What's the Story?
Any 80-inch Series I represents an increasingly cherished piece of British heritage. Most have led fascinating lives, but their stories are too often fragmented by a restoration or by messy changes of ownership, rupturing the thread of history that connects the vehicle with the people who built and used them. But not this time. Chris Sales has been taking care of this 1951 Land Rover for 46 years. Its story is intimately tied to the workshops of legendary builder of Carawagon conversions RJ Searle – and the stunning caravan it’s pulling today has a history even longer than its own.
Chris first set eyes on the 80in in 1970 at the Searle dealership where he was working. This would be its first change of ownership since leaving Solihull in 1951. Although the engine would soon be replaced with a later 2.0-litre petrol, it was clearly a cherished vehicle. Chris fancied it, but the salesman encouraged him not to get his hopes up – Mr Searle himself was going to keep this one. And he did, for 10 years before Chris could finally get his hands on the Series I.
Restoring inter-war caravans has been Chris’s passion for decades, but he’d need to call on all his craftsmanship and ingenuity to strip and restore this beautiful 1930s Jubilee. Key sections of the partially rotten ash frame would originally have been steamed and bent into shape, using equipment Chris didn’t have access to. Luckily, skills he’d developed working in a boatyard before joining Searle would see him through, and he made his own curved pieces by bending thinner sheets and laminating them into shape.
Our Favourite Bit?
Chris hooks up the caravan and proves the remarkable strength of that old four-pot with a leisurely drive through the Surrey lanes to the leafy village of Chiddingfold. No surprise that the outfit attracts lots of second glances on the way. ‘These early caravans have a really short A-frame on the front, so you’ve got to be very careful when you’re backing up round a corner. I’ve already clouted it once with the Land Rover,’ confesses Chris. He’s right – you can’t even open the Land Rover’s tailgate when the caravan is on the back.
And the Verdict from LRO?
These days Chris covers about 3000 miles a year with his Series I, mainly attending shows (well, with Goodwood and Dunsfold on the doorstep, it’d be rude not to). He even took part in Land Rover’s spectacular heritage display at the Goodwood Revival in 2015. But he’s also no stranger to a longer haul, having been a familiar face at many a Series I gathering at Talyllyn railway in Gwynedd, often with one of his previous vintage caravans in tow. Next time you’re at Goodwood or Dunsfold and surrounded by Land Rovers, keep an eye out for Chris – chances are he’ll be there, vintage caravan in tow.
Go and say hello. You’ll be glad you did.
This feature appeared in the March 2016 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.