME at almost $10,000. The market at the time didn’t favour Land Rover. They were expensive and competitors offered more in just about every area.

Identification

All Australian produced and delivered Series III are fitted with a Compliance Plate. This quotes – manufacturer, chassis number, which ADR the vehicle complies with, date of compliance (not date of manufacture), seating capacity, fuel type and body classification. The plate was pop riveted to the bonnet striker panel and typically accompanied by the paint colour, emission control and coolant decals.

GAME entered production during the short period LA started adding model titles to Compliance Plates. Previously, a Moke may have just had MOKE on the plate regardless of variant. This period introduces LEYLAND MOKE for entry level and LEYLAND MOKE CALIFORNIAN for actual upmarket models. Within two years this reverts to LEYLAND MOKE for everything. Requiring the user to decode the body number to see what’s actually in front of them.

Land Rover Compliance Plate details (chassis number) should also match the chassis plate in front of the gear sticks. Plus matching what’s actually stamped on the right hand front chassis rail. It is unclear whether later GAMEs continued to state GAME on Compliance Plates till the end of production. A curiosity of LA was the ability of departments and even assembly lines to maintain different standards.

Unpacking the GAME’s VIN numbers

A variety of websites provide data for the chassis sequence to be dissected and decoded. This allows the user to identify what a given Land Rover chassis was intended to be assembled as. Though actual numbers were logged on the Australian assembly line, this information has not survived. Once unpacked, chassis were not reorganised numerically.

First come first served as they were all considered to be the same part. Final GAME chassis appear to precede the international system – Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). In essence, all local vehicles are UK produced and the chassis number reflects this. Logically, all owners should be able to obtain a Heritage Certificate for their vehicle. However, BMIHT seem to have become more than a little disinterested in recent years, yet increasingly money focused.

My attempt to obtain a Heritage Certificate resulted in a reply stating they will not issue one to a CKD vehicle. This translates to a generic (canned) response. You need to apply and pay for a certificate. If it transpires that no records survive/can be located, a refund is issued. Earlier Australian CKD Land Rovers have been issued with Heritage Certificates, with some useful information presenting itself.

An additional hand-stamped serial number can be found on each Land Rover plate (cabin area). This is issued by PMC and for internal use only. The local body number becomes useless once the vehicle rolled off the assembly line and is not recorded anywhere else on the vehicle. PMC built Land Rovers up to this point included:

  • their British issued body plate/four-wheel-drive instruction plate, incorporating the chassis number and basic vehicle designation,
  • a PMC plate, later a Leyland/PMC plate with a locally issued assembly number, and
  • from January 1970 a Compliance Plate.

In the first half of the 1970s the Leyland/PMC plate was deleted. However, the locally-issued assembly line number continued and was now found stamped in the upper border of the chassis plate. PMC ran concurrent sequences depending on Land Rover designation – predominantly LWB and SWB. However, GAME appears to sit in a separate area. Whether this is specific to GAME or another broader designation is unclear. Assuming production figures on the highest serial number located is folly.

This figure will only be proven by finding company documentation clearly stating what this sequence was for. Otherwise accounting for the majority of the three hundred or so cars within this sequence. Known GAMEs are expected to have a PMC assembly line number lower than four hundred and a compliance date ranging through 1976 to 1979.

How the Land Rover GAME evolved

Product evolution is present. They weren’t all the same from beginning to end. The prototype/press release vehicle at least, as seen in the brochure, is equipped with the LEYLAND badge below the door tops – that’s typically not found in the second half of the 1970s. The same vehicle has decals in different positions. Series IIIs acquired twin-circuit brakes in 1977, though not yet mandatory for a commercial platform.

This should be accompanied by additional warning lights for brake fail and park brake. So-called Series III door hinges had already arrived but hadn’t been adapted to accept mirrors. Wingard wing-mounted mirrors were therefore used for most everything, followed by the somewhat messy intermediate design of windscreen hinge mounts. By 1979, the very last GAMEs may have seen door mirrors with an adaptor bracket to the otherwise standard top hinge – a short-lived feature in common with the very first 109” V8s.

