Woodland 101


01 February 2024
We introduced Ben Marston in last month’s LRM after we bumped into him and his impressive 101 Forward Control at the Ultimate Callout Challenge. Now it’s time to find out more…

Ben has always been a big fan of the Forward Control

I’ve always fancied a 101,” 26-year old Ben Marston tells me as he climbs up into the cab and fires up the glorious, burbling V8. “I think the Forward Control makes a great pair with my Lightweight, even if it is pretty wacky and looks like it was dreamed up by Land Rover’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party department!”

Soon, snapper Craig and I are following Ben and the 101 through the floodwaters left by Storm Babet, as we head towards Cannock Chase for our photoshoot. The 101 wades through everything without a second thought, although mere mortals in ordinary cars are significantly more cautious as they watch the 101’s tsunami-sized bow-wave surging towards them.

An empty track and plenty of floodwater meant it was time to play!

Cannock Chase, located between Walsall and Stafford, is 26 square miles of ancient woodland and heathland. It used to be a Royal Forest, but nowadays it’s managed by Forestry England and is a hugely popular recreational amenity for the people in the surrounding area. As we drive into the Chase we pass plenty of overflowing car parks, as well as the visitor centre, and the place is heaving with weekend hikers, dog walkers, ramblers, families and mountain bikers.

Ben lives in Cannock, though, and as a local boy he knows exactly where to go to get away from the madding crowd. He has a woodland track in mind for the photoshoot and it turns out to be perfect, a haven of peace and solitude. Until we arrive with a V8-powered 101, that is.

Initial dismantling underway. It’s to Ben’s credit that he saw the potential and ensured the 101’s survival

“I bought it in January 2022,” Ben tells me, as Craig gets to work with the camera. “It was a driveable rolling chassis with a homemade cab and no rear bodywork. I bought it from my mate Nathan, who’d originally acquired it in 2021 to use as a spares source for his 101 ambulance restoration. Nathan bought the ambulance from a guy in Nottingham who’d bought it several years earlier from an owner on the Shetland Islands, where it had sat in the open for a long time. It’s quite a well-known vehicle in 101 circles and is known as ‘Winnie the 101’.

“Anyway, when I saw the spares donor, I told Nathan I thought it was much too good to break, despite the fact that it had no rear body, a homemade cab and a Perkins diesel engine. Nathan agreed, and decided he’d restore it as well as Winnie. He sourced a V8 that had been fitted to another 101 ambulance and replaced the Perkins in the donor with it, but he didn’t really do much more.  

Perkins diesel replaced with a V8

 “And that’s when I took it on. The owner before Nathan was apparently a farmer named Derrick, and he must have been into drain cleaning or something similar because he’d fitted an industrial jetting system on the back, powered by the PTO. I imagine he fitted the Perkins as well, and probably fabricated the DIY cab complete with an amber flashing light.

“The vehicle is chassis number 23 so it’s quite an early 101,” Ben reveals. “I was keen to see what I could find out about its military service history and have discovered that it was built as a left-hand drive 24v General Service gun tractor. It was sent to Marshalls of Cambridge in December 1978 to have a hard top body fitted and went back to them in April 1980 for conversion to a radio communications vehicle. It was then sent to Hunting Hivolt for the electrical fit-out. In May 1981 it was issued to 7 Signals Regiment and was eventually struck-off in February 1994 at Mönchengladbach in Germany.

The codes on the chassis plate reveal the change from rear body to hard top while in service

“The body changes are confirmed on the contract plate on the side of the engine cover in the passenger footwell, where the original 1850 code relating to the GS body has been overstamped and replaced with 1834 which signifies the hard top body. The 5750 code means it is left-hand drive.

“After it was de-mobbed, it ended up with Leavesley International of Burton-upon-Trent, and they apparently removed the hard top body and sold it to someone in Cyprus. I believe that was when Derrick the farmer bought the rolling chassis and kitted it out with the jetting gear and the homemade cab.

The 101 is purposeful and impressive from all angles

Distinctive 101 rear bumperettes

“I decided I would rebuild it as a GS truck and even before I started, I knew that it wasn’t going to be painted the usual Bronze Green or camo. My earliest Land Rover memories are off-roading with my dad, Neil, in his Lightweight, which is now mine. Back in the day the Lightweight was painted in a sand colour, and I decided the 101 would be painted in that colour, too.

“As well as restoring what I had in terms of the 101, I also had to source all the things that were missing, including all the rear bodywork, the doors, the nose cone, fuel tank and so on. Or to put it another way, I required another entire 101 minus the chassis, engine, gearbox, axles and underpinnings.

