Miniature Masterpiece


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Airfix model kit and the 'real' 107 that inspired it : credit: © Craig Pusey
Airfix launched its new 107-inch pick-up last year; we find out how a life-sized example was used as the basis for the kit

Hands up if you’ve ever made an Airfix kit. Everyone at the Dunsfold Collection certainly has. That’s probably why they were so pleased when Airfix called to say that it wanted to make a 1:43-scale plastic kit of a Series I and asked if it could scan the museum’s 107-inch pick-up. Needless to say, the answer was yes, not least because it would be interesting to learn more about how a life-sized vehicle gets turned into a collection of injection-moulded plastic parts.

Beautifully finished Airfix 107 made by Dave Farrow of Somerset. Thanks for allowing us to use your pics, Dave

Everyone’s heard of Airfix, but not many know the history of the company. Remarkably, the story goes back to 1939 when Hungarian refugee, Nicholas Kove, created a company in the UK that manufactured inflated rubber toys. He named it Airfix, apparently inspired by the process of ‘fixing’ the air inside the toy. After the outbreak of the Second World War rubber was needed for more important things, so Mr Kove had to look elsewhere for his inspiration and shifted the company’s focus from ‘air’ to ‘hair’. By 1947, Airfix was the largest manufacturer of pocket combs in the UK.

In 1949, the company was commissioned to produce a pre-assembled promotional model of the Ferguson TE20 tractor, but Kove discovered that assembly was time-consuming and expensive, and eventually the plastic ‘Little Grey Fergie’ was sold in kit form. The first true Airfix kit appeared three years later and was a model of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, and this was followed in 1953 by a kit of the Spitfire, after which (if you’ll pardon the pun) things really took off. Today Airfix is owned by Hornby Hobbies Ltd and sits alongside other familiar brands such as Corgi, Scalextric, Humbrol, and Hornby model railways.

We’re meeting Luke Slaney-Hewitt, the researcher for Airfix who selected RYD 463 for the project and completed the scanning, and Ethan Barker, the product designer who turned the 3D drawings into the tooling that creates the sprue of parts that we are all so familiar with when we open an Airfix kit. I’m keen to hear more about how Dunsfold’s 1954 pick-up ended up in a colourful box with some glue, a paint brush and four little pots of paint.

Final sprue of parts, ready to go into the box

“We wanted to add another vehicle to our Starter Kits range,” Luke tells me. “These are designed for people who are new to the hobby. They are straightforward to assemble with fewer parts than our more complex kits, and come with everything you need already in the box. We have a few vehicles in the range, including the Aston Martin DB5 and the E-Type, but we wanted to offer a different kind of vehicle that is just as iconic and well known. Discussions in the office soon settled on an early Land Rover.

“We wanted to go for something that was unusual and maybe hadn’t been done before it, and we also wanted something that when assembled would be similar in size and proportion to the other vehicles in the range. Research is a key first step in creating a new kit and we wanted to find a real-life vehicle that was unmolested and to factory specification, as well as an owner who is highly knowledgeable about the prototype and knows what they are talking about. With the Dunsfold 107 and Philip Bashall, we got both.

LiDAR scanner and 107 in the old Dunsfold DLR workshops, now repurposed as the Collection museum building

“The first step is to 3D-scan the vehicle, and we did this at Dunsfold. Our LiDAR scanner takes around 104 million readings in each 52-second scan, and we took around 30 separate scans to give a 360-degree perspective on the vehicle, including the underside. Philip’s ramp was a very welcome facility that we were pleased to be able to use. The scans in effect create a massive dot-to-dot series of pictures of the target plus everything else that the lasers can reach, so the first job is to remove the background and all the other unwanted clutter that the laser has picked up, and then mesh all the scans into one master.

All the scans are meshed together into one master…

“The scans are then handed over to the designer,” Ethan continues, “and it’s my job to use the scan data to help create and determine the component parts that will make up the kit. The objective for a starter set is to create the most accurate model possible while not compromising build simplicity. We want to create the best possible introductory experience to the hobby as we can.

…before the designer determines and creates the kit’s component parts...

...which are then laid out to create the most efficient tooling designs (below)

“It can take six months or more from the initial scanning to get to the stage where the final design is signed off, and at this stage we needed to get final approvals from JLR. After that, it then goes to our specialist toolmakers in Hong Kong, who are probably the best in the world at what they do. It can take another six months to develop the final tooling and be ready for production.”

Final tooling is a work of art in its own right

And what of the little Airfix kit’s real-life inspiration? Chassis 47200286 was the 286th utility 107 built, and according to Rover’s production ledgers it was despatched to main dealer Windmill & Lewis Ltd of Bristol on 13 May 1954. These old Rover records need to be taken with a pinch of salt sometimes, as is likely to be the case in this instance, given the DVLA lists the date of first registration as 12 May.

Arguably the most attractive of all the Series I models. We certainly think so...

​​​​​​Nothing is known about RYD 463’s history for the first 30 years of its life, because none of its early owners kept the original logbook. When the DVLA centralised and computerised the UK vehicle registration system in the 1970s, the only available document for RYD was a continuation logbook, which had been issued when the previous one had become full. The DVLA records therefore show the first owner as dating from November 1983, when the first new-style V5 was issued.