Silver-painted rear corner brackets evolved from extra tall to standard height. Many rear doors are the UK ‘with spare wheel’ version and therefore come with pre-punched, low-slung mounting holes locally blanked off before painting. At some stage LA started ordering standard doors (no holes), but there is no official change point or consistency through to end of Series III. The Australian-modified door also arrived at some point, with extra reinforcing and a modified British wheel carrier. The right-hand reverse light lens then acts as the doorstop. Deluxe bonnets appear to vary between standard and with wheel recess, less carrier. There doesn’t appear to be any true direction towards mounting the Australian six character registration plates. Dealers were left to their own devices to locate and affix.

The Land Rover GAME’s power unit

The standard, Australian specification 2.25-litre Rover petrol engine. Engines were UK produced with emission control in the form of evaporative loss and air injection with 12 volt electrics – that was in common with every other concurrent four-cylinder petrol model and included the pre-War oil bathed air cleaner. Wonderful lead was still available in petrol, so no catalyst requirements. A cropped by guillotine British emission control placard should be attached to the left inner wing.

Standard Series III features (differences to concurrent UK Home Market)

  • Afterthought ashtray fitted over the radio hole pressing in the lower dash panel.
  • Lower dash vents of the swivel design.
  • Reverse lights as standard via extra loose wires running alongside the chassis loom. Although reverse light holes were cut after the body was painted and very roughly. So to, the holes for the rear number plate light.
  • KPH only speedometer.
  • Steering lock.
  • Emission control as previously mentioned, encompassing air injection with evaporative loss control.
  • Silver painted rear corner bumpers (caps) pop riveted over the galvanised vertical cappings.
  • Seat belts for each seat.
  • Improved (slightly) cabin sealing.
  • High mounting of rear reflectors.
  • Indicator units fitted in the highest position.
  • Inline fuse for two speed heater motor.
  • Inline fuse for dash lights.
  • Reinforced rear door.
  • Modified spare wheel carrier where fitted to rear door.
  • Seat facings.
  • Body colours.
  • Colour matched painted seat backing panels.
  • Heater box assembly and coolant tap.
  • White rear mud flaps (Land Rover embossed in blue) with brackets welded to the rear cross member.
  • Park brake warning light added to the centre (auxiliary) dash panel.

Each vehicle came with a comprehensive tool set and document pack – the contents of the latter were predominantly British and reflected the large amount of DIY maintenance still expected of the operator. The Australian handbook supplement for Series III, poorly attempted to identify local standard features such as inertia reel belts and emission control. 

Optional equipment/accessories

According to the single sheet brochure for GAME, the only options are free-wheeling hubs, tropical roof and overdrive. What an appalling effort, even within the confines of two pages and fold down section!

How many overdrives were fitted on the assembly line is unclear. As with hubs, potentially an easy dealer upsell to existing stock. Roofs were probably by order only. If the client’s willing to order a vehicle then what a prime time for the salesman to upsell other major accessories, if there were any?

Leyland Australia in a rather vague generalisation offered accessories for the Series III range. Few were model specific and many weren’t quite what you might hope for. The recommended Hella spotlights didn’t have a fitting kit that actually suited Series III. The company didn’t offer a straight forward towing kit that met the Australian common standard.

Accessories can be summarised as a savagely abridged version of UK optional parts with a few local add-ons. Items such as hazard and fog lights were available, though rarely fitted and virtually never advertised. Also Nu-Link mats, though I have never seen a new local vehicle equipped with them. Owners could dream of a Fairey overdrive, but never get around to purchasing one. Cost was the major factor as Land Rovers weren’t cheap at the time. Exterior sun visors were still popular – typically, the later curved design with matt green underside and an exterior requiring painting in body colour.

A second, left-hand petrol tank was possible. Potentially either side could be the larger capacity Australian version. Ideal upsell points for someone ordering their new car. Yet still within the scope of the dealer.

Though not overly popular accessories at the time, optional jerry can holders would have shown distinct initiative over competitors. LA was supplying jerry can holders to Defence. Adaptation of various Army dash components could have created cigar lighter and auxiliary switch panel options. Though not as stylish, the Army dash centre panel didn’t obstruct ventilation as with the UK military version.

