1980 LAND ROVER SANTANA 109 6-cylinder (Series III)
AT A GLANCE
ENGINE: 3.3L inline six-cylinder diesel
TRANSMISSION: Four speed manual
MILEAGE: 123.249 km (76,414 miles)
EXTERIOR: Sand with Olive Defender (tubeless) wheels
INTERIOR: Brown with Brown Houndstooth Cloth
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
Not something you come across every day, this original Land Rover Santana 6-cylinder is a wonderful survivor, and a reminder than in the mid to late 1970’s it was Santana, not Solihull, who was really trying to drive the Series Land Rover forward. Largely unsullied and unmolested, this exceedingly rare 6-cylinder diesel Series III 109 is a fantastic bit of history, and an even more rewarding driver.
The exterior wears its original “Sand” colored paint from the factory, with a Limestone removable hard top and later (tubeless) Defender wheels refinished in Olive Green. Showing only a few nicks and dings, and the gentle patina of age, the bodywork is indicative of a truck that has been well loved and carefully driven by one family since new. The beltline trim and windshield surrounds have never been painted and their original mottled galvanizing still looks fantastic, as do the original (and unique) grille and interior metalwork.
Inside, twin front seats have been recovered in brown genuine leather hides and brown and white houndstooth check cloth in the centers. Twin 2-person, folding rear jump bench seats have been freshly reupholstered to match. The dashboard and gauges all look as original, and the interior presents as a clean, tidy, undamaged space with charming, natural patina.
Open the hood and you’re greeting with a lusty straight six, looking for all the world like what it is - a normal Series III Rover diesel engine with 50% more of pretty much everything.
Underneath, the chassis is straight and free of structural rust as most vehicles which has spent their entire lives in the arid south of Spain, with none of the dents and scrapes one would associate with off road use. From front to back, top to bottom, it is straight, honest and original.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Kind of a revelation, actually.
For anyone familiar with Series Land Rovers, whether diesel or petrol, the word “refinement” never really comes up. Plucky and immensely robust, a four-cylinder Rover diesel gets the job done, but gets it done with a significant amount of noise, vibration, and harshness thrown into the mix. So it’s rather startling to fire up the Santana straight six and find… none of those things. Almost uncannily smooth, it starts easily with minimal warming of the glow plugs needed and settles into an idle that is as smooth and quiet as the Td4 powerplant in a modern Freelander or something. It’s astonishing.
The gearbox is different, too, with first through fourth in the traditional H pattern, but reverse to the right and up, not to the left and up as in a standard Series III. Engage first, let our the normal feeling clutch, and you’re off.
It’s important to remember at this point that the Santana straight six produces more power than the 2.5L “diesel turbo” engine in something like a 1989 Defender, and vastly more torque, pretty much all of which seems to be available immediately off idle. So the surge of smooth acceleration is as noticeable as the absence of thrashing around you would normally expect from a comparable Series III. And that smoothness remains all through the rev range, because there is really no engine or attainable road speed where you encounter any type of vibration coming through the driveline. But the flat curve of lusty torque is available everywhere equally, and substantially superior to the Defender turbo diesels of nearly a decade later. In fact, since Solihull borrowed so much technology from Santana in the early 1980’s, including the 5-speed gearbox and other bits, I’m amazed they didn’t fit this engine to the early Defenders, as it’s streets better than any diesel Solihull was using at the time.
Gearing is still typically short, so the powerful engine doesn’t really translate into high maximum velocities, but if you’ve already bought into the Series Land Rover philosophy of going wherever you want to go at relatively modest speeds, the six-cylinder allows you to do it in a much more refined and relaxed manner than you can imagine.
Did I mention it’s smooth?
As for the rest, despite some minor differences, it’s all pretty much standard Series III fare, with the wonderful exception of power steering, one of Santana’s greatest accomplishments. Unlike a normal Series III from Solihull, the Santana’s power assisted steering makes parking lot maneuvers child’s play, and give the steering better feel and less kickback to boot. So forget needing Popeye arms to park the damn thing. A couple flicks of the wrist is all you’ll need.
Brakes, electrics, cooling, gauges… everything works as intended, as this truck has been well maintained and driven lightly but regularly throughout its life. A recent full service performed at our shop have given it fresh oil and filter, new gearbox fluid, transfer case fluid, and new fluid in the front and rear differentials.
It’s ready to go.