25 September 2023
Nick Dimbleby takes a look at four very different Series Land Rovers rebuilt by Northamptonshire specialist ACH Classic. Which one would you like parked outside your house?
We enthusiasts already know the attractions of owning a Land Rover of course, but over the past ten years it’s safe to say that companies such as Portugal’s Cool ‘n’ Vintage, Brooklyn Coachworks from the US and the Dutch company Heritage Customs have attracted new customers into the Land Rover fold. An iconic shape, some funky colours and the promise of adventure are irresistible for the lifestyle buyer.
Over here in the UK, Northamptonshire-based ACH Classic specialises in high-end rebuilds and restomods that are built to customer order. “Our customers come to us with an idea of what they might want from a vehicle, but it’s only after spending time with them and learning why it is they want a Land Rover, and – more importantly – what they want to do with it, that we can build them the Land Rover they want,” says ACH’s founder David Atkinson.
ACH Classic is a development from David’s previous business specialising in high-end covered vehicle transport. After two decades driving around Europe delivering vehicles for companies such as Porsche and Jaguar Land Rover, the transport division was sold on as a going concern, with the company still providing transport for the classic car and motorsport sectors.
Land Rover Series I. Not a supercar, but definitely a Classic
“In my previous role, I’d been surrounded by supercars and some of the best classic cars in the world,” comments David. “So, when it was time for a new challenge, the concept of restoring and remodelling Land Rovers seemed like a good idea. My first project was converting a Defender 110 to air suspension, and this developed into ‘better than new’ vehicle rebuilds, inspired by the incredible cars that I’d been working with.”
Attention to detail and a perfect finish are hallmarks of an ACH Classic rebuild. “All of our restoration projects are stripped down and rebuilt using as many of the original parts as possible. Every nut and bolt, every part, is examined and refurbished to a condition that is better than new. Every millimetre of the vehicle is examined and made perfect,” explains David enthusiastically. “Most of our restorations take well over 1000 hours, with the paintwork on the body and chassis taking up to two months of dedicated work.”
There are two types of ACH Classic rebuild: a complete renovation of a standard car or a bespoke refurbishment that uses a classic Land Rover as a base for a restomod: a new vehicle that looks classic, but has the engine, brakes and suspension to be useable in modern traffic. Because each vehicle starts from scratch, it’s very much up to the customer which direction they go. Here we look at four vehicles that illustrate both approaches.
1950 Series I
The first vehicle under the microscope is a 1950 ‘cat's eye’ headlights Series I 80in that was sourced from Australia. “Our customer asked us to build a Series I for him to use on his estate, as he had fond memories of driving one when he was a boy,” reveals David. In this case, ACH tracked down an original vehicle from Land Rover Heaven’s David d’Arcy in Australia, although the vehicle was already in the UK and was supplied via Marc at Exmod.
“The key to a restoration project is to ensure that the vehicle you start with has most of its parts to keep it original,” comments David.
“It doesn’t matter if the engine’s seized or bodywork is shot, so long as the vehicle is complete then you can always refurbish things. What’s difficult is when hard-to-find parts are missing – in that case it’s a drama to locate them or you have to make things from scratch.”
Interior is now as new
Once the Series I arrived in the workshop, it was stripped down and everything was assessed. Reparing and painting the chassis took six weeks, which – once it had been put on a jig – was revealed as bent. Although the 70-year-old vehicle was relatively rust-free, having lived for most of its life on a farm in Australia, it had still been worked hard. The original bulkhead, seat box and bonnet were retained, while the rest of the bodywork was replaced by newly-made parts.
Engine is also immaculate
From a powertrain perspective, the engine was stripped and rebuilt, as was the gearbox and front and rear axles. The Series I is a beautifully simple vehicle and this one, resplendent in Bronze Green, is absolutely stunning.
Both the body and the chassis have been treated to two coats of primer (rubbed down in between), after which four coats of paint and two coats of lacquer were applied. If you look underneath the vehicle, the chassis is like a mirror. “The only problem now is that the owner doesn’t want to use it in the rain,” chuckles David.
1963 Series II
Built for fun trips
Another vehicle that might not be ideal for rainy days is the 1963 Pastel Green Series IIA that has been built to run without a roof. The customer liked the completely open-top look, so specified the vehicle without hood sticks or a canvas tilt. It looks fabulous, and as the vehicle is primarily for use on sunny days, why not keep it completely open?
