A Match Made in Heaven


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Tim’s Land Rovers are examples of the first and last vehicles delivered to the British Army : credit: © Gary Pusey
Tim Earnshaw owns two Land Rovers that celebrate the first and the last in service with the British armed forces

This beautiful 1949 Series I 80in is rather special. Chassis number R8667261 is the first of a batch of 1878 Land Rovers ordered on 2 May 1949, by the War Department, in what was actually the first large-scale order by the British military for Rover’s new off-road vehicle. It was given the military registration number 00BC01.

In June 1948, just weeks after the launch of the Land Rover at the Amsterdam Motor Show, Rover had loaned two pre-production demonstrators, L29 and R30, to the Ministry of Supply for evaluation and assessment. They were delivered to the FVDE (Fighting Vehicle Development Establishment) at Chertsey, Surrey, for extensive military field trials. Upon completion of the trials, the vehicles were returned to Rover and eventually sold to civilian buyers, and both survive today in the hands of enthusiasts.

The pre-pros obviously impressed the powers-that-be because an order for 20 vehicles followed swiftly, to be followed in May 1949 by the first large-scale order. The first vehicle built under this contract, the one you see here, was completed on 8 July 1949. The Ministry of Supply would eventually place 40 separate contracts for Series I Land Rovers, taking delivery of a total of 13,500 vehicles of 80, 86, 88, 107 and 109in variants by 1958.

Lovely view from the 80’s cockpit; note hinged bulkhead ventilation panel

Today, 00BC01 is owned by lifelong Land Rover enthusiast Tim Earnshaw, who also happens to own a Defender 90 Winter/Water Wolf soft-top, and together they book-end the beginning and the end of the utility Land Rover’s service record with the British armed forces. They are an inspiring duo.

Tim takes up the story: “The 80 was owned by a couple named Sarah and David, who were clients of mine. I used to store the 80 for them during the winter months, and I always loved to see it. Land Rovers have been a major part of my life since childhood, when at the age of 12 I learned to drive in a Series III on the farm where I grew up. It was great fun although I wasn’t a fan of its sluggish Perkins diesel, but the whole experience convinced me that one day I would own a Series I.

Restorer Matt Simonard chose Korean War markings representing the Gloucestershire Regiment

“That Series III also introduced me to the joys of fixing old Land Rovers, because one day I put it into reverse and broke the gearbox and could only drive it in forward gears. My school had a well-equipped workshop and sympathetic teachers, and I was allowed to have the Series III delivered to school. With some expert guidance from enthusiastic staff, I stripped down the gearbox and found the idler gear had lost a few teeth. I repaired it over the course of several weeks. No-one seemed to mind that I was bunking off games to work on my Land Rover.

“I enjoyed the experience of working on the SIII so much that I started to think about an even bigger project that I could undertake at school. I ended up spending five years creating a Morgan-inspired special based on MGB running gear with a spaceframe and body panels that I designed and fabricated myself. The project taught me a lot and I’ve still got the vehicle today, I can’t imagine ever parting with it.”

Military registration can just be made out under the age-related civvy number

Tim is the founder and managing director of Windrush, a specialist car storage company which currently looks after hundreds of vehicles for clients at facilities in London and Gloucestershire, and it’s interesting to be looking at the Series I in a building where you could quite literally eat your lunch off the floor. Tim’s Morgan/MGB special is parked securely in a corner, and it was this vehicle that was directly responsible for the development of the car storage business.

“When I left home, the special remained on the farm and the building it was parked in was used for all sorts of agricultural purposes, and inevitably the car would get grubby and suffer the odd bump or two. I persuaded my dad to let me convert one of the outbuildings into a dedicated vehicle storage area where I knew the special would be safe and secure while I was away. Word got around and soon I was storing other vehicles in the building for classic vehicle owners in the area.

20-year-old restoration is wearing well and developing a gentle patina

“Meanwhile I joined Ferrari’s Formula 1 team to look after their in-paddock hospitality unit, and this meant that I was travelling a great deal and had to base myself in London. It was a wonderful job, but the car storage business continued to grow, and by 2009 we had over 30 cars in store in Gloucestershire. I was working with Ferrari during the day and running the storage business in the evenings and at weekends. Several days a week I would leave London in the evening to drive to Gloucestershire to deal with clients, and then arrive back in London in the early hours of the morning ready to start work a few hours later. Something had to give, and I decided to focus full-time on Windrush.

“I’d always said to Sarah and David that I would love to buy the Series I if they ever decided to sell it, and eventually they did. In 2012 I became the proud new custodian of 00BC01. The history file that came with it was fascinating and revealed that by 2002 it had been restored to the condition it is in today by a guy called Matt Simonard. Astonishingly, the V5C revealed that it was first registered for the road in May 2004 after it was acquired by Sarah and David. Where on earth had it been for the 50-odd years before Matt had acquired it? I made a mental note to investigate, but of course other things kept getting in the way and I never got round to it.”

Even today, restorers and historians argue over the correct shade of paint for the engines

The history file provided some information about the vehicle’s early years because in 2001 Matt had made contact with highly-regarded military vehicle researcher and historian, John Mastrangelo, and John had been able to provide a treasure-trove of information about the 80’s military service history.

