An Unexpected Adventure.
A simple photo call evolves into a recovery involving two classic 4x4s.
A call out of the blue recently from my old pal Peter Ashley enquired whether I had an old Land Rover he could photograph for the front cover of a book. I confirmed I had just what he was looking for, but did add the caveat that its appearance was, as John Carroll once said - ‘as if driven directly out of a Welsh hill farm’. My 1948 Land Rover is far from pretty as it is used regularly for what Land Rovers should be used for. Bouncing around off road and carrying old engines and assorted junk in the back. Peter agreed that it sounded perfect and asked how we could turn the dream into a reality. I muttered a few negatives about having work to do and having to put fuel in it etc., but when he said ‘there’s fifty quid in it for you!’, I said I’d see him at lunchtime!
Peter is a successful writer and photographer and his books depict a way of life that those of us who like to think it is still 1955, enjoy. With titles such as Unmitigated England - A Country Lost and Found, and Preposterous Erections - A Book of English Towers, there is a wicker shopping basket of nostagia related material. All of it is available in good bookshops. The latest project in which he is involved is the relaunch of a series of guides to various things old and English - the Land Rover book being one of them. All Peter wanted from me was half an hour to photograph my old Landy.
The main bonus for me was that Peter’s Village and a village very close to my house are joined by Gartree Road, a Roman byway open to all traffic and in its day a Green Lane that was on every local off-roader's weekend list. These days it is largely a cinder surfaced track, but does still pass through some lovely scenery. I fitted the canvas tilt (a requisite of the shoot), topped up the tank and set off on one of the first warm sunny days of this Spring. Re-acquainting myself with a track I have driven on and off for the past thirty years, usually in the same Land Rover, was a great pleasure and I was the only person on it. It still fords two streams which following all the recent rain added a sporting edge to the drive. The 2 litre engine was purring along enjoying the new set of plugs and points I had fitted recently following some starting issues over the Winter.
It was about an hours' very enjoyable motoring before I arrived in the small South Leicestershire village to meet Peter at his idyllic stone built cottage. As the weather was holding out, we opted to get straight down to work and have a natter and a cup of tea afterwards. I took a step back from the action, just entering the scene to turn the Land Rover round occasionally to take advantage of the sunshine. Twenty minutes later we were finished and enjoying a cup of tea with a chocolate digestive and chatting about the old days. Happy that Peter had all he needed, I fired up the engine and set off to return by the same lane. Again, I had the track to myself, it being mid-week and I was probably at the most remote part nearing the top of a small hill when the two cups of tea were nagging to be released. I pulled up next to a coppice and left the engine running whilst I nipped behind a tree. Hardly necessary in the middle of nowhere, but old habits die hard! I could hear the engine ticking over nicely, but then it faltered and stopped - this was unexpected.
A breakdown in my Land Rover is not unlikely, but fortunately is unusual. I only remember having to be recovered once and that was on the way back from a trial at Stainby - site of this years National Rally. I seem to remember the battery was not charging and it just ran out of spark. That was in the mid 1990’s, so not a bad record. Every other time a simple clean of the spark plugs, or some sand paper action on the points in either the distributor or the SU fuel pump gets me on my way again. This time the old girl was having none of it! The plugs and points had barely done 100 miles, fuel was pumping through a treat, confirmed by squirting some all over my shirt! So - it hadboth spark and fuel, but not a sausage of life.
Fortunately it was still warm and sunny and I knew I was not far from civilisation, but it was inconvenient. A Rambler was heading my way and, expecting grief I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped to chat telling me he repaired Series 1’s when he was a lad in the Army years ago. He had no idea what my problem was though and carried on.
By now my battery was getting low having cranked the engine over so much, but I thought I could maybe bump start it backwards down the hill behind me. The only hindrance was that I was on a slight plateau and would have to push the Land Rover back about 50 feet through various ruts. I heaved for a few minutes, but progress was futile so, in a flash of inspiration, I removed the plugs again, to ensure absolutely no compression and wound it back on the starter motor until I was in a position to roll backwards downhill.
Popping the plugs back in again I selected overdrive reverse to give the gearing a chance and started to roll backwards until I reached a speed where it might just start. Nothing! And still a load more nothing until I came to a unceremonious halt at the bottom of the hill. That was it then. After a lifetime of faithful service I was going to have to abandon my old friend and walk out. It was still a lovely day and I enjoyed the 3 mile walk back to the road where I called my partner Jo. Fortunately she was both in and not too busy so I asked her to do a few things that would be new to her. I explained
what had happened and then issued simple instructions:
‘Rummage under the bench in the garage where there is, I’m sure, a tow strap - it is blue with a hook at each end, but it might be a bit oily! Then sling that in the back of the jeep, which should start - pull the choke out, but be light on the throttle - and then come and meet me at a point along the lane towards Melton Mowbray. I’m about 5 miles along it past the bungalow that’s owned by the people we rented that villa from in Spain a few years ago.’
To her great credit she turned up half an hour later without even having to call me and query any of the facts. We decided that as she had not towed before it might be prudent to swap, so I drove the towing jeep and she sat in the 80 inch trying to keep the strap taught. Whilst it was a little jerky we did manage to get home and all was well, but what is odd is that the engine started perfectly the next day when cold, but still won’t work hot. It will require further fiddling on a sunny afternoon in the near future and until then I shall have to play in one of the other Land Rovers!
Toby has owned his 1948 Land Rover, chassis number R861117, since 1973
and used it to compete in Trials and Comp. Safaris with The Peak & Dukeries LR Club in the 1970’s, The Leicestershire Viking 4x4 Club in the 1990’s and after a ‘sympathetic’ rebuild drove it to Italy and back in 2004. Toby also owns a 1970 Carawagon and a 101 GS. All three of Toby’s children learned to drive in the 80 inch which goes someway to understanding why they get such massive mileage out of brake pads on their own cars now. They grew up thinking brakes were something you never relied on!
The book, simply called Land Rover, by James Taylor is published by Shire Library and will be available with Toby’s Land Rover on the cover later this year.
Toby - 20 Writer and Photographer Peter Ashley explores a few angles on Toby’s venerable 1948 Land Rover in search of the right image for a book cover.
Toby - 26 Gartree Road in Leicestershire offers gentle Green Laning on a road built by The Romans.
Toby - 29. Abandoned! After an hours' fruitless time spent trying to start the 2 litre engine, Toby was forced to leave it and walk out.
Toby - 36. If you have to be towed home, best do it in style! Help was at hand in the form of Jo driving their 1943 Willy’s jeep as ‘Tow Truck’.
Toby - 38. A mock up of the Land Rover book that should hit the shelves this Summer.
Toby Savage. April 2014.
Reproduced by kind permission of Classic Land Rover Magazine.