Once again, the donor car was scruffy but intact. At some point in its history it had been fitted with the screw-in type of military lights, so these were kept. The engine and powertrain were also retained, although they were completely rebuilt as new.
Like the rest of the vehicle, the original 2.25-litre engine has been completely rebuilt
The 2.25-litre engine blocks were painted Duck Egg Blue in the factory, and this particular one looks particularly smart after its repaint. You don’t normally see them like this because they’re usually covered in mud, grease and grime!
Leather seats and no roof
You also don’t normally associate Series IIA Land Rovers with luxury, but this one has been fitted with chocolate-coloured leather seats that were trimmed in-house by ACH’s trimmer. Concealed behind the seats are two high-output speakers that are coupled to a 1000 Watt amp, powered by a Bluetooth stereo that is also hidden away. “We didn’t want to spoil the original look of the interior,” says David. “And as all the music is stored on the customer’s iPhone, it really is an elegant solution.”
In case you think that fitting leather seats and a Bluetooth stereo is too modern, it should be noted that the customer asked not to have power steering fitted in order to keep a little bit of the vehicle’s spartan originality…
1968 Series IIA
The classic Series II bodywork on this restoration hides a 2.5-litre engine, disc brakes and electric power steering
The brown leather seats are as comfortable to sit in as they look
ACH Classic has created a number of bespoke Series IIA SWB soft tops over the past few years, most of which have been finished in eye-catchingly bright colours. The blue car featured here is painted a bespoke hue that’s a cross between Land Rover Marine Blue and Porsche Frozen Blue. The donor car, a 1968 Series IIA, was chosen because the customer was born in the same year. It’s a similar specification to the Pastel Green vehicle pictured opposite, in that it features chocolate-coloured leather upholstery and the concealed stereo system, but that’s where the similarity ends.
NOS speedo had just 100 miles on the odometerwhen it was photographed
This Land Rover is fitted with the later 2.5-litre block (as fitted to coil-sprung Land Rovers from 1985 onwards) to add a little extra power and torque. A highly polished SU carburettor ensures smooth and sufficient fuel delivery, while the final ratio gears have been raised in the transfer box to provide an easy cruising speed of at least 60mph. The vehicle has also been fitted with electric power steering, all of which helps to make it much more driveable in modern traffic. All four corners of the vehicle have been modified with disc brakes to ensure that it stops as well as it goes, and to carry out this conversion ACH Classic uses the original axles, changing the hubs and internals. The nice thing about this vehicle is that it looks fairly standard at first glance, but after further inspection you find a lot of differences below the surface.
1982 Series III
Eye-catching ‘Hot Tomato’ paintwork was a bespoke colour on this SWB soft top
With all that in mind, our final featured vehicle is a bright red late-model Series III painted in another bespoke colour called – appropriately enough – Hot Tomato. This vehicle is pretty fiery as far as performance goes too, as there’s a 3.9-litre Rover V8 under the bonnet, complete with a big-bore Edelbrock single carburettor, just like you find on American V8s.
The interior is finished in black leather to match the mohair hood
In this case, the customer already owned the vehicle – a red 1983 Series III pick-up – although, according to David, it was a complete basket case. “The original diesel engine was in bad shape, the steering was completely shot: everything was knackered. It was one of the worst Land Rovers I’d ever driven!” he laughs. “The customer said: ‘I want it to go, I want it to stop and I want it to go around corners,’ and as we’d seen his collection of fast cars, we knew that he had an idea of what he was talking about.”
3.9-litre V8 is fitted with an American Edelbrock single carburettor
To this end, ACH Classic refurbished the Series III completely, fitting the V8 engine, disc brakes, Wolf rims, uprated transfer ratios, as well ACH’s own specification of parabolic springs. The seats were trimmed in black leather to match the black mohair tilt, while the underside received the full gloss black treatment. Having seen the vehicle on the ramp, it’s fair to say that it looks as good underneath as it does on the top: the attention to detail is extraordinary. It’s looks pretty spectacular under the bonnet, too, and everything is so clean.
All of the exceptional Series vehicles featured here are now in use by their owners, and there’s no doubt that each of them had to make significant investment to create their dream Land Rover.
David Atkinson is quick to point out that attention to detail takes time, and time costs money, but if you’re lucky enough to afford it, why not? As Henry Royce, co-founder of Rolls-Royce, said back in the 1920s: “Quality remains long after the price is forgotten…”
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