The Secret Garden


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With limited space in the garden, the Range Rovers are packed in tightly : credit: © Nick Dimbleby
Pre-pandemic, when it was easier to travel, Nick Dimbleby was invited to visit a secret location in a suburb of Melbourne. Three and a half years later he’s finally able to write about what he saw. LRM has the exclusive first look

It’s not every day that you’re asked to cover your eyes when you reach the end of a journey, but as the property I was going to visit was in an obscure and somewhat unexpected location, its owner, Ian Duddy, preferred me to not to know exactly where I was.

I had an idea of what I was going to see, but after literally being led up the garden path and being told that I could open my eyes, I was simply stunned. Here, in the middle of a quiet residential area of Melbourne, is what is probably the largest gathering of Suffix A and B classic Range Rovers in existence. Admittedly, not all of them are in the best of shape, but as they’re all pretty much original, it wouldn’t take much to combine several together to make a significant number of early classic Range Rovers.

Range Rovers of every generation sit in Ian Duddy’s backyard in a residential suburb of Melbourne, Australia

Ian, along with his friend and business partner Tim Embleton, told me that this incredible collection of Range Rovers – along with a few Series Land Rovers including no less than nine 80-inch models and a handful of early P38As – represents a lifetime of collecting. The property belonged to Ian’s parents, and when his dad passed away in 2005, he decided to make use of the garden to store the early Range Rovers he had. Two Range Rovers became three, then four, then six, and over a period of years, the garden became full. At this point, Ian bought the property next door and then, when that filled up, he bought the one next door to that. As the locality consists of 1960s low-rise bungalows, the gardens are not overlooked and you wouldn’t know what was behind the fence unless you used a stepladder. With a warm climate and very little rain, it’s the perfect place for old Range Rovers to hibernate.

Range Rover enthusiasts Ian Duddy (left) and Tim Embleton

But where did this passion for early Range Rovers begin? Like so many of us, Range Rovers became part of Ian’s life after an early encounter. In the early 1970s Ian was a student geologist studying for his honours degree, and to get around the remote mountain areas in Victoria where he was doing his fieldwork, he drove an 1970 Series IIa 88-inch that he remembers fondly as “not the most comfortable thing in the world.” Whilst bumping along a track known as Billy Goat’s Bluff in 1974, Ian heard a V8 roar in the distance, and out of misty rain he saw what he describes as “…an amazing vehicle that seemed to float past at speed.” Ian had seen his first Range Rover and he was hooked. He turned to his girlfriend (now wife) who was travelling with him and said: “I want one of those.”

A year or so later, Ian had saved up enough money to buy his dream Range Rover, so he headed to his local dealer to make the purchase. Unbeknown to him, in 1975 there was a huge waiting list to buy a new Range Rover – neither new nor used cars were available from the dealership. After a bit of searching, Ian finally found a secondhand Range Rover being sold privately. He was told that the car was only two years old, but was disappointed when he realised it was actually three-years old. But beggars can’t be choosers, and nearly 50 years and hundreds of thousands of miles later, he’s pretty glad that he still owns the early Australian import Suffix A that he bought all those years ago.

This Range Rover pick-up with accessories hints at a past life as an off-road plaything​​​​​​

At the same time back in the UK, nine-year-old Tim Embleton was having his own Range Rover epiphany, when a friend’s father took Tim and his friend to a motocross event in North Wales. Tim and his friend were into motocross bikes, and the friend’s dad had a Bahama Gold ‘M-reg’ Range Rover that he used to tow a trailer with the bikes on it.  “I remember us blasting down the motorway flat-out, the dad smoking a big cigar, thinking this was incredible,” recalls Tim. “Then we got to the field where the paddock was and there was so much mud that everyone was getting stuck in their cars, and the farmer was charging 50p per car to pull everyone through. The Range Rover just sailed past the tractor and all the other cars, trailer in tow, and we pulled up onto the best spot in the paddock. It was fantastic.”

Tim emigrated to Australia in 1988, and after barely a year in country, he’d bought his own Range Rover: a mid ’70s Suffix C that had been converted to LPG. “It used to cost me A$8 (about £4.00) to put 100 litres of LPG in,” said Tim. “It was amazing – I went everywhere in that car. Anything you wanted to do, you could do in a Range Rover. Tow a boat, go camping, head out into the bush. It was fantastic.”

