I have had a love of land rovers since as a small boy my father bought an old short wheel base Series II. I believe it was purchased as an ex-RAF vehicle so the age was always shrouded in mystery; however thanks to the internet it would appear that the car was manufactured in 1961 and first registered in 1970. The registration number was BGK 366H – if anybody knows its whereabouts I would love to see it again. I remember the noise, the length of journeys and the general discomfort, but it was a great car. Although I don’t recall its arrival I know there were a few modifications made: colour change from military khaki to Series cream, windows cut into the rear side panels and the one change which in hind sight was a mistake, the headlights were moved from the grille to the wings and a new Series III grille added.
We had a caravan at the time which was used most weekends as part of the North London Caravan Club. The holiday rallies were always longer journeys which meant hours being shaken around in the back. Originally the rear seats faced inwards in the traditional way, but these were changed to forward facing rear seats. It would appear that the old car was very much ahead of its time!
There were two particular locations I remember well. One was Southwold in Suffolk where the caravans were parked right on the beach; the land rover was often called upon to help pull them out. The other was Eastnor Castle. Not until many years later did I understand the significance of the place but the memory of being driven through the woods on some of the now famous tracks is still with me and was the main reason I was keen to make a return with my own car when the opportunity arose.
Although I always looked out for land rovers both on the road and in pictures and magazines I was never in a position to own one. Increasingly I have driven a high number of miles in my work and as such a thirsty Defender or Discovery was out of the question and money wouldn’t allow a third car in the household. It was not until the Freelander was introduced, coupled with a change in the company car policy at work, that I was finally in a position to buy into the mark. In 2003 I purchased a three door Freelander which I then swapped for a five door in 2005.
On both occasions the cars came with a half day Land Rover Experience session. The first was near Milton Keynes which was a brilliant introduction to what these cars are capable of doing; such as feeling all four wheels spinning on a steep muddy slope and then feeling the electronics cutting in, the wheels finding grip and away, off up the hill and over the top. The second session took me back to Eastnor Castle for the first time since childhood. The place didn’t appear to have changed but this time I was driving; what a treat.
Although the Freelander’s got me driving the mark they didn’t manage to get me into the real world of land rovers. I really enjoyed driving them but the 25K miles a year and associated servicing costs were proving too much, so the car was sold.
Move forward a few years and I am working with John; a keen motor sport enthusiast and, the first year I worked with him, National Autograss Champion. What John and his father don’t know about cars is probably not worth knowing. In talking with John about land rovers and explaining that I couldn’t afford to run one largely due to servicing costs he used the term “it’s only nuts and bolts” for the first time, a phrase that has been repeated many time since, the basic premise being that if I get the right car I should be able to undertake the majority of the servicing myself.
This set me thinking. A few shows were visited and advice sort from people I met which suggested a series land rover would suit my needs and perhaps, mainly because of cost, a series III would be the best of the lot.
In August 2009 I found the ideal car, a 1983 Series III, 88”, 2.25 petrol. Generally in good condition with the advantage of over drive and freewheeling hubs. Another addition, which has had many an admiring comment, is the capstan winch on the front which is driven directly from the engine; yet to be tried by me.
Having got the car it was time to use it. The first opportunity came at the end of September with the Abingdon 4×4 Festival followed by a trip to the Devils Pit pay and play site near Bedford.
Abingdon was a great opportunity to try out the car in a controlled environment and also with one of the marshals sitting in to give tips and advice. I went round the course four or five times gaining experience and confidence each time.
The Devils Pit was a different matter altogether. Very wet, muddy and slippery; at one point I got out of the car to watch someone being rescued from a large hole they were sitting in at a very strange angle, only to find that I could barely stand up! Again the car did everything I asked of it pulling us out of the mud and up some steep inclines.
The winter of 2009 provided the best experience yet. The snow that fell during one afternoon managed to close High Wycombe town centre which provided me with the opportunity to undertake my first rescue mission! Kate and Jean were stuck at the hospital and after about five hours I managed to work my way through all the traffic and get them home. One of the worst hit hills remained closed for several days; but my Series III and I managed it as if there was nothing on the surface at all.
The snow hung around for a few weeks and then returned again after Christmas offering so much 4×4 fun.
The spring saw me undertake the first modification to the car. I had always imaged a soft top and so spanners were found and after several hours the hard top was off. Not a particularly difficult job but so many nuts & bolts.
Having removed the hard top I enjoyed the freedom of driving around with no roof for a couple of months. But a roof was needed.
Not long after buying the car I joined the Series III, 90 & 110 Land Rover Club, May saw us heading to Eastnor Castle for the clubs annual rally. This meant that a new tilt and sticks needed to be fitted. All went together well and a new sand coloured canvas top was purchased and installed ready for the trip to Herefordshire.
It was a great couple of days driving the tracks through the Eastnor Castle parkland and watching people attempt the almost impossible mud runs. Many a recovery was undertaken.
As the first anniversary of ownership approached, so did the need for a new MOT. The appointment was booked and I optimistically left the car to be checked over. It failed! The list of problems wasn’t too long; tyres, exhaust pipe, suspension bushes, a couple of light bulbs needing replacement and a leaking fuel tank. This last item came with a tag of EXTREMELY DANGEROURS!!
Tyres were changed, suspension bushes replaced and new bulbs fitted. The lack of support for the exhaust pipe proved to be a lack of the pipe itself. The old end of the system was cut out and replaced with a shiny new section. The existing support strap being reused. Finally what I thought would be the worst job; replacing the fuel tank. As it turned out the old tank was removed relatively easily, mainly because most of the bolts were no longer attached to anything as the old support out riggers had almost completely rusted away. The new tank was put into position and supported on an old coke crate. Lengths of threaded rod cut to the right length and fitted between the tank and what was left of the outriggers. This proved to be successful and the tank was pulled up into place as the bolts were tightened. All complete a retest was booked. The MOT was passed and a new certificate issued.
All in all it proved to be “Only Nuts and Bolts!”