06 June 2023
Not many people would take on a project that is more resurrection than restoration, but Mike Read had 30 years to think about this one…
In March last year, Mike Read bought a Land Rover, 30 years after he first saw it parked in a field in northeast Scotland. The story of how he and his son, Tom, came to co-own this 1949 Series I is fascinating, and just goes to show that sometimes perseverance pays off.
“I was brought up with P4 Rovers and Land Rovers,” Mike tells me. “My elder brother had a Series I trialler in the 1980s and I decided I wanted to have a go as well, so I kept my eyes open as I travelled around farms in East Anglia, as part of my job with Hoechst running field trials of new crop protection products.
“In 1985 I spotted a wreck in a field at the back of a house at Holbeach St Johns, north of Wisbech. It was a 1953 80in with no engine, windscreen or doors, but the chassis looked reasonably sound. Anyway, I bought it for £80 and within a few weeks I had it running as a trialler with a rather tired 2.0-litre engine installed.
Mike trialling in his 1953 80in with the Breckland club
“I joined the Breckland Land Rover Club in 1986 and very quickly realised that to be competitive in RTV trials I needed a better engine, so I fitted one from a Rover 60 with the alloy cylinder head, SU carburettor and tuned exhaust. I still have this car, originally registered as NVO 781 but now PSJ 844, and my son Tom and I have had a lot of success in both local and national competitions over the years.
“We have strengthened the chassis and fitted longer spring hangers and a 109in front axle with wider wheels, and it has an 86in steering box, fabricated fuel tank in the rear and a full roll cage. In the club, competing against all classes of Land Rover during the years from 2003 to 2014, we’ve had over 40 top-three placings in Class 1 80in Standard events. We haven’t done much in the last four years. The poor old girl has been rolled probably 15 times, mainly by me, as Tom is a better driver.
And here’s one he made earlier… Mike still regrets selling his 1948 80in
“Soon after I bought the 80, I stopped to look at a Rover P4 for sale in a garage on the outskirts of Wisbech, and got into a conversation with the owner who told me he had an old Land Rover for sale round the back. I took a quick look at what I thought was another 1953 SI, as it had a later front panel with exposed headlamps and T grille. I thought it would be good for spares and offered him £45, which he took very quickly.
“When I got it home, I found somebody had put a later front panel on the car and that the brass plaque on the bulkhead said it was a 1948 model, chassis number R8661712, so I decided that as this was such an early example it had to be restored. Six years later, with its original registration number retrieved, EKG 41 was back on the road and in near concours condition.
“I learnt a lot from this, my first restoration, and having run it for a couple of years decided that I wanted to do another. As I had always wanted a Jaguar XK150, I swapped the beautiful Series I for a wreck of an XK150 from the USA, which then took 11 years to restore, but that is another story… EKG 41 ended up in America and I have always regretted selling it, but I would never have been able to afford the Jaguar otherwise.
“As I neared the end of the restoration of EKG 41 in 1991, I had a telephone call from a colleague who was based near Aberdeen. He knew I was into old Land Rovers and told me he’d spotted one near Inverurie, northwest of Aberdeen, in a field behind an agricultural contractor’s bungalow. He sent me a photograph and I was excited to see another lights-behind-the-grille model. I asked my colleague to speak to the owner, who was clearly a hoarder, and the answer came back that yes, he might be persuaded to sell it.
“In 1992 I had to go to Aberdeen on business and decided to call in to see the Land Rover. I met the owner, Jock, who was in his fifties. He said he had owned the vehicle for around 30 years and that it had not moved for the last 20. I had a look at it. The top of the bulkhead was rotten, the chassis was going, but the body was nice and straight, and it had what looked like the original 1600 engine. I made him an offer, which he said he would think about, and he showed me around the rest of his collection which included a number of Series IIA vehicles, a few grey Ferguson tractors and a Field Marshall tractor, which was at least in a shed.
“I ended up ringing Jock roughly every six months for the next 20 years. We always had a nice conversation, but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to part with the SI. In 2012 I decided to have one last go and wrote Jock a letter with my final offer. I rang him some days later and he said yes, he would accept it. I immediately booked a B&B on the outskirts of Aberdeen and got the trailer ready for the long drive north. I rang him again the day before I was due to leave and, astonishingly, he told me he had changed his mind! Very frustrated, I gave up.
This sight would deter most restorers, but not Mike
“Ten years later, in March 2022, I missed a call from a mobile number. I rarely ring back numbers that I don’t recognise but for some reason, this time I did. The conversation went as follows: “Hello, is that Mike?” “Yes,” I said. “My name is Ron. You don’t know me, but you may remember my father, Jock. He passed away a few weeks ago and my mother found the letter you wrote to him in 2012. Do you still want to buy the Land Rover?”