The Land Rover was delivered to the 2nd Vehicle Group, Royal Army Ordnance Corps Headquarters at Feltham, and the Date into Service was recorded as 18 July 1949. The RAOC was responsible for delivering the vehicle to its allotted unit, but no records of what it did and where it went are available, other than the fact that 00BC01 was Struck Off on 30 September 1957 at ‘FAR’, which apparently stands for Far East Land Forces. Typically, a cast vehicle would have been disposed of locally, but for some reason this Land Rover seems to have been transported back to the UK for disposal. “Strange, but not unknown,” is John’s verdict.

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Military trailer bought to enhance the Wolf 90’s capabilities as fun family transportation

Matt also sought John’s advice regarding paint finish and appropriate military markings. John’s view was that because the vehicle was in the Far East the options were very broad. Matt could choose Korean campaign insignia (1950-53), or Malaya (1948-60), Hong Kong (1950s), or Singapore (1950s). The Korean option would be particularly interesting because this would allow a white star to be painted on the doors.

Matt chose the Korea option and decided to complete the restoration with the markings of the 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, which served in Korea from 1950 to 1951 as part of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade and fought at the Battle of Imjin River in April 1951. Lieutenant Philip Curtis of the Gloucestershire Regiment was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the course of the battle.

The Land Rover still has the ‘Glorious Glosters’ insignia that Matt painted on the front wings, although the white stars on the doors were removed at some point before Tim acquired the vehicle. He plans to reinstate them.

Tim sourced a set of pioneer tools to complete the look

All of this early history is fascinating, but to me one really compelling question remains: what was the Land Rover doing between 1957 when it was struck off, and 2000 when Matt Simonard acquired it? Tim agrees, and his interest in filling in the blanks is rekindled.

We fire up the 80 and drive it outside. The sun is shining, and it makes sense to dust off the Wolf 90 and pose it alongside the 80. It is always inspiring to compare the very first Land Rovers with their later Defender descendants – so much is different, but the DNA shines brightly down through the years.

Tim bought the Wolf  because, as he says, “I love the idea of having two military Land Rovers that represent the beginning and the end. We also have three young sons and the 90 is a very practical and fun family vehicle. I saw it for sale online in August 2020 and I bought it sight unseen for what I thought was a very good price. It had only covered 46,000km and it has the 300Tdi, which is my favourite Land Rover engine and reminds me how awful that Perkins was in the Series III. Since then, I’ve sourced a correct military trailer for it, which has made it even more useful.”

Not your typical family wagon

And do any of Tim’s Windrush clients share his love of early Land Rovers, I ask? The answer is an emphatic yes, and it turns out that Windrush looks after a JLR Classic Reborn Series I, as well as CKD’s Build Number Four, which featured in LRM December 2021. Another of CKD’s superb rebuilds is nearing completion and will be arriving at Windrush shortly. It is an extremely interesting tray-back conversion that was on show at the recent Land Rover Legends event at Thruxton Historic. There is also a Range Rover Classic tucked away under a dust cover.

“There is no doubt that early Land Rovers and Range Rovers are now serious collector cars,” says Tim. “Only last week I was out and about in the 80 and was amazed to be waved at by the owner of an immaculate old Porsche coming the other way.”

And what about that lengthy gap in 00BC01’s history file? As I set off for home, Tim decides to see if he can contact Matt and, through the good offices of the Land Rover Series One Club, contact is indeed made. Matt is delighted to hear from Tim and learn that the vehicle he put so much effort into rebuilding over 20 years ago is alive and well and looking just as good as it did when he finished it.

Wolf gets the ever-popular 300Tdi engine

Matt thinks that 00BC01 spent a number of years at a garage in Dewsbury, owned by a chap named Martin Dransfield. When the garage closed down the parts stock and some vehicles were sold, and 00BC01 was bought by a truck driver who wanted a soft-top Land Rover.

The vehicle had apparently been partly restored, but according to Matt the new owner had neither the equipment nor the skills to complete the job, and Matt acquired it in 2000. He thought the restoration would be straightforward, but it ended up taking two years because there was so much to put right.

This still doesn’t shed much light on where the vehicle was between 1957 and the 1990s, so Tim and I start calling around a few well-respected figures in the Land Rover community to see if anyone can help. One interesting theory emerges, because someone suggests that the vehicle had spent a number of years with well-known military vehicle and parts specialists L Jackson & Co of Doncaster. If it was in Jackson’s yard for an extended period of time this would explain why it was never registered, or perhaps it was sold to a local farmer who never needed to use it on the road.

Tim is also pleased to discover from Matt that 00BC01 has appeared in a magazine article once before, back in August 2003. But what really amazes him is what else is on the cover of that issue. As well as the Series I there is a Defender 90 Winter/Water Wolf, an amazing coincidence given that years later Tim acquired just such a vehicle to go with the 80.

“A match made in heaven,” as he quite rightly states. And needless to say, if you know anything that can flesh out the details of 00BC01’s early life, please do let us know – drop Editor Patrick a line at [email protected].


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