External Wingard mirrors weren’t available with an extended arm for towing. Laminated windscreens were standard fit for the Army but hardly get a mention anywhere else. H4 headlights were an expensive, though smart accessory. However, the client mind-set was still for spotlights. Items that could (and should) have been well publicised and available Leyland optional accessories for that time but weren’t:

  • cigar lighter,
  • higher output alternator (two direct-replacement Lucas units meet this role and were available at the time),
  • LH under seat battery box in place of the standard tool box (a standard six cylinder part),
  • true provision for trailer wiring in place of the farcical suggested Rover solution left over from Series I,
  • simplified tow bar to suit locally accepted format (light/medium duty tongue with extension to clear spare wheel utilising a turned 50mm ball),
  • a proper wiring kit for spot lights,
  • halogen headlights as per Mini SS, LS or Range-Rover,
  • engine oil cooler as a proper kit, not a myriad of minor parts and no instructions,
  • bigger hydraulic jack and handle (a standard Army feature),
  • wood jacking block/base (a standard Army feature),
  • Australian, civilian version, rear indicator protectors,
  • laminated windscreen…

Rear door stays from surplus Nomad tailgate struts or bonnet slides? Quite simply, there were a huge amount of parts available to LA to use as accessories that wouldn’t require additional production runs, retooling or notable redesign. The lack of these left Series III well behind its competitors. Accessories brochures for Series III did exist but they were limited in content. You could understand LA not investing in glossy, multi-page brochures. Though you might at least expect to find comprehensive up-selling datasheets for salesmen, but none have come to light.

Trailer and cigar lighter wiring had already been designed, drawn, manufactured, used on the assembly line for fleet orders and subsequently ignored for any further use. Land Rover still included the pre-War styled (black & red) power points on the dash. Was any effort made to sell adaptor plugs or to re-market the Army’s rubberised version of the inspection light (bell lamp)? No, and they had already been designed and produced. Stock items that could have been readily re-marketed as accessories for GAME.

The British parts book and matching optional parts list are comprehensive. They represented the primary parts resource at your local dealership. However, in trying to be international they become extremely layered and difficult to use. There is no abridged Australian version of either. Presumably a text only parts supplement was issued for GAME. Undoubtedly to the standard LA minimalist (borderline useless) format. The Australian parts system being chronically reliant on the acquired knowledge of staff and penned amendments to what little reference material actually existed.

No cigar lighter, no hazard lights, no day night mirror. You could well be left with the impression that the design team never bothered to look at what the opposition offered. Nor even sat in Range-Rover for some ideas. Worse, that they’d never used or driven a Land Rover.

Was any subsequent effort made to profit or at least equalize costs from GAME specific components? No. Possibly the only GAME associated item offered to the remaining fleet is the bull bar. Want a radio for your new Land Rover, then go somewhere other than your Leyland dealer.

Performance parts (go fast bits)

From Leyland Australia:

  • Not a thing.
    • Obviously the issues of emission control and development costs being major factors.

Aftermarket (that actually fit):

  • Not a thing.

Other:

  • Very little.
  • As was the standard in Australia for many, many, many years, locally-made accessories such as extractors (free-flow manifold) and sway bars (anti-roll torsion bars) were produced. However their application tended to enthuse ‘near enough is good enough’. None actually just bolted-up. None actually had instructions or documentation of any use. All required buggery and butchery to install. The standard aftermarket extractors didn’t have a flanged outlet or actually line up the standard pipework. They still don’t today. A straight-through silencer that directly replaced the standard part – don’t be silly.
    • Typically extractors (headers, free flow manifolds) under the general title of Land Rover four cylinder were sold by exhaust shops. This would then be matched by the usually exhaust fitter buggery to ‘adapt’ the fit-nothing product to the existing system. Usually accompanied by;
      • discarding heat shields and ignoring the hot box,
      • chopping off original flanges and mounting brackets,
      • with typical exhaust shop disregard for anything to do with performance, alignment, clearance or future repairs.
    • If not slightly later than GAME, a power steering conversion became available.
      • This was the generic, clamp-on, fit anything design and had to be ‘adapted to fit’.
    • Lumenition electronic ignition.
      • Very expensive at the time and still dear today.
      • Most vehicles were still being made with contact breaker points at the time.
      • Lumenition was stocked in Australia but not very well known and still aren’t today.
      • They did and still do make a kit to suit GAME’s distributor. The remaining parts are generic. Wiring needs to be lengthened to try and place the module in an out of the way position. Plus drilling holes.

