Winding the clock back.
Driving a 1959 Series 2 home after a lengthy rebuild.
Stepping into the driving seat of his Series 2 Land Rover for the first time, my friend Steve Whiston did what most car drivers do and reached for the seat belt. Of course, there wasn’t one! The cultural shift from his BMW to an old Land Rover was clearly going to be quite a challenge and the drive from Matlock, where the 1959 retired farm truck had been renovated, to Salisbury Plain, where Steve lived, was going to be a steep learning curve. No power assistance, little in the way of synchromesh and handling that falls far short of the Ultimate Driving Machine were just some of the foibles Steve was going to have to adjust to in order to fulfil his dream of using the old Land Rover.
The story started a couple of years ago when Steve’s father in law, a Dorset farmer, passed away. In the barn was his Land Rover, bought new in 1959 and used throughout it’s life as farm hack. Standing outside for most of that time it had acquired a patina that cannot be bought, panels devoid of paint and seats covered with fertiliser bags! The sympathetic restoration kept all of this history, but made the old girl useable and roadworthy.
I offered to join Steve on the 180 mile inaugural journey, on the grounds that he may need a hand and it would be a bit of fun! To establish a theme we decided to dress as gentleman farmers going to market and only use roads that would have existed in the 50’s! This largely consisted of The Fosse Way, conveniently linking Cotswold Market towns, then a selection of arterial roads southeast across The Marlborough Downs and on to Salisbury Plain.
The weather could have been kinder to us, with a light drizzle enforcing use of the rather feeble wipers, the blades pretending to clear moisture from the screen. Steve took the first stint to a chorus of crashed gear changes whilst practicing his double declutching skills. The engine had a worrying rumble from the bottom end - the legacy of a full farmers service history* and the combined noises of a thousand 50 year old moving parts reverberated through the aluminium bodywork. Yet, despite these misgivings we were able to maintain a steady 50 mph as we made our way south towards our first coffee stop at Moreton in Marsh.
In period costume Steve and Toby pause on the Fosseway to discuss the route.
Over coffee and toasted teacakes we were, at last, able to chat at normal volume, though our ears were still ringing from the last 50 miles! We reasoned that this may well be the longest journey this particular Land Rover had ever undertaken. It had previously been registered as a farm vehicle and restricted to short journeys around the village in exchange for a zero road tax rate. Changing the status had been quite a headache for Steve, not helped by a lack of evidence of legal ownership.
Refreshed, we hit the road, pottering through delightful Cotswold villages at a pace more suited to our mode of transport. The weather had improved and we were able to perch our elbows on the lower window channel in true ‘farmer’ style, whilst Steve’s brogues played a tune on the pedals! Real farms flashed by, Friesians grazing on damp grass and tractors starting to plough stubble fields.
These pumps would have been the heart of the farming community back in 1958. Sadly defunct now.
As the road climbed up onto the Marlborough Downs, so the temperature gauge indicated the extra work the 2.25 litre petrol engine was having to do. A quick check under the bonnet revealed all was okay, she was just a little warm. The run down the other side restored the norm as we rumbled into Collingbourne Ducis at the northern edge of Salisbury Plain and within striking distance of our destination. Steve had now mastered the machine and was performing perfect down changes from third to second - always a tricky one, and throwing the old Land Rover around bends like a sports car! He was so at home behind the wheel and declined several offers to swap of drivers.
As we pulled onto his drive some 10 hours after leaving Matlock we felt great pride for the Land Rover having accomplished a journey Steve would normally complete in a third of the time, but with far less adventure. The original engine had performed well, despite the ominous rumbling and had used a couple of tankfuls of petrol and a little oil, but now safely parked outside Steve’s house the most it will have to do in the future is take Steve, his family and a couple of lively dogs up onto The Plain for walks on sunny Sunday afternoons. A fitting retirement for an historic family Land Rover
*None! Prior to the refurbishment it had probably been run on the same oil since the 1970’s.
Copyright Toby Savage.