Big Red

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By Lara Platman

01 January 2018

1964 Series IIA restoration : credit: © Lara Platman

Award-winning photographer and journalist Lara Platman reveals how she painstakingly restored her 1964 Series IIA Land Rover

Travelling at 55 mph down a hill is quite a thrill these days, especially as I am now driving Big Red, my 1964 Series IIA Land Rover. I have just completed an extensive nut and bolt restoration taking one year and nine months, the same time as an elephant takes to give birth I believe. She doesn’t feel like an elephant though, although she has remembered quite a considerable amount of her interesting reactions and noises as she trundles along.

Big red fully-restored

Big Red as you may have noticed, is indeed now Mid Grey, a fact that after many sleepless nights I came to decide upon to be her new and actual original factory colour. I purchased her as Red… well almost, and slightly mouldy green, albeit with these fascinating colours on her body, I fell instantly in love with her after receiving a tweet suggesting I look at this old girl for sale.

 

Original Big Red - in mouldy green! 

I had desperately wanted a Series and knew I could not afford a Series I, and besides my then boyfriend had one of those, I also preferred the curves of the Series II and began my search for something that would not require too much work as I would be the one doing it. Although my mechanic skills are that of being able to service old 1980s Ford Fiestas and Minis – from being forced into a car mechanics night school by my father who insisted that he would not pick me up at 2.00 am if I wanted to drive old cars, so I had better learn how to fix them (and assisting with preparing a 1960s MG Midget race car more recently) – I would indeed be able to do a certain amount under her bonnet.

Finding a Series with a straight body and decent chassis would be another factor. Alas, seeing Big Red, in the rain and in the dark one cold winter’s evening I fell in love, paid and ordered a pick-up truck to bring her home, to discover that although she was straight and her engine was in good order, she wasn’t quite red and her chassis was two inches longer on the right side than the left. Oh and it was missing rather a lot of reinforcement material – such as most of the actual chassis, unfortunately. 

However, with a change of a clutch master cylinder and a simple service, she passed her MoT within a week, and we set off for our love affair, the first stop being Goodwood Revival. Shabby chic I liked to call her as we parked up next to the Bentleys and Aston Martins outside Goodwood House after the now infamous Revival cricket match. I had given Jochen Mass a lift from the cricket pitch to the house, and when I mentioned that my car had an horrific rattle underneath the seat box, the ex-Formula 1 driver replied: “Well, when the rattle stops then you have a problem.”

Looking surprisingly at home parked up at Goodwood 

Other admirers such as an ex-F1 driver and a tractor company owner commented on how relaxed she looked parked up next to the Bentley, which I suppose was a kind reminder that I had ought to run over and turn her wheels or put her brakes on (more) as she was rolling into over a million pounds worth of his metal. 

The actual moment came on the decision to either restore or adore her was when I took a visit to Islay in Scotland where, I had met Andrew and Kathy Wills (grand daughter to Spencer Wilks) at their distillery in Kilchoman, proudly driving around in some very shiny Series I and II vehicles, all driving straight and not crabbing (as Big Red was so fond of), with one colour of paint rather than patches and brakes that would stop. It was time to put Big Red into a program of love and money, whilst applying some Botox on her 52 years of metalwork.

Bring Big Red back to life

You can probably tell that I have already humanised her. Well, having discovered how incontinent she is, how reluctant to obey orders, such as stop at T junctions or please let me have some dry ankles once in a while, I decided she would either appreciate the transformation or be just as obstreperous on completion.

Luckily I live in the next village to Adrian Wynn, an independent Land Rover and vintage vehicle specialist, and deciding that I wanted to do most of the work myself, or at least as much as I possibly could, he devised a scenario where I could work at his garage and be his apprentice (albeit rather annoying and rather slow). We would start with a new galvanised chassis; this is where big decisions are made and big money is spent. The question of ‘for what purpose is this restoration about?’ in the sense of a quick restoration and sell on (bearing in mind no restorations are quick), a car to use (as she was at the moment), or a concourse specimen that would shine for fields and fields with not a backfiring piston in the wind (again doubtful both on money and my patience).

I had decided I would want to use her, and to keep the restoration cheap and short (both of these words to be ignored as soon as they are read). I had aimed for the next Goodwood Revival meeting to be her debut (another sentence to ignore). This meant we had to put in a new galvanised Series III chassis as Richards Chassis had no Series IIs in stock, new brake pipes (would this do the trick at T junctions?) and I would simply put her body back on as there was nothing really that wrong with it. Oh, except the hideous cut out wheel arches, the paint colour and the rotten bulkhead, and the Tropical roof that insisted on dripping water into my neck and cuffs at any given moment. Did I mention the passenger door that preferred to swing open at roundabouts rather than when stationary with a person accompanying the door handle? Not much else really.

Whilst the body was off, here was the decision, I was already using a Series III chassis, so she would be a slight mixer anyway, but aren’t they all?  Do I use this chance to repaint her? Well how hard can it be?