What would have been ideal aftermarket performance parts:

  • A straight through silencer conversion (slightly more noise with increased flow).
  • An unobtrusive electronic ignition conversion set.

Since release, various authors have professed what engine ‘should’ have been fitted to GAME. None of the wild assertions dealt with the realities of automotive design and production. Let alone the gearing, low speed operation and torque demands of four-wheel drives.

Certainly none addressed the emission control requirements introduced in 1976. Putting aside stereotypical owner delusions of what is performance, the 2.25-litre engine does respond to basic improvements such as improved gas flow out of, through and in to the motor. The national requirements for emission control require all such original equipment to be present. However, the only output tests are for visible and audible emissions.

Exporting the Land Rover GAME

With the exception of Australian Territories, New Zealand and possibly Indonesia, export appears to be nil. GAME has none of the features required for North America and no evidence has come to light for a left hand drive version. LEYKOR (South Africa) don’t appear to have taken up any GAME stylings or components.  Other regional Rover subsidiaries or agents were either buying whole vehicles or CKD, direct from the UK.

What was the Land Rover GAME’s opposition?

  • From within Leyland Australia – the standard SWB Series III.
    • Same comfort and performance levels for less money. Able to be ordered with tropical roof and rear door as long as the client was willing to wait for delivery.
  • Externally – SWB Landcruiser, Nissan Patrol and Jeep CJ.

There isn’t a direct competitor from anyone. Toyota don’t have an upmarket SWB. Jeep CJ series is somewhere between Moke and Series II Land Rover with a really big engine. However, with the high price of a fully optioned GAME, you start to overlap the long wheelbase and wagons of the competition.

None of the opposition have anything remotely close to local content offered by Leyland at that time. All Jeeps were made in the U.S. as complete vehicles and left-hand drive. A box on the back seat and the conversion line in Brisbane (in the old Austin plant) adapted models to local requirements.

Land Rover Series III fits into what now would be classified as ‘heavy 4wd’. By time GAME was released, the off-road market had started to diversify into sectors where British Leyland had no offerings. The closest competition was Landcruiser and had been from the late 1950s. Since Toyota’s new model arrived, Rover made virtually no efforts to address the competitor’s advantages. Whereas the marketplace readily adapted to what the Japanese had to offer. Landcruiser quickly adjusted to the less agricultural, greater drivability change in vehicle demand.

BMC’s Gipsy had offered vast technological improvements over Rover but still missed where Toyota and the market was heading. Datsun/Nissan attained an immediate positive reputation for Patrol. That was simply for trying to build a decent product, despite a lack of variants and a few later corrosion issues. The subsequent MQ range addressed model diversity of the earlier product and set Nissan’s direction for years to come.

By the 1970s, Toyota Australia’s Landcruiser range paralleled Land Rover in basic configurations – save, that is, for the station wagon, which was a completely different body. Toyota wagon trim level and layout could have been compared to Jeep Australia’s Cherokee or Wagoneer, whereas Land Rover offered what was nothing more than a Series II with a plastic dash. Jeep Australia’s wagon may have been just a well-trimmed barge with some off-road ability, but it was a barge that could steer and stop in a straight line without a fight, from new.

Toyota only offered six-cylinder petrol or diesel engines. However, this didn’t appear to be a great hindrance to sales. Toyota Australia experimented with local assembly of their commercial range, which only lasted a few years. To the potential buyer, Landcruiser represented a far more driveable product with comparative off-road capabilities and an almost overabundance of dealers. LA’s efforts in selling product were minimal and the Japanese already had new designs on the market that offered virtually everything Land Rover didn’t:

  • value,
  • driveability,
  • dealership locations,
  • standard equipment level,
  • accessories,
  • option levels,
  • build quality…

If you didn’t want a heavy class vehicle, the Japanese also offered Suzuki or Daihatsu alternatives. Hilux was soon to become 4WD.

