At any Land Rover show, it’s hard not to be impressed by the breathtaking quality of some restored Series Is – in many cases, better than new. For me though, these beyond-perfection examples have become a bit inevitable. While I’d love to own an immaculate 1948 80in (who wouldn’t?), this end of the beauty parade is not where my eye is drawn.
My first car was an 86in Series I, bought as a student back in 1989 and rebuilt with more enthusiasm than expertise. I’ve since had an 86in station wagon and an 88in soft top. However, another 86in station wagon really stole my heart – so much so, I actually owned it twice.
I first bought UKN 102 in 2003. It had never been apart – but was very tired. I soon realised there was more work than I had time or resources for, so it was sold to Dunsfold Land Rovers.
I thought a little more, until one day in 2006 it reappeared, for sale on the Dunsfold website. Phil Bashall had lifted the body, and rebuilt the vehicle around a spare chassis and bulkhead. It was effectively good as new, but was still wearing dings, scratches, bumps and its faded grey tones with a quiet dignity. It looked perfect. I scraped together the funds to buy it back, and from 2006 to 2010 it provided the best sort of Land Rover fun – a couple of Heritage runs, across to Tywyn for the Talyllyn, the Chepstow 60th and even a foray to London. But circumstances change, and in 2010 it was sold.
Scroll forward to Father’s Day 2015 and Harewood House Classic Car Show. A quick scan of the Land Rover line-up identified a gorgeous 107in pick-up from 1956, in faded blue – and a ‘For Sale’ note! It still had its original rear crossmember (always a good sign); the pork pie lamps (ditto), and an unusually solid bulkhead. I called the mobile number – what harm could there be? The owner, Richard, was selling to raise funds for another Series I restoration. Inevitably, a deal was done.
Meanwhile, I’d done a bit of homework. OCJ 75 is quite a well-known vehicle – actually, it appears on the home page of the Series One Club’s website (LRSOC.com). It had been restored around 2004 by James McCulloch’s Quothquan Workshop in Scotland. James removed the body, did any necessary repairs, rewired it and put it all back together without touching the body. Timeworn on top, perfect underneath – just as my station wagon had been. James sold it to a new keeper in Dumfriesshire, and from there it migrated to Cumbria and then Yorkshire.
My preference for the patinated look is hard to define, but there’s something in the evidence of years of honest hard work that enhances the inherent character of these vehicles. I love the fact it is a look that has been earned, not bought. Given enough money, any vehicle can be restored to perfection; the effects of natural ageing over six decades are rather harder to acquire. And as for Series I LWB pick-ups – most were worked hard indeed, few survive in this sort of condition.
There’s little I want to do to OCJ, the work done 10 years ago has held up well. But the 7.50 General SAT tyres fitted to it were too aggressive. Soon after purchase, it became apparent that Avon was manufacturing a new batch of correct-pattern Traction Mileage tyres in the correct 7.00 x 16 size. Expensive, but I bought five. They’ve transformed the whole look of the vehicle – not to mention the handling, turning circle and road noise. The ride is still very firm – that’s something I’d like to address in due course. But in the meantime, it will be used gently, enjoyed and further conserved for the future.
This owner review appeared in the February 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.