What’s the story?
As a baby, Michael Purcell burbled away happily to himself, blissfully unaware of just how precariously he was balancing on the wing of a Range Rover Classic while his dad tinkered under the bonnet.
Bedtime reading wasn’t Thomas the Tank Engine, it was a Haynes manual; and by the time he was at nursery Michael could recite the firing order of a big V8. His dad, Andy, a construction engineer, had a lifelong love of Land Rovers; his grandad worked for Haynes; and his great grandad was an engineer. Michael’s first memories of things mechanical were testing the spark of a vintage tractor magneto – if it went up to his elbow, the engine would start. No wonder he remembers that.
By the age of 11, Michael was already helping his father solve all manner of engineering problems, including installing a V8 into a Series IIA and converting a seven-ton, eight wheel MWB ATV from auto to manual.
Andy plays bass trombone with Reeth Brass Band in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, but he’s not the most celebrated musician in the family’s history: his great great great grandfather several times removed was the celebrated British composer, Henry Purcell.
Although Land Rovers are right up there with music in Michael’s greatest interests, it was out of near tragedy and necessity that the mechanical engineer was finally prompted into rebuilding his own Ninety – at a cost of some £17,000 for the parts alone.
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I bought a Td5-style new galvanised chassis and painted it black. We got Range Rover axles and rebuilt from there, with new, zinc-plated bolts throughout and everything painted – even inside the wings, which are plastic. Everything is colour-coded black and yellow.’
Everything that could be renewed was renewed, modified to fit and improved.
‘It’s probably better built than anything that has come out of the Land Rover factory and I can’t begin to calculate the hours I’ve spent on it,’ he says. ‘It took me only three days to strip it right down but it must have taken more than a year to complete the rebuild.’
The clubman engine – painted yellow, of course – has a new block with a modified steel crank, JE101 high-lift cam, stage-three racing heads, Vernier timing gears, Edelbrock/Weber four-barrel carburettor, modified distributor, Magnecore HT leads and Denso high-temp spark plugs. Janspeed tubular manifolds and Y-branch lead to a custom-designed rear exhaust in three-inch, marine-grade stainless steel.
‘That was a bit tricky as I had to take off the rear body tub and hold all the bends in place with bits of metal before tack-welding them and then welding it up properly before putting it back on again. This needed to be done before the rear body tub was replaced.
And the verdict?
‘Owning a Land Rover is always a love-hate thing,’ says Michael. ‘One minute you love them, the next the engine dies.
‘But I wanted to build something different; something high-quality. A lot of people just throw them together but I wanted it doing right. I always planned to build it to last – and it’s been worth it.
‘I feel that I’ve created something unique that always generates a crowd. One time, I parked it right next to a new Aston Martin – and no one even looked at the Aston.’
This feature appeared in the November 2011 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.