Before the reader dismisses the Australian Series III or commits to buying something else, first perform some proper, comprehensive and honest research into what the competitor’s offered. Try finding a first generation Daihatsu or two-stroke Suzuki. You won’t find an original Hilux four-wheel drive, they’ve all dissolved, quite literally. The Landcruiser gave birth to an entire aftermarket industry in ‘non-rusting’ fibreglass panels.

For those that remember the Leyland Brothers television series, they’d gone commercial and become sponsored by Jeep Australia. In one episode, on a maiden voyage, their new Jeep decided to disassemble itself at speed. Some well-chosen words managed to find their way into the final edit. Land Rover is at worst a survivor.

Then: driving and owning a Land Rover GAME back in the day

As expressed by authors since 1976, GAME is still just a Series III. In turn a Series III is little more than a face lifted Series II. The majority of the technology is old. Build quality was typical Land Rover. Everything worked, but details such as door alignment and weather proofing could only rival that of a pre-War lorry. Splash testing or water leak inspections wasn’t part of assembly line or pre-delivery inspections! Land Rovers needed to be rust proofed from new, which they generally weren’t. Birmabright hid any subsequent corrosion. That’s also something Toyota Australia didn’t bother with, probably to their regret.

If you were intent on buying a Land Rover at the time, GAME offered a distinct visible impact. The emphasis being ‘intent on buying a Land Rover’. Vehicle purchase price probably prevented a lot of buyers from accessorising from new. Upselling as it’s now called didn’t appear to be part of the sales pitch. However, subsequent purchases don’t appear to have been in vogue either. That’s partly because of the price of what few accessories were actually offered and partly because LA had seemingly missed the trend in what clients were starting to expect as an accessory. With all the local content, the fact that you couldn’t even buy a tow bar off the shelf to suit the standard Australian format, was an incredibly poor oversight from Leyland Australia.

Getting used to slamming doors closed is probably the new owners’ introduction to using the product. The physical distance the gear knob has to travel between selected gears is notable, followed by the ‘arm strong’ steering. Servicing wasn’t complex, but was time consuming. Emission control and the adverse conditions air cleaner made for a tight and messy engine bay. Genuine flat screen wiper blades had ludicrous mark-up levels that didn’t inspire owners to return to Leyland Australia dealers for warranty service. Only the first service was free, the rest was paid for, entirely by the client. This wasn’t unusual for the time but again the Japanese were leading a change.

Generally parts were affordable and better priced than for Landcruiser. However, you had to find a dealer or visit the LA State Office. Once you’d located a parts seller, the challenge would be to find the right part. Most local content was unlisted, plus the general confusion caused when deciphering Series III parts lists. These were at best a quilt of amendments. Some sections detailed, others literally thrown together.

Despite owning original hard copy parts lists, I now prefer to print pages as required from a free download copy. I then pen in any and all corrections as required and file the pages.

And now: owning a Land Rover GAME today

Even if in good condition, a Series III is still high maintenance, requiring regular manual adjustments and lubrication. The clutch pedal has a lubrication point. This isn’t necessarily a direct cost as it was targeted at the pre-war type of owner, willing and capable of performing basic maintenance. However, there is a prominent unwillingness of present owners to possess, let alone read the operator’s handbook.

The use of coolant corrosion inhibitor was still a totally alien concept in Australia at the time and for years to come. Many Dolomites, Stags, Datsuns and BMWs had already suffered as a consequence. When and where followed, the required servicing dramatically extended component life. Correctly adjusted wheel bearings were easily capable of outlasting the vehicle and almost always failed only through neglect.

Concessional (club, historic) registration is available in most States or Territories, which can ease annual running costs. Looking for an alternative fuel? There is nowhere to mount LPG cylinders without loss of load space. Scuba tanks could be fitted under the rear floor. Any other shape or capacity creates ground clearance issues. Traditional LPG systems were and still are primitive, creating their own array of running problems.

In standard form the vehicle can keep pace with motorway traffic. Cabin noise is tolerable, steering is vague and you don’t really want to perform an emergency stop. If maintained the drums stop well, but they usually require balancing (adjustment) after overhaul. When called upon, they will highlight any steering problems.

