What's the Story?
It’s a bit like splashing through a deep ford, only more extreme. The water’s up to the front bumper and there are generous splashes of the wet stuff surging from each wheelarch – it’s just that there’s no road or track ahead.
We’re right in the middle of a deep lake, floating on water in a Series IIA. It’s a disconcerting feeling, given the reputation of classic Land Rovers for becoming even less watertight as they grow older – and this particular one is a 52-year-old unrestored example whose buoyancy has rarely been tested before this outing. As its ability to resist leaks is keeping us both from a watery grave, I soon wish I was wearing my wetsuit.
The vehicle is a Series IIA, but a rare and highly unusual one. To give it its full name, it’s an Air Portable General Purpose Series IIA (or APGP to its friends). At the wheel is its best friend (or owner, if you want to be conventional about it) Sébastien Conte – Frenchman, Anglophile, Land Rover obsessive and currently wearing period British Army uniform. But more about him later; right now, I hope he knows what he’s doing.
We may be deep in the Champagne region of north-eastern France, but I’m keen not to end up any deeper. Actually, Sébastien’s APGP is proving a paragon of buoyancy during our bout of jolly boating near Châlons en Champagne, 30 miles from Reims.
In two-wheel drive, the APGP’s progress in the water verges on the almostbrisk, although it’s not proving a particularly manoeuvrable vehicle in the drink. But stick it in low-range four-wheel drive, and the front the water. Operationally, it works as well as the standard set-up, apparently.
Our Favourite Bit
The downside is that you either have to drive the APGP around with a support truck to carry the bulky metal tanks or you fit them before leaving home base (in this case Sébastien’s ‘Land-Vintage’ collection and restoration workshop) as we did. With the flotation tanks fitted, creating traffic jams is guaranteed; a 2.25-litre Series IIA is hardly fleet of foot in any form, and this bulky contraption is more sluggish still.
And the verdict from LRO?
So, he’s been the only owner mad enough to take the plunge in it – once he’d found an alternative to the ‘missing’ airbags and had the arched frames to take the replacement tanks specially made.
It has taken half a decade and an obsessive Frenchman for the APGP to finally be used for its originally intended purpose. I’m honoured to have been along for the ride
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.