27 May 2023
Nick Dimbleby meets Charles Shortt to take a look at his most recent acquisition: a fully restored and intelligently updated Suffix C Range Rover
Back in the early 1990s I owned a 1978 Suffix F Range Rover that I bought for less than a thousand pounds. For the next 12 months I spent a considerable amount of time and money making that vehicle look as much like a new Range Rover as possible. Nationwide Trim installed a new interior in factory standard grey velour, the exterior was repainted in Ascot Green and I replaced the original bonnet-mounted mirrors for the latest fold-out versions that fitted in front of the two-door’s quarterlights using a custom-made bracket.
That Range Rover – which was affectionately known as Camel – was transformed from rusty wreck to tidy vehicle by fitting new parts, and I enjoyed driving it for a couple of years before swapping it for TEW 78X, the 100in hybrid that I still own today.
Looking back now, what I did to Camel back in the early ’90s would be seen as sacrilegious today. Early Range Rovers are cherished for their simple originality, with many contemporary specialists doing the reverse of what I did 30 years ago. I tried to make an old car look as modern as possible, whereas companies today change late model two-doors into early 1970s look-alikes by fitting old-style grilles, silver bumpers and painting the rear D-pillar the body colour. Plus ça change.
New owner Charles Shortt takes to the wheel for the first time. The grin on his face says it all
The Range Rover you see on these pages is another variation on this theme: it’s a 1974 Australian-market Suffix C that has been beautifully restored to appear as it did when it left the showroom (if not better). Externally it looks like a standard early Range Rover, whereas on the inside it’s an interesting mix of old and new. The seats are trimmed in leather, using a similar pattern to the original ‘KitKat’ vinyl seats, whilst the centre console features a later automatic shifter and cubby box. The headlining is finished in Alcantara, and there’s air conditioning and a DAB radio. Underneath the bonnet you’ll find a 4.8-litre reworked V8 – it’s safe to say this is no ordinary Suffix C Range Rover.
Our story begins in late 2018 when Land Rover collector Denys Shortt visited David d’Arcy’s Land Rover Heaven in Australia. For years David has been rescuing old and unloved Land Rovers from remote parts of Australia, trailering them to his property in New South Wales. Although David specialises in early Series vehicles, every now and again he finds an unmolested and relatively rust-free Range Rover and brings it back to his yard. Denys happened to see this particular vehicle when he visited David’s place, but initially dismissed it as he tends to prefer Series vehicles and later Defenders for his collection.
Phase one of the rebuild: the original Australian Range Rover is stripped down in ACH Classic’s workshop
It was Denys’ son Charles who finally persuaded his dad that they should take the plunge and buy the Range Rover. Charlie felt that a Range Rover would be a fine addition to the Shortt collection, so he put his money where his mouth was, the deal was done and the Range Rover was placed into a container to make the long journey north to the other side of the world. It eventually cleared customs and arrived at Denys and Charlie’s workshop in July 2019.
Once safely imported into the UK it was time to make some plans, and at this point David Atkinson from ACH Classic was commissioned to do the work. “Whilst discussing the various options, David quickly told us that we might like the look of a 1970s classic Range Rover,” recalls Charlie. “But we wouldn’t necessarily like the drive of a 1970s classic Range Rover.” As this was very much a vehicle that was going to be driven as well as admired, Denys and Charlie decided to go for a mild restomod, specifying the fitment of a modified mid-1990s Range Rover powertrain, the heart of which is a bored-out 4.8-litre V8 mated to a four-speed ZF auto gearbox. Air conditioning and a leather interior were also decided upon, but the exterior was to remain as close to the original as possible. It was time to start the build.
As the Range Rover purchased from Land Rover Heaven was a relatively clean and unmolested example, it was a good starting point. Upon its arrival at the ACH workshop in Northamptonshire, the vehicle was stripped down to the metal, with each part meticulously assessed for reuse, replacement or refurbishment. The vehicle arrived at the workshop in the middle of March 2020, which – you will recall – was just at the beginning of the Covid pandemic and the first lockdown. Work on the project took place in between other builds at ACH Classic throughout 2020 and 2021, and coincidentally the vehicle was finished at the end of Covid restrictions in the third quarter of 2022.
Despite the relatively dry climate in Australia there were still a few patches of rust on the steel body frame, but let’s face it, you’ve got to expect that after 44 years of use. Unlike UK Range Rovers of a similar era however, where corrosion tends to be found on the outside of the body frame (sills, inner wings, rear crossmember, and so on), the rust on this survivor was concentrated on the inside. It seems that mud and water were retained inside the vehicle, soaking the carpets and soundproofing material, allowing rust patches to form in the corner of the footwells and around the rear wheelarches. It was by no means as bad as a UK car of the same vintage, but it did mean that there was quite a lot of repair work required to the body frame before painting.
