Blog : Perkins – Breathing new life into old Land Rovers

Keith Adams

Had a lovely ride in a Series 1 Land Rover recently. My colleague Kev Mills, who works for Land Rover Monthly magazine is a real hard-core kind of fella. He drives into work regularly in his 60-year old car, often with no roof, no speedometer, and absolutely no creature comforts whatsoever. And do you know what, after his 45-mile commute, most mornings he walks in smiling. Windswept, but smiling.

And for that reason I knew I needed to have a ride in it.

Kev’s Series 1 is actually an interesting hybrid – and one I suspect that will polarize opinions. Last year, he obtained a a Perkins Prima from a Montego TD, and after an impressive spannering session he managed to install this 1980s engine into his 1950s car. It should be a marriage made in hell; a real mismatch of ideas, but do you know what, the throbby Perkins suits his Landie absolutely perfectly. Like all series 1s, it’s an absolute hoot to ride in, as you feel every single bump in the road, every mechanical action, and thanks to zero weather protection, it’s completely open to the elements. Imagine sitting on your four-poster, as it’s pushed down a one-in-three, and you get the idea!

Kev gets around 35-40mpg in his Landie, and despite not being fitted with an overdrive (a future job) it cruises at 60mph on the motorway. Probably faster once it has leggier gearing.

Whatever you feel about this engine transplant, it’s certainly enabled Kev to enjoy his Series 1 far more than he could have with the original engine in. But he does still have that – it just needs a rebuild, and that little job will cost a fortune, as early Landie engines aren’t know for their cheap parts. So, long live this engine swap I say…

Plus, I love the Austin badged cam-cover!


Keith Adams


  1. And why not? After all, one of the appeals of a Series Landie is that they can be adapted to suit the purposes of its owner. Not always beautifully, but then this Landie hasn’t been externally butchered too much, and the throbby Perkins should suit the character of the car down to a tee.

    Love the ‘shabby chic’ paintwork, and the rusty bumpers and towing pintles- Land Rovers are meant to be workhorses rather than pristine concours cars or King’s Road pose-mobiles.

    One of the best mods I saw (on a Series 2a) was a large oak beam for a front bumper, complete with full-sized Record bench vice! Given that old oak beams are as hard as concrete (and not as brittle) I wouldn’t want to be followed down a 1-in-3 by that!

  2. This is a popular conversion, as the torque band and rev range of the Prima are very similar to that of the original petrol unit. You can’t argue with 35+MPG, you would struggle to get half that with the original engine.

    It certainly makes a change from the usual V8 conversion!

  3. I agree with Chris and Jon, why not! The Perkins engine is strong durable and if it extends the life of the car then great. It’s not if its going to be shown at a concours events is it…

  4. How an old Landie should be-rough and ready.

    If you get more miles to the gallon then why the heck not? If it makes it go it’s a fair cop!

  5. I totally agree with the comments about keeping the Series One in its rough and ready condition. If a vehicle leads a working life then there is nothing wrong with its condition reflecting this.
    My dislike is when you take one in this condition to a show and some of the owners of pristine vehicles treat you with undisguised contempt. Cheer up fellas, your pride and joy won’t catch rust just by being parked near it.

  6. No, this is a sensible an popular conversion, and besides, if you want the old engine back in save it in the garage. No problems. I like the fact that, like Ford’s stuff, you can do a bit of mix and match the find the right combo for your driving style. An O/D conversion might be an interesting one that might net a much more likely 39-45 MPG.. Let us know how this gets on… 🙂

  7. Overdrive is well worth having, I had one on my Series III Lightweight. It gave a worthwhile improvement in economy, cruising speed only rose by about 5mph but it was much more relaxed with the overdrive in. Only problem is finding one that isn’t completely worn out!

  8. Thanks guys. I’m really pleased with it. It’s not for everyone but for what I do the engine conversion has been brilliant.