At that time the 107 was registered to Clarendon Garage in Weston-super-Mare. A surviving MoT certificate from 1988 shows that it had only covered 43,980 miles despite being almost 34 years old. In February 1989, the vehicle changed hands and moved to Todmorden in West Yorkshire, where it became part of a collection of early Land Rovers owned by Christopher Cryer which included a 1948 80-inch, a 1956 107, and a 1957 109, all of which were fully restored.

Series I engine bay is always a delight to see

In the July 1989 issue of LRO magazine, all three were offered for sale together with RYD 463, which was described as unrestored with 45,231 miles on the clock. LRO’s John Cornwell claimed that it ‘was evidently a Land Rover Ltd show vehicle and had a blue painted chassis’.

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It was bought by Phil Surtees for £2250 and was the subject of a brief article by Robert Ivins in the July 1990 edition of LRO, in which Rob praised its remarkable originality and low mileage, while also mentioning the fact that the 107 wasn’t a big seller back in the day and had a turning circle to rival a supertanker. Happily, since then the 107 has seen a huge rise in popularity, not least because it is significantly rarer than its short wheelbase siblings, and cheaper to buy.

Blue chassis and pale grey body is undeniably an attractive combo

​​​​​​Phil Surtees displayed the 107 at the Bakewell Show in 1993, and this is the first time we read about specific claims that RYD 463 had been exhibited at the Royal Show and the Bath and West Show in 1954. The judge at the Bakewell Show was impressed enough to give the 107 third place in the Vintage Land Rover Class, as well as the Judge’s Special Rosette for the vehicle he would have liked to take home with him.

Wheels painted to match

Around this time, the 107 is thought to have joined Robert Ivins’ Land Rover collection, but in February 1996 it is recorded as being owned by a lady in Stoke-on-Trent. Two-and-a-half years later it was bought by Alan Wheelwright of Halifax, nephew of the highly regarded Series I restorer, Ken Wheelwright. MoT records show that in June 1998 the 107 had only driven 51,516 miles.

The 107 as it was acquired by Dunsfold in 2010

It remained in storage for the next 12 years until March 2010, when it was acquired by Philip Bashall for the Dunsfold Collection. “Unfortunately, the 107 had suffered considerably due to poor storage,” Philip explains. “We had hoped to be able to retain its original paint, although it was rather tatty, but close examination showed that the body had been given a blow-over at some stage. We knew we had to replace the bulkhead and deal with a number of other issues, and the chassis was suffering from surface rust and really needed to be blasted, primed and painted. We decided to dismantle the vehicle and go for a more thorough renovation, including new paint.

Tidy interior hid a multitude of bulkhead horrors

“We started work on it as soon as we had it back at Dunsfold. No welding was needed and we were able to preserve almost all of its originality, including the important things that are unique to the early production 107s such as the rear D lamps, the black panel on the right-hand front wing for the hand-painted registration number, and the lack of a rail on the truck cab for a tilt. Many people don’t know that the blue chassis and wheels were the standard factory paint job on the early 107s, and the combination of these and the pale grey body certainly makes it stand out. The renovation took two months and was finished by the end of April, when it sailed through its MoT with a recorded 51,627 miles.

Series I owners know howimportant a soft key fob is, if they want to avoid scaratches on the instrument panel

“RYD 463 has been a regular participant in Series I club events since we acquired it and has also been to several Land Rover events on the Continent, flying the flag for the Collection. We fitted an overdrive to give it slightly longer legs, but we didn’t want to cut the tunnel, so the lever is through the PTO hole.”

Back at Dunsfold after its trip to the Hebrides in 2015

​​​​​​JLR has hired it on several occasions for media events, most notably in August 2015, when it was one of a number of classic Land Rovers taken to the Hebridean Isle of Islay for the press to drive as part of the launch of the Defender Heritage Edition.

It was displayed at JLR’s event at Packington Park in 2013 that celebrated the 65th anniversary of Land Rover and was also part of the 70th, when it joined JLR’s global World Land Rover Day celebration on 30 April 2018. It was one of a number of Dunsfold vehicles that were driven by journalists from Solihull to JLR Classic at Ryton, where there was a commemorative event that was filmed and broadcast around the world later that day.

107 at home in the wilds… of Surrey!

The Islay event, the 65th at Packington, and the 70th at World Land Rover Day were, of course, organised and hosted by JLR back in the day when the company went out of its way to celebrate its Land Rover brand, rather than bury it or pretend it never existed…

Because of its factory-spec originality, RYD 463 is also recognised as something of a ‘reference’ vehicle for researchers and restorers and also has featured in James Taylor’s Original Land Rover Series I books over the years.

Box pic features wrong reg number

Some of you may have noticed that the registration number of the vehicle depicted in the Airfix box-art is RYD 436, while Dunsfold’s full-size vehicle is 463. Luke confesses that this is a mistake and points out that the decals included with the kit are correct and read RYD 463. The box-art error will be put right and, as Luke points out with a knowing smile, this might mean that an unmade mint-in-box kit with the incorrect registration number in the box-art just might become a future collectable. I’ll leave mine unopened then!


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