Ben had to replicate the jerry can stowage rack, which at 10mpg is a handy thing to have

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Keeping your main fuel tank safe is also an important consideration with a V8 101

“Finding everything I needed was a real challenge and I sourced parts from all over the country, from Scotland to Kent. Antonio Felipes in Boston, Lincolnshire was a massive help, as was Martin at Forward Control specialist 101 Parts in Leicester.

“I did most of the work myself, including the chassis welding, although I decided to get the painting done professionally, and trailered the 101 behind my classic Range Rover to a specialist in Lincoln. They did a brilliant bare metal respray. There’s no filler anywhere and I think it must be one of the straightest 101s out there.

Original Matt Lee 16-inch rims and Michelin XML rubber are an impressive combination

“I decided to fit bigger tyres and managed to get hold of a set of original 101 16-inch wheel rims made by Matt Lee. It took me a long time to persuade the owner to sell them to me, but it was worth the wait and the expense because I don’t think the replicas that you can find are as good. I’ve been offered four-figure sums for them! They’re fitted with Michelin XML 325/85 tyres.

“The LT95 gearbox has high-range gears from an original Range Rover and at the moment the engine can’t cope with fourth gear, so I need to swap the gears back to original spec. I’ve also fitted a Fairey overdrive. One thing I’d like to find is a PTO-driven Nokken capstan winch. Some 101s were equipped with these from new and they were mounted on the chassis in the centre of the vehicle, allowing winching from either the front or rear. They’re very rare items and hard to come by, and consequently command big money.”

A Forward Control cab is always a wonderful space

Snapper Craig is just finishing the photography and we have time to take some video for the LRM YouTube channel, and I sit back to watch and listen to the 101 as Ben makes a few passes back and forth along the woodland track, its V8 echoing through the trees. The Forward Control really does look and sound magnificent.

Original military details faithfully preserved

Back at Ben’s house I spy his Lightweight and a classic Range Rover in the back garden. It’s difficult to miss the Lightweight, mainly because the sand paint that inspired Ben’s colour choice for the 101 has been replaced by bright orange. It’s also noticeably bigger than your average Lightweight and has a lot more presence. It’s obvious that Ben has a liking for big wheels because all three of his Land Rovers have them.

Ben’s Lightweight and classic four-door Range Rover

​​​​​​“As well as off-roading in the Lightweight with my dad when I was a kid, we’d also go greenlaning in it and went to quite a few pay and play days. I learned to drive in it, and when I was 16, I asked dad if I could have it. It needed quite a bit of work by then and dad said yes, as long as I rebuilt it.

“So that’s what I did. Dad had already fitted a 200Tdi engine and I kept that. It was my first rebuild and I ended up welding the chassis and repairing the bulkhead. I upgraded the interior and made a huge number of other changes, including painting it orange. People often ask me why I chose that colour, and the answer is that I was a big fan of the Dukes of Hazzard TV show when I was a kid. We had half a Lightweight in store and I used that for many of the parts I needed for the rebuild, but we kept the rest of the donor Lightweight, and dad and I are now rebuilding that one as well.

“I bought the Range Rover four-door from a mate who is a professional welder. He gave up on his plan to get it back on the road, because it needed too much welding. I bought it in January 2020 with the intention of rebuilding it as my daily driver. It was finished in October that year, and since then I have been using it most days to drive to and from work.

“I always impose aggressive deadlines on myself when it comes to my projects and I’ve not missed one yet, even though they all end up forcing me to work until midnight most days to get the job done.

The quality and attention to detail of Ben’s workmanship is evident everywhere

“When I started the 101 restoration, I set myself a very ambitious schedule and I was determined to take it to this year’s Billing Show on the first weekend of July. It was finished the day before the event, and I only had time for a quick 20-mile test drive before hitching-up my camping trailer and setting off. I also took it to the second Ultimate Callout Challenge UK at motorsport specialist Shropshire Automotive Services. It was predicted to turn out about 73bhp on the rolling road dyno and I was really shocked when it delivered 152. I want to put a better camshaft in it next.

“Dad and I also planned to drive it to Belgium to attend the Opheers Leafers Land Rover meet, but in the end we went in the 200Tdi Lightweight – 75mph and 29mpg easily trumped the 60mph and 10mpg the 101 would have delivered. I’ve tried as hard as I can, but I’ve never managed more that 11mpg in it. It’s the only downside to owning a Forward Control.”

See also Ben's video on our YouTube channel, and the LRM Dyno shootout feature that Ben and his 101 appeared in.


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