    I weighed up all the pros and cons before doing it. As said it’ll never win a concours but apart from the engine it is all pretty much original. The Rover petrol engine was great, and indeed I drove it to the Alps in 2011 with no problem at all, but it had well and truly “tanned the land”. When it burnt a valve out that was it really; it needed a rebore, the valve gear rebuilding, new oil pump, maybe a crank re-grind… A good running replacement could be £500 and they are expensive engines to rebuild too. I’ll do it one day, but I wanted to use the thing, not look at it while I saved up for the repairs. The Prima doesn’t need any irreversible changes – a good couple of day’s work and it’d be back to original.

    The Prima engine with fitting kit was £150, I spent about the same again on various seals, a cambelt kit, new clutch etc and that was it. Unfortunately the injector pump needed overhauling otherwise the conversion cost would have been sub-£500. I took a week off work to put it in and a short while after, I drove it to the Czech Republic and back with no problems apart from a loose jubilee clip.

    This week it has already done a 200-mile round trip to Berkshire, shunted a dead Series 2 (the V8 one Chris mentions above) and the usual commute. We use it for going camping, taking the dog out and everything else you can think of. The speedo works now too!

  9. How long until Sam Skelton appears and states “When I go to hell I will be made to drive a Series Land Rover for all eternity” 😛 Great Landy Kev!

  10. Some mad person fitted a Prima to a Hillman Imp, as a direct replacement for the original all-aluminium engine.

    I prefer Glyn’s idea, but why not a Kitten?

  11. I wish more vehicles had this type of conversion , nearly bought a Farina Cambridge a few years back with one once wish I’d followed it up. If it makes an old car more usable then why not. Anybody remember the Interceptor with the big merc diesel in it?

  12. I have seen the Prima engine in Morris Minors before and it seems to suit them as well.

    This Series 1 Land Rover rather aptly reminds me of an article I read in a broadsheet motoring supplement last weekend that there is a growing band of motorists who are shunning all the frills of equipment in preference to economy and simplicity, right down to ‘keep fit’ wind-up windows. Part of me wishes Land Rover would fill the gap below the current Freelander with a Suzuki Jimny and Daihatsu Terios competitor offering simplicity in terms of equipment and styling. Something that goes back to Land Rover’s roots and is priced from £15,500 which would slightly overlap the lower trim levels of the Freelander. After all, neither the Jimny or Terio are being sold in the UK any more. Touble is, at that price it would likely have to be assembled in India where labour rates are significantly cheaper, which would upset the purists.

    I must admit that I do get nostalgic at the sight of a Suzuki SJ413 soft-top which is still being built for sale in Portugal and Spain, despite its appalling on-road manners.

  13. David 3500

    A Land Rover rival to the Jimny / Terios / Pajero mini would definately be something, it is a pity that Land Rover never adopted the stillborn Austin Ant as its own.

  14. Would it be possible to put the 2 ltr Perkins diesel engine into the Rover 75, that way the best car that Rover ever made could be powered by the best engine that Rover ever used?

  15. @20, Adrian,

    Its no doubt possible (if you can adapt the bellhousing, engine mountings, etc) but the Prima, bless it, was not the sweetest sounding diesel of all time, and wouldn’t suit the character of a 75 at all.

    What’s wrong with the BMW diesel usually fitted?

  16. Could you offer any info on the air filter set up you have used (K&N presumably?)
    I’m currently running a lightweight with the Perkins conversion, but am finding it near impossible to find a suitable replacement filter


  17. I always where possible use a land rover oil bath air filter. They run well with old used engine oil in them so free for ever & extremely efficient.

  18. The Landy Prima conversions I have seen use the Monty/Maestro filter, housing and pipework. The same filter setup was used on the Rover 800 TD which was a 2.5L VM diesel.

  19. Very interesting, I’ve heard of Range Rover being fitted with small Perkins tractor engines or bigger Japanese diesels to improve the economy compared to the V8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.