What's the story?
Every year, Land Rover’s ETO (Engineered To Order) division has a charity day. Usually, that involves the team doing some work at a property or in grounds belonging to whatever charity they’ve chosen, but for 2014 they decided to do something different. When asked for suggestions, one of the ETO team, Graham Harkness, pitched in with what turned out to be the winning idea.
Graham is a volunteer at the Shuttleworth Collection of vintage aircraft, in Bedfordshire – which is run by a charity. One of his duties was to drive the collection’s 1964 Series IIA 109-inch runabout on flying display days.
Despite the registration number painted on this Series IIA, it never did belong to the RAF. The Shuttleworth 109 went straight from the Solihull production line to the Bedfordshire Fire Service and was then later used to provide fire cover at the airfield.
Graham knew the poor old thing was way past its best and heading for the scrapheap, so he suggested that ETO could perhaps give it a new lease of life and rescue it from that fate. It wasn’t going to be a ground-up rebuild, but it would sort out the structure of what had once been a working fire engine and make it look good again. So it was that RAF 7303 arrived at the ETO workshops at Land Rover’s Solihull factory in December 2013.
Some of the work that awaited the team was obvious; there were crudely repaired gashes in some of the panels and the tailgate was missing. A little more investigation revealed that the wiring harness had been bodged over the years and was just waiting to cause a fire. The leaf springs were seized, the seat coverings were past their best, the clutch was in dire need of replacement, and there was more than a little rust on the chassis.
On the day, a corner of the workshop was turned into a restoration bay and everybody pitched in. It was clear everybody was having a great time. Over the next few weeks, the vehicle was worked on in between other ETO tasks, and the 109 was delivered back to Shuttleworth in early March 2014.
Our favourite bit?
‘It’s not often that you get let loose on a grass airstrip with a 50-year-old Land Rover, so I was determined to enjoy myself,’ says James Taylor. ‘Once warm, the old 2.25 petrol engine pulled well. The gearbox was reasonably slick, once I’d remembered there was no synchromesh on first or second – oops!’
‘The ride was comfortable – but then so it should have been after the work done on the springs. This included being soaked in oil for a month to free them off. The brakes, though, weren’t up to much, despite the rebuild with new asbestos-free shoes. I suspect they haven’t bedded in properly yet.’
And the verdict from LRO writer James Taylor?
‘It won’t be providing fire cover for real, in practice it’ll be rushing about the airfield, delivering wheel chocks and pilots. But it will be there, adding subliminally to the message that Land Rovers last. So when you visit one of the Shuttleworth Collection’s flying days, keep an eye open for RAF 7303. It’s still in action because the people at Land Rover are prepared to give up their time to keep one of their classic vehicles in working condition. In my book, that counts for a lot.’
Engine: 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 77bhp at 4250rpm
Torque: 124lb ft at 2500rpm