A Life Sentence.
A nostalgic look at a lifetimes Land Rover ownership. Reproduced by kind permission of Land Rover World magazine.
I pumped the brakes a couple of times, pulled into a lay-by and cursed being so close to home and yet still having to stop to pour in yet another litre of oil and clean two oiled up spark plugs. The list of jobs I ‘really must do’ is now enormous. I can’t keep the oil in the engine, yet can’t keep it out of the brakes. Within 50 miles it’s spluttering on three, then two cylinders. It smokes more than a bonfire of old car tyres and steers like an old Tea Clipper. Why, when I have a wonderful and reliable 200 Tdi Carawagon and a fast and efficient ‘proper’ car do I still insist on driving this 50 year old heap around just because the sun is shining? It was my Secondary school teacher, Geoff Kirby, who introduced me to Land Rovers in the late Sixties. He would take groups of us camping, piled into the back of his 1950 Land Rover. As a spotty 12 year old I was impressed with the Land Rover’s rugged character and ability to circumnavigate seemingly impossible terrain with the minimum of effort to reach remote camp sites. I vowed that when I grew up I would have one. That dream finally became reality in 1973 when I was a long haired photography student in Salisbury.
Two of us got the bug, Steve Teague just beat me to it, buying GTM 228 in Bristol for £46 with a years tax. A few months later I bought TME 698 from a geezer in London for £85 and drove it home. All we wanted was open-topped Land Rovers to bomb around in for the summer. It didn’t matter to us at the time that Steve had chassis number R860348 and I had R861117. After college, and both with jobs, Steve had GTM re-sprayed whilst I went trialling with the Peak and Dukeries Land Rover Club with such notables as John Bailey, ‘Killer’ Bill Hopkinson, Pete Wilford and Tom Boydell snr. to name but a few. Together with two other Land Rover mad ex students, Dave White and Willie McCracken, Steve and I took GTM and TME to the National Rally hosted, in 1975, by the Peak and Dukeries Land Rover Club. I was in with the big boys trialling, but Steve was reluctant to scratch his new paint and only competed in the gymkhana. The trial was won by a chap from Yorkshire who had a crate of Theakstone’s ‘Old Peculiar’ strapped in the back of his 80 inch to help his concentration. All 12 bottles were consumed during the trial. Not something you could even think about now! In three years of fierce competition during the late seventies TME performed magnificently, winning the coveted ‘Bill Hopkinson’ Trophy in a Comp. Safari. This was despite rolling over through 360 degrees and back onto its wheels again damaging no more than my pride. They were our only forms of transport during the Seventies and were both kept mobile on the smallest of budgets. I bought an old caravan and spent the long hot summer of ‘76 living on a beach in Wales with my young family. We towed stuck cars off the soft sand to make enough money for the next gallon of petrol. It was a ‘hand to mouth’ existence with the minimum of responsibility. The family was fed and the Land Rover limped along with dogged determination. Eventually Steve sold GTM to a work mate, who had it for a couple of years before offering it to me for £250. I parked it in my parents barn until 1982 when it had to go to pay for our central heating. A chap from Dewsbury bought it, covered in dust in the barn where it had rested for 5 years. He had been looking for an early one and was delighted to pick it up for £500. Precisely the cost of our central heating. I gather he spent a fortune on restoring it, then sold it on to someone else. I made contact with GTM again last year at a show and was relieved to see it now safely in the hands of, top restorer, Ken Wheelwright.
TME was, by 1977, 29 years old and sorely in need of a rebuild. This followed in the Autumn, when my brother, Justin, and I took it to bits in a weekend, marvelling at the ‘Meccanno’ like design, and the ease at which two unskilled people could completely dismantle a car. Putting it all back together was a little more involved but it seemed better for it, despite the bag of left over nuts and bolts!In ‘restored’ condition (some would say botched up!) TME had to assume a new role. I was briefly involved in an car restoration business and TME was used to tow a trailer and various restoration projects from all over the country. We went to Wales to collect a Lancia Lamda, to Bedford for a Jaguar XK120 and to Birmingham for a big Daimler ‘Double Six’. Some of these cars weighed twice as much as the Land Rover, often forcing me to resort to Low Ratio to climb the easiest of hills.