ACH Classic and David Atkinson’s attention to detail is well known in Land Rover circles, and this meant that the time and effort that went into preparing and painting the chassis, axles and body frame was extensive. Once the vehicle was stripped down, the chassis was tipped up on its end and thoroughly washed out from both ends. The exterior of the chassis was then sandblasted and taken back to bare metal, before being dried, primed and repainted in several coats of satin black in ACH’s paint booth. The axles, steering and suspension arms had similar treatment.
A special rotating jig was made to allow the body frame to be cleaned, worked on and painted
Next came the body frame, which was fixed onto a custom-made jig to allow it to be rotated for sandblasting and painting. David initially ordered replacement pattern sills, footwells, rear arches and inner wings, but didn’t find that they were up to his exacting standards: “Restoring a Range Rover is hard,” he comments. “There are precious few original parts available, with trim components and bracketry being the hardest to find. We ended up fabricating our own body frame panels in the end, as the stuff we ordered didn’t fit properly. In the end, we remanufactured or refurbished hundreds of the original parts to better than new standard.”
All this takes time of course, and David estimates that the vehicle took at least 1500 hours from start to finish. His advice for anyone embarking on a similar project: “However long you think it’s going to take, double it and expect it to be more – it took us a couple of days of serious tweaking to get the upper tailgate to shut nicely.”
Once the engine was in, things really started to take shape
Needless to say, the underside did not escape the ACH treatment
As the vehicle is a fine combination of early Range Rover aesthetic coupled with later Range Rover Classic driveability, David bought a rusty 1993 four-door as a donor vehicle for the automatic gearbox, lower half of the dashboard and transmission tunnel. The vehicle also gave up numerous other bits that were used in the rebuild of the Bahama Gold car, but as the body on the 1993 example was completely shot, it eventually ended up being recycled for scrap.
Refurbished 4.6-litre V8 from aP38A Range Rover is bored out to 4.8 litres
The new engine fitted to the Suffix C is a late P38A 4.6-litre V8 that was remanufactured and bored out to 4.8-litres, with all hoses and peripherals replaced with new components. This was fitted to the fully painted chassis, along with the refurbished axles and suspension. Once the body frame had been remade and repainted in Bahama Gold, this was mated to the rolling chassis, creating a very smart-looking skeleton on which the body panels could be hung.
ACH Classic’s attention to detail is second to none. It almost seems a shame thatthe refurbished chassis, gearbox, interior and replacement plastic fuel tank seen here will never be visible like this again
Before that could be done though, next on the list was the fabrication of a new floor which incorporated the transmission tunnel from the 1993 donor car. At the same time, all the body panels were being treated to a first-class paint job, each receiving the same treatment off the car.
Original body panels were rubbed down to bare metal
Front and rear wings during the painting process
First, the panels were stripped back to bare metal, after which imperfections were repaired and the panels straightened before etch primer was applied to the bare metal. After baking, the panels were flatted down once again by hand, primed again, and then painted. The flattening down and repainting process was repeated several times and in all, each panel received five coats of paint in a process that took around six weeks from start to finish. It was worth it though, as the depth to the paint is simply stunning.
Transmission tunnel came from a 1993 Range Rover donor vehicle
For the interior, the original seat frames were refurbished and painted before they were trimmed by ACH’s own trimmer using a tan leather that aimed to match the colour of the original KitKat style of seats. A tremendous amount of work went into making them look similar to the originals, and the smell of the leather is particularly evocative as you enter the cabin for the first time. The centre console is also trimmed in leather, with Bahama Gold accents on the vent surrounds and the top of the gearbox shifter.
As ever with this kind of restoration it’s the finishing touches that take the time. David ordered new rubber seals for the doors and tailgate, but as these were remanufactured pattern parts, he found them to be too stiff to get a fit and a door closure that he was happy with. “It took several days of manipulation and moulding to get them to fit in a way that satisfied us,” he tells me through slightly gritted teeth. “If only it was still possible to get new ones from Genuine Parts.”
Although the finished vehicle is as close to perfection as it can be, it won’t stop Charles Shortt driving it
Finally, once everything had been finished to David’s satisfaction, the completed vehicle was delivered to Denys and Charlie in the second half of 2022. LRM was invited along for the first test drive on a public road, and Charlie’s excitement as he turns the key and listens to the burble of the beautifully tuned Rover V8 is infectious – neither of us can wait to get out on the road and see how it performs.
Needless to say, the Range Rover feels tight and sharp, but even though it’s a more modern-handling vehicle, the character of the original has been retained, not least the peerless visibility and that wonderful ‘command’ driving position that’s classic Range Rover. It’s a car that puts a smile on your face, especially as it drives like a very sorted late-model Range Rover Classic, but with the looks of the original Suffix C.
“We’re absolutely delighted with it,” beams Charlie. “The vehicle has such a great personality and looks like it’s come straight out of the 1970s. It must be a very different driving experience to how it would have been when it was new, though. The smooth V8 is a delight and the leather and air conditioning make it so much more comfortable – it feels a bit like an old Rolls-Royce.”
That’s praise indeed, and a long way from the Australian outback express that the vehicle would have been when it was new nearly 50 years ago.
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