In the final days of Defender production, Land Rover announced plans to restore Series Is. Well, it's happened. This is the first Land Rover Classic-restored 80in, the 'zero' vehicle for the company's new restoration programme at Solihull. And it isn't a one-off. Land Rover has bought 25 Series Is for complete restoration on the old Defender manufacturing site - and all will be for sale.
So, what exactly is happening? We've been granted an exclusive viewing with the vehilcle at Solihull, where we quizzed two key members of the team who built it...
Greg King - Programme engineer Greg has had Land Rovers all his life. He came on a Solihull tour as a teenager, discovered engineering apprenticeships and 'never went home to Devon'.
Michael Bishop - Aussie Michael oversees detail and specification. He was rebuilding and researching 80in Land Rovers while still at school and provided much of the knowledge behind the Celebration Line.
So, to set the ball rolling, Land Rover brought back some old Series Is?
Michael: 'Twenty-five, to be precise. From Australia, Spain, UK, North America - we got them from all over. This one you're looking at is the first to be restored; it's what I call "number zero". The twenty-five, they're about seeing how it goes. Then we'll see...'
But what if customers want their own vehicle restoring?
Michael: 'We could do that. And the level and type of restoration would be what the customer wants. Mechanical parts always have to be done. But it you had a nice original vehicle, would you want to restore it? Some customers might like the bodywork left.'
We hear the restoration team is made up of people from the assembly line...
Michael: 'That's correct. But we've picked the right kind of people, who have the right sort of skills. It's not like assembly-line work - restoration is a very careful and time-consuming process, so you want people with that sort of understanding. We've got people who own Land Rovers and have practical experience, and people who've done Land Rover restoration. We've even got someone who's restored traction engines!'
What can you tell us about this particular Land Rover?
Michael: 'This one's from Queensaand. It was shipped out CKD (completely knocked down) and assembled in Newstead, Brisbane. Later, the amount of locally-made content increased, but at this period almost all the parts were made in England. There are just a few things - the wheels are Aussie, for example. And what about those rivets, Greg?'
Michaek and Greg share a laugh. It turns out that the Aussie assemblers used locally sourced pop-rivets to fix the cappings.
Michael: 'So that's what we've done. We want it to be authentic, so we've used the same rivets - we've gone to the trouble of making it look like it was, when it was built in Queensland. It went to the real outback. It'd really worked hard to years. Out in the outback, it's like the moon! So the Series I was hammered - the terrain is so harsh it literally shook vehicles to pieces. This one's bulkhead was welded to the chassis. But it was authentic and complete. It was a complete strip and rebuild - done here, in the same area where the old engineering shop was in 1948.'
How much can be re-used?
Michael: 'When you take a vehicle apart, everything - hubs, bulkhead, the lot - has to be assessed. And when we assessed the seatbox, we found it was very bad, with lots of splits - so we made a new one here.'
Er, what about this vinyl lettering? Why not signwritten, with paint?
Greg: 'We've been uder a lot of pressure to get this vehicle finished. That vinyl is more about supporting the photoshoot today, so you can see how it will look. It will be sign-written eventually.'
Michael: 'Yes, we'll have it properly sign-written. Things have to be right, look authentic.'
What about parts?
Michael: 'Anything can be made. JLR made six Jaguar Lightweight E-types. Really, there's nothing Land Rover couldn't do, if it wanted to. But... we could only do that if it's sensible. Obviously, we wouldn't make a part if only a few were needed.'
So, you're doing Series Is. what about other Series, the coil-sprung utilities and Range Rover Classic?
Michael: 'None of that has been decided - it's still very early days. But in my opinion, we could do other Series.'
And so we come full circle: Land Rovers returning home to Solihull, and leaving again. This 80-inch is back where it started - rebuilt so that it's as good as new. Land Rover's famous utility vehicle, back in production? In a way - yes, it is.
Where can I read more?
Read the full story in the May 2016 issue of LRO. Current and back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Or order a printed issue by calling 01858 438884. Please note, we only hold stocks of the last three back issues.