By the Eighties I was a busy Professional Photographer running my own business, and leisure time was scarce. TME suffered a brief period of neglect and was partially dismantled. I toyed with the idea of selling it, but fortunately nobody wanted it so when my son, Matt, turned 17 in 1988 it seemed the ideal first car for him. The poor thing had never had any serious money lavished on it, and despite my reasonable income I wasn’t going to start then! Bits were fabricated, scrounged and adapted to get it back on the road and after a couple of months it rolled out of the garage under its own power for the first time in years. Anxious for more speed and comfort Matt moved on to a Range Rover after a couple of years and I had the old Land Rover back. My second family were keen for me to use it, and I was fortunate enough to have time and funds available to patch it up again and recapture my youth by going Trialling again. This time I chose my local club, The Viking Four Wheel Drive Club. I was determined to drive it to and from events even though it often had to limp home with some part broken due to the excessive nature of club competition. Often parts were repaired after a trial by using a combination of bailer twine, gaffer tape and bits of wire, but it never failed to complete the journey home. These journeys were always the subject of much laughter with the roof off, the Land Rover covered in mud and our two children hanging on in the back, enjoying adventure within an hour’s drive of home.
My second son, William, is now driving. His first choice of transport? My 1948 Land Rover. Uncomfortable, slow, uneconomical, draughty and impractical, but, in his own words: “Its a Babe Magnet Dad! So cool!” I have now owned the Land Rover for over half of its fifty year life. It lost its identity as TME to my ‘proper’ car along the way. It has cost very little in relation to the pleasure it has given to two and a half generations, with a third to follow when my grandson inherits it on his 17th birthday in 2016. My sons and I can still work on it together, sharing a unique and exclusive language of Land Rover ownership when we patch it up for the annual M.O.T. A bit of welding, a few cheap parts and a coat of paint usually do the trick accompanied by skinned knuckles and oily footprints on the living room carpet. Most importantly I can still go out with the roof off and the windscreen folded down and enjoy the same sense of freedom that I did as a penniless student in 1973. It’s fun!
Info: I have a small amount of history on the Land Rover in the form of a copy of the dispatch log and an old log book, though sadly not the first one. R861117 left the factory on 3rd December 1948 and was dispatched to Henly’s of London who registered it on 18th December. What happened then is unknown, though I have a letter from Land Rover dated December 1956 to a Newquay garage concerning a gearbox oil leak. (A local Land Rover dealer has confirmed that it is almost word for word the same as the letter currently sent out to new Land Rover owners!) In 1967 TME’s registered keeper was Maurice Harber of Truro in Cornwall. He passed it on to Peter Foster of Rainham in Essex who sold it to Micheal Jarvis of Pitsea, also in Essex, in 1972. Toby bought it on 29th March 1973 for £85 from a Mr. R. S. Tuck in London, and still has the receipt.
We can rebuild him. Autumn of 1977. Toby and his brother Justin dismantled TME in a weekend, wire brushed the chassis and did a bit of dodgy welding on the rear crossmember. New springs and shock absorbers were fitted costing just £16 each! A Rover 60 engine was fitted at the time which is still in it today, though in desperate need of attention. The gearbox was treated to new bearings. A roll bar was fabricated from scaffold pipe and bolted onto the outriggers. That would not be allowed by scrutineers now, but it had to prove itself when Toby did a 360 degree roll later that year. Finally the whole lot was given a thick coat of yellow paint to ensure it would get through the MOT test.
Time to do it all again. Summer of 1989.The bulkhead was in a bad way by now. TME is fitted with one of the original, hand made, bulkheads and it was important to retain it in favour of a replacement.This time the welding was entrusted to a professional, as was further welding to the chassis. The brakes benefited from new cylinders all round and, again, original Series One parts were used in preference to a Series Two upgrade. The engine and gearbox were untouched and in serviceable condition. Finally another thick coat of paint was applied. This time it was Dulux Forest Green which is similar to Land Rover ‘Bronze Green’.
