Barn find Land Rover.
Okay. So I could not resist!
Regular readers of this column may remember that, at the beginning of this year, I spotted an 80 inch Land Rover, abandoned behind a farm in Northamptonshire. I put up a stoic resistance to even enquiring about it, knowing that yet another ‘project’ vehicle was the last thing I needed. The months slipped by and the image of it, a thin coat of mildew on it’s screen, sagging leaf springs and delightfully untouched bodywork, stayed on my mind, luring me into rocky territory like the mythical Siren.
I was down that way again in June and made the fatal error of knocking on the door. Mick, the farmer, had owned it for ten years, with the intention of restoring it, but never got started. Yes, it should go to a new home. Fighting off logic and reason, I bought it and to make it even easier Mick offered to deliver it to my place. The following weekend I went over in my Carawagon to help Mick load it on to his trailer. Winching it on I feared the whole thing would fall apart, the chassis was so rusty. Large piles of rust were dropping off and the springs were firmly bolted to fresh air! Slowly we inched it on, tied it down and hitched the trailer to Mick’s Discovery for the haul home.
Chatting to Mick and his wife about the history of this 1952 Land Rover revealed that it had only had one previous owner, The Reverend William Gibbs, known locally as ‘The Hunting Vicar’ - Rev. Gibbs often had the Land Rover waiting outside church, loaded up with a full horse box and ready for action the moment the congregation filed out, dropping their coins in the collection box. In my garage I took a long hard look over my purchase. It was remarkably straight and even had the remnants of the original traficators at the tops of the screen. It was the rare aluminium bulkhead model, though the steel sections of this had rusted. The engine turned over and had good compression, the petrol pump pumped dirty fuel up to the carb, but I resisted getting it running as this would be better done with new oil and petrol, after a good clean up. I decide, in fact, not to touch it at all for a while, at least until I could find a replacement chassis.
Intrigued by tales of ‘The Hunting Vicar’, I set out to track him down and see if there was any interesting history. He had moved house three times, since his days at the Vicarage, but a letter from me eventually found him and one very wet day this summer we met. I was greeted my a very tall and distinguished man in his late seventies. Aristocratic old school, well spoken and a true gent. He had indeed owned the Land Rover up until 1998, when he sold it to Mick for £100 in pretty good running condition. In it’s prime he had towed a twin horse box all over the County with either two ponies or one Hunter on board. I questioned the ability of such a small Land Rover to pull such a huge weight. “We spent a lot of time in bottom gear” was the logical reply. The country lanes of Northamptonshire would have been a lot quieter in the sixties, of course. It’s final glorious roll was as wedding car to his daughter in 1996 when it was decorated with the usual paraphernalia of such a grand event.
With the weeks dragging on to months and still no progress on the restoration, I began to question my own motives. Was it enough to merely rescue the 80 inch from a certain death, research its history and enjoy the thrill of the discovery and subsequent purchase? I realised that I do not possess the skills, or enthusiasm, for actual hard work with the wire brush and reasoned that it may be better to sell it on to someone more enthusiastic and capable. I advertised it on ebay and was astonished at the number of ‘watchers’ - 165 people were interested. After a flurry of bidding it went to Derek Craigon up in Forfar, Scotland. Derek had been on the lookout for a straight 80 inch as a full restoration project for some time, but his work abroad in the oil Industry, meant he was rarely here to look for one. He came down three days later in a Freelander 11, with twin axle trailer. We gingerly loaded the Land Rover on, Derek agreeing that my description of VERY rusty was accurate! Now it has sold I am delighted it has gone to a good home and am sure Derek will do a great job of restoring this noble old girl with such a distinguished history.
(What I did not include in the article, was that Rev. Gibbs' Brother in Law was Lord Lucan. They served in the Army together and 'Lucky' Lord Lucan would often pop up for a spot of hunting with his old pal, William Gibbs. Sadly, the Reverend is still questioned by Police about Lucan's disapearance way back in 1975).