Time. That is how hard it is. Pure and simple. Time. Well, patience and time.

 

Lara stripped and prepared the panels herself before they were painted

Adrian had a good (“it’s too good for your car” he kept telling me) rear tub lying around which I quickly adopted, stripped and began to prepare for a prime coat of paint. This older tub was green so my decision to repaint was made and the sleepless nights of worry of Red or Mid Grey ended. Andy Tilly of Northwick Business Park would be doing my priming and top coats of two-pack, whilst I would be doing all the body preparation. 

I rented a garage, booked off two weeks in the spring and began work on Big Red. I arranged to deliver to Andy at the end of July (still ridiculously thinking Revival was my deadline) and took some examples of my bodywork to show Andy for his approval. 

On an instant first glance of my flattening, it was in fact I that was flattened, to an ant. He said there was not nearly enough elbow grease put into it and he promptly showed me how it was supposed to be done. 

Good things come to those who wait

Though Lara did car mechanics at night school, the resto still proved challenging at times

Visions of Big Red parked up next to the Bentley in the following autumn flew straight in and out of the garage and the realisation of time took its place. My two weeks booked off of work soon ended with just three pieces of metal achieving their flattened status. A whole car in pieces, lay sprawled out across the garage floor and I wonder if my decision to restore was too difficult – purely on a timed basis.

The engine came out to repair gear rings in the clutch

I must add in here that, at some point before this restoration, I had with my ex-boyfriend, repaired the gear rings in the clutch (the noise that Jochen Mass so kindly said to be a good thing). Taking the engine out to do such a task was quite time consuming, so to think that a restoration would be quicker?  I must also add that I sold the roof rack and the Fairey winch, both to aide in the costs for the restoration, but also to take away what was effectively a small child from the front of my car and an aerodynamic catastrophe on the roof! I also swapped the Tropical roof for a full tilt of which I sent off the poles along with all the body’s capping to Arkinstall in Birmingham for galvanising.

Lara admits the bulkhead was put on a bit of a backburner

The bulkhead was to be my Achilles heel, standing triumphantly in the garage, covered with tarpaulin, I was petrified to uncover this beast, the brain of the car and the piece of body that needed the most work. Last to come off and first to go on, so oughtn’t I to deal with this in the first instance?

I often uncovered and covered the plastic to reveal the devastation of footwell in disbelief (from the endless amounts of brake and clutch fluid pouring all over it).  It looked a nightmare. Finally when I asked Adrian for me to help him strip the thing of components, he replaced the rusted sections and welded the B frames ready to get sent to Prostrip in Nottingham for a dip and coat.  We hoped for a smooth return, as there could be more sections to weld, alas, all was perfect and the bulkhead finally went off to Andy Tilley for a paint.

Dash panel fully rebuilt 

The dash panel was actually the most satisfying part of the restoration despite the fact the wiring loom was curlier than my hair. With pizza boxes holding the masking taped loom wires and jewels of instruments firmly in place, this would be fairly a precise part of the rebuild that I could understand.  Speedograph Richfield in Nottingham repaired my fuel gauge and oil capillary, as I was ready to build back up.

The delay of my flattening, and my fear of working on the bulkhead (and my reluctance to work in a garage during the winter without heating), had put the restoration back some considerable time.

Every nut and bolt was put into a container according to it's position on the car 

We did not build the car back up in the black, with a new chassis this was probably more vital than ever, along with the fact that I had put all the nuts and bolts into separate transparent take away plastic cartons, according to their position in the car, I think Adrian grew patience he never new existed. 

We didn’t use sherardised nuts and bolts, something which Adrian would normally use, as my costs were already mounting, However, I was going to be using as many original parts from her that were correct (and reusable) and those that needed replacing would be OEM and correct of period. I soon learnt that Chinese imports were not fit for purpose. 

Lights for my 1964 model were a hard discovery, everyone was trying to sell me the wrong sort (from glass Morris 1000 lamps to round plastic efforts). I soon began to rely on Adrian’s impeccable powers for mastering eBay’s trusted Land Rover OEM parts along with sticking to just one or two suppliers such as Dunsfold DLR, Tim Fry in Cheltenham and Exmoor Trim for my new tilt.

After almost two years the Series IIA is returned to (better than) factory condition

What first started as a slight of fancy became an obsession and every minute of my social life began eating into my working day. After almost two years Big Red reverted back to factory conditions (probably better). Celebrating an MoT pass over a champagne breakfast with my parents, she is once again my daily and my love for her is greater than ever. 

Restoration stats

Type: Series IIA

Engine: 88 inch, 2866 cc

Year of Manufacture 1964

Original colour: Mid Grey 

Colour in 1987: Red 

Colour in 2014: Mostly red

Bought for: £1200 in 2014

Amount spent on restoration (including labour, paint and parts): approximately £8000

Personal labour: approximately 500 hours

Agreed Value (October 2017): £25,000