Lets go Trialling again. Spring of 1993. Both the chassis and the bulkhead survived the intervening years unscathed. All that was needed was to bring TME (or UVS as it now was) up to spec. for trialling in the nineties. This meant a far better roll bar which was made by Betaweld in Doncaster and replacing the old steering box. In a rare departure from the original, TME was fitted with an upside down, left hand drive, Series Two box. The advantages are improved steering and retention of the original appearance. (Just fitting a normal Series Two box brings the wheel up somewhere under the drivers chin!) First time out was at an A.W.D.C trial at Edgehill near Banbury in April 1994. Toby was amazed to come second in class and went on to compete with his local club, The Viking Four Wheel Drive Club throughout the nineties.
Matt’s story. Big Wheeled Hot Rod.
1988 After a long and fairly basic restoration (about 10 years!) I took the Landy out on its first off-road experience since Dad had trialled it a hundred of years ago. It was not a good start. In the first mile of the green lane I managed to hit the branch of a tree that was sticking out and I broke the bulkhead mounted sidelight. The noise of breaking glass was followed by the sound of filler hitting the muddy ground! Damn! There goes the idea of it looking a really neat Land Rover. But it did look a bit ‘harder’ with dented wings and a bent bumper.Being only 18 years old, I naturally wanted to put some big tyres on it. So I fitted some 7.50 x 16 bar grip beauties! Cool! These looked pretty good, but were a bit entertaining in wet road conditions. But in their favour they were very grippy in mud. The Landy amazed me with it’s off-road capabilities. Dad and I went green laning once or twice together, and I would often say, “We’d better go back, because we’ll never get up/through/across that”, to which Dad would say “No problem yer big girls blouse”. So I’d put my foot down and point it in the right direction and we would always make it. I remember one night driving the Landy in the pouring rain, the single wiper slowly ground to a halt. As I had quite a distance to travel I decided that the best solution was to take the roof off and lower the windscreen. I was soaked through to the skin and absolutely freezing! But I could see! Even though nothing unexpected ever broke or failed, and parts were cheap, the Landy was still expensive to run. At around 15mpg it was costing me a fortune in fuel so eventually it had to go back into my Dad’s care.I now own a 110, which I use as my everyday transport which shares many of the features I came to live with in the little 80 inch. It too leaks oil all over the drive!First Day back.
William’s story. 1998.
It was the first day back at college and I had decided to drive the 5 mile journey through the rush hour in a 50 year old heap with no power, no brakes and precious little holding the occupants inside. Great!Firstly, I had to execute the legendary Savage Landy starting ritual. Let me explain; the old Rover 60 engine is so knackered, that numbers 2 and 4 cylinders oil up within a few miles. Therefore it takes an age for it to start. The battery does not have enough life to keep the engine turning over on the starter as well as the supply the ignition. So, one must first switch the ignition on and pump sufficient fuel through, then turn the ignition off. With one’s left hand push the starter button (also knackered) and let the engine build up some revolutions, at which point, with the right hand, flick the ignition whilst blipping the throttle with one’s right foot. Eventually it fires into life in a cloud of blue smoke. All that remains then is to jam the high/low lever in high with a large stick, and pull away on a clutch that is wafer thin and covered in oil.That was it, we were on the open road. People were smiling at us, the wind was in our hair, everything was going fine, until disaster struck! Traffic lights! Fortunately, I had spotted them half a mile in advance, which gave me sufficient time to start the ritual of manic pumping, down-changing and eventual hand braking to bring the thing to a stop.After ten minutes we were at my sister, Poppy’s, school. She fled before anybody noticed. Further up the road and down to three cylinders. Ahh! It must be time to change number 2 spark plug. Fortunately, I always carry a spare set in my bag along with A level Physics notes and a calculator.Next stop, college and pick up Jonathan, Andy, Mark and a very red-eyed Stuart, who all climbed in (or on) the Landy, and we chugged on into College. The klaxon horn was ringing, Stuart was shouting at the little girls, and the Landy was farting it’s way into a parking space. The journey had been a success, not only because we made it, but because it had cheered everybody up on an otherwise dull first day back.
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