Other issues include the countless modifications that have been made to vehicles as the years passed. These were often ignored in previous times, but are now being brought to account as regulations and inspection criteria tighten. This certainly comes to the fore when someone actually performs a proper inspection, whether pre-purchase, Safety Certificate (MOT, WOF) or modification approval. Changed seating capacity and missing emission control are two prime areas.

Parts have been a challenge since the late 1980s and the simplest items frequently cause dramas. However, the major mechanicals are either reliable or compatible with other models. GAME quickly became an overlooked oddball model, generally un-catered for. The Series III for that matter attracts no specialists in Australia. There are few actual parts importers, but countless on-sellers. Imported components are generally chosen by price, specifically not quality or whether they fit.

Trim was never brilliant and can now be extremely expensive to replace, if you can find it. Upper and lower dash panels, or the gauge facia haven’t been reproduced and have continually relied on supplies of new old stock items. No one has reproduced any of the Australian trim components. UK items such as door coverings are available as copies but despite their cost, are ‘B’ grade, near-enough replacements to be polite.

Even with the benefit of the internet, there is certainly no one-stop shop for this model. Obtaining the right part will be down to the owner researching what that part is first, then tracking it down, if it’s still available. Other relevant present day concerns have already been covered or touched on:

  • lack of rustproofing from new,
  • age,
  • local content,
  • optional equipment…

A general observation of the classic vehicle market is that buyers or would-be owners perform little or no research into their prospective purchase. If they do anything, it is in seeking unsupported opinions from the uninformed, as opposed to proper, fact and evidence-based research. This frequently results in disappointment with the new acquisition, as it isn’t as easy to drive or as well appointed as their modern daily runabout. Or that repair costs spiral as the true state of the acquisition surfaces. Land Rovers offer no change to this phenomenon. In the present market, the concurrent Range Rover is better equipped, easier to drive, readily available and equally (if not better) priced to a GAME in comparable condition.

Obviously, this section could drag on. What simple points can I emphasise based on my experiences:

  • Read your owner’s handbook!
  • Regardless of manufacturer, make or model, it is only most original vehicle that will command a top dollar price.
  • Perform your own, proper, hard copy research and specifically not trotting out any and all questions for internet forum fantasy and fiction answers.
  • Even if you already own the vehicle; have your Land Rover inspected, properly, by someone who is willing to do a thorough, independent inspection and stand by the results.

The five-figure odometer and usually missing documents assist in hiding what the average vehicle has been through in the last 40 years.

What did Leyland Australia learn from GAME?

Little or nothing…

The subsequent range:

  • Land Rover 2.3
  • Land Rover 2.6
  • Land Rover 3.5
  • Land Rover 3.9D…

reverted to pre-GAME basics. There were no new accessories or options and certainly no GAME features utilising what had already been designed, manufactured and introduced for just a few hundred vehicles. The Series III ended along with Leyland Australia. The successor – Jaguar Rover Australia introduced the 110, not 90. County level was now available. Local assembly and content persisted and any model could be optioned out. Four-wheel drives became more accepted as the everyday family vehicle. An ever-increasing amount of disposable income was spent on accessorising – wheels, tyres, spare wheel carriers, towing, body protection, radios…

Forty years later, a tidy GAME is still stunning. If anything, fitting today’s market better than yesterday’s.

Copyright Paget 2018

Land Rover GAME specifications
Land Rover GAME specifications

4 Comments

  1. I didn’t realize that assembly of CKD kits was undertaken by PMC after the Leyland Australia plant in Zetland closed the previous year,what else was reassembled there?

      • Land-Rovers were not produced at Zetland (Victoria Park), only at Enfield and preceding BLMC. PMC (the independent company) was the appointed local manufacturer/distributor. Similar to AMI assembling Triumphs. Off the top of my head PMC was part of the Larke Hoskins group.

  2. Pressed Metal Corporation was eventually purchased by Leyland Australia in around 1970 or thereabouts by the way. Mini & Moke production was transferred to Enfield after Zetland was closed in late 1974. The first Enfield Mini production runs missed out on a great deal of rustproofing until immersion tanks were setup at Enfield to allow for an improved process, EPD I think it was.
    The Landrover Game was different, the dealership where I worked had one as a drive car for the Dealer Principal for some time and it did get a few looks seeing it looked so different to the usual drab green or white colour schemes

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