“So, after 30 years of trying, I finally got the chance, and although I have a number of other restoration projects on the go, I had to say yes. My son Tom, who also owns an 86in, decided to go halves with me and on 29 March we set off on the ten-hour drive to Inverurie with our heavy-duty trailer. I spoke to Ron when we arrived and told him we were keen to get the Land Rover loaded as soon as possible in the morning, as it was going to be a long, steady journey back to Norfolk. I had also arranged with him that a telehandler would be available as I was concerned that after 50 years of being outside, the chassis would not be up to being winched onto the trailer.
Telehandler recovers the 80in from its resting place for over 40 years
“We arrived at Meikle Wartle at 8.00am and it was snowing. When we inspected the chassis it was clearly rotten and needless to say the bulkhead was a great deal worse than when I last saw it in 1992. It was also in a boggy area and over the years had sunk up to the axles. The first job was to drag it up a slope as Ron was concerned the teleporter would also sink if it went too close to the Series I.
“We spent half an hour digging around the wheels and then fixed a steel hawser from the front, completely under the car and fastened it to the rear tow hitch, because if we had fixed it to the front I have absolutely no doubt that it would have pulled the car in two.
“To my amazement the JCB managed to drag it 20 metres up the slope, still in one piece, and with one rear wheel actually turning. Fortunately Tom had the foresight to bring with us some lengths of 3x2 timber, a box of long screws and his power saw and screwdriver.
The 80 broke its back on the long drive from Scotland to Norfolk
“We inserted two lengths of wood from the front spring hangers to the rear ones. Ron on the teleporter got the forks under the lengths of wood and managed to lift the Series I up, and gingerly plonk it on the trailer. Remarkably, the vehicle was still in one piece. Tom then made up a supporting frame which he screwed down to the wooden floor of the trailer. We also put some wood around the back of the trailer bed to try to hold all the rust from dropping off the back.
Not for the faint-hearted, but Mike and Tom relish a challenge
“Around 10.30am we started back south with our precious cargo, after saying goodbye to Ron and his mother, who remembered me from 1992. We had some photos, the original buff logbook, and my letter from 2012. Not much of a history file. Ron, who was in his fifties, also told me that the Series I had been in the same place since he was a small boy and that he thought Jock, his father, had purchased it from a local garage, the Ellon Motor Works, in the 1960s. The vehicle still has the phone number for the garage on the back of the hard top.
A lot of the chassis was lying on the trailer bed by the time Mike arrived home
There was a chassis here once…
“It took us 11 hours to get home. We didn’t lose anything, although during the journey the chassis broke in half and the gearbox dropped onto the trailer bed. Since getting it home, I’ve completely dismantled the vehicle. The only part of the chassis that can be salvaged is the rear drawbar, which was handy as a farmer friend who has a 1950 Series I happened to have a spare 1950 chassis. We bought it, repaired the rear drawbar and welded it on, as they were in 1949. I have also fabricated four fishplates to modify the dumb irons as original, and where necessary repaired holes in the chassis. It is now nearly finished and painted in Bronze Green.
The rusty remains of the bulkhead
“The bulkhead was beyond help, so we bought an original 1952 bulkhead which has had some refabrication, and we’re repairing this and fitting new sidelight pods. The bodywork was all in pretty good condition and very straight, although at some point I think it had a crane in the back, as two-thirds of the rear floor has been cut away and subsequently covered in a thick sheet of steel. Luckily, I found a 1949 floor in Ireland on eBay and that has been riveted in.
Mike and Tom are confident the original engine can be restored
“I have repaired the front wings using grey Sikaflex to glue in three patches where there were holes from wing mirrors, and also put strengthening pieces made from scrap Birmabright on the inside of the vertical rear of the wings where they bolt to the bulkhead. When the car broke in half on the way down the A1 the bolts were pulled through the wings!
Tom with the engine and gearbox out
“The windscreen, front panel and grille are sound, and I have bought an early tailgate. The radiator with its 5/49 brass disc needed a repair to one strap at the bottom. It’s been pressure-tested and is perfect. The axles have been sandblasted and although badly pitted we hope they will be okay. The engine and gearbox are original but we have not started working on them yet, although all ancillaries have been removed and the bores filled with diesel.
Mike with panels from LYA 371. Note the Jaguar prints on the wall
“With the help of Land Rover Register secretary Andrew Munden, and Mick Burn, the Series One Club registrar, I now have a V5C for the car with its original Somerset registration, LYA 371. We’ve also decided to go for the patina look and leave the bodywork and the remains of the signwriting as untouched as possible.”
Mike hopes to complete the project by 2024 and we look forward to seeing it on the LRM website over the coming months, as the resurrection continues.
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