This faded Tuscan Blue bodyshell is in amazing shape for a vehicle that well over its mid-40s​​​​​​

Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before Ian and Tim met; their first encounter was at an auction in 2000, where they were both assessing a very early 1948 Land Rover that was one of the first to be imported into Australia. The auction had been advertised in a paper called the Weekly Times (a farming paper), and the two of them struck up a friendship instantly. At that time Tim was driving a relatively late Range Rover as his daily driver and Ian said that he should buy an early car as well. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Tim was the proud owner of a 1972 Suffix A, and they bought the 1948 Series I at the auction too.

Of course, when you own an old Range Rover, it’s prudent to buy another one to act as a spares car when the first one needs repairing. As spares became more and more scarce, Tim and Ian started to buy old Range Rovers whenever they became available. You have to remember, of course, that when the pair first started buying these vehicles 20 or 30 years ago, they were unloved and cheap, with the majority of old Range Rovers ending up as scrap or being crushed for recycling.

As well as the whole Range Rovers, Ian and Tim have a huge cache of useful spares that have come from vehicles that have been parted out

The collection of vehicles in Ian’s garden consists of around 20 complete original early Range Rovers, a selection of Series Land Rovers, several P38a Range Rovers and piles and piles of spares. All of the vehicles are Australian market models, some of which were made in Solihull, but the majority of which were assembled in Enfield, Sydney from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits. These kits were crates of parts that were put together at Solihull, shipped over and then assembled locally to make built vehicles. An easy way to determine whether a Suffix A-F vehicle is a CKD vehicle or not, is by looking at the first three digits of the chassis number. 355 is RHD (home market) built at Solihull, 356 is RHD (export) built at Solihull, 357 is RHD CKD, 358 is LHD (export) built at Solihull and 359 is LHD CKD.

Some of the Range Rovers are in better condition than others, but cosmetics aside, all the saved vehicles have useful parts

One of the jewels in Ian’s collection is one of the first officially imported Range Rovers to Australia: chassis number 35600022A. This Davos White vehicle accompanied 35600033A (also Davos White) and 35600037A (Masai Red) on the boat from the UK to Australia in early 1972, ready for the launch of the Range Rover by the local office of British Leyland in March the same year. Chassis number 33A was imported by the British Vice-Consul for official use, while 22A and 37A were demonstrators made available for media and customer test drives, and these vehicles feature heavily in contemporary magazine and newspaper articles about the newly launched vehicle.

The hot Australian climate has taken its toll on many of the interiors,. The cloth cover fitted on this vehicle will have protected the dashboard from the sun – the seats, not so much…

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It is believed that the Range Rover remained on the BL Australia fleet until the later Suffix C model with the black D-posts was released, after which 35600022A was sold. For the next 20 or so years its history is unknown, until a certain Michael Bishop (now working at Land Rover Classic in the UK) came across it looking tired and sorry for itself in a street near where he grew up in Melbourne. Ian and Mike knew each other through their shared interest in 80-inch Land Rovers, and it didn’t take long for Mike to be infected with the Range Rover bug too…

Having spotted the Range Rover in the street, Mike poked his head under the front right wheelarch to take a look at the chassis number – 35600022A – which he quickly recognised as a very early car. After a bit of door knocking, Mike found the owner, a carpenter who had owned the vehicle for many years and used it as his work truck. It wasn’t for sale as he intended to restore it one day, but Mike left his details anyway and asked him to get in touch if ever he wanted to sell. Time passed, the call came, and Mike managed to buy the Range Rover. The vehicle was stored at Ian’s place, so when Mike left Australia to work in the UK, he offered 22A to Ian, as he knew that the early chassis number appealed to him. Needless to say, the deal was done.

An example of the certification plate fitted to all officially imported Australian Range Rovers

Looking at the collection of vehicles in Ian’s garden, it’s fascinating to note the differences between UK and Australian-market vehicles. Australian safety legislation made head restraints and door-mounted rear-view mirrors compulsory (although the first batch in July came without them), and officially imported or CKD-built Australian Range Rovers feature a certification plate confirming this conformance to Australian regulations. These stamped aluminium plates were rivetted to the front slam panel or bulkhead and confirm that: ‘This vehicle was manufactured by Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia Ltd to comply with Australian Design Rule Nos: 2 – 4 – 5a – 7 – 8 – 25’. The chassis number and date of manufacture are also listed, along with the seating capacity of five.

As well as the standard differences between UK and Australian market vehicles, it is interesting to see the inevitable aftermarket modifications that have been made by the cars’ various owners over the years. The most obvious of these are the different homemade or manufactured ’roo bars that are de rigeur for any kind of outback travel. Other modifications include the fitment of acrylic headlight protectors (useful to prevent stones cracking the headlights) and Australian-made roof-racks – all manufactured to cope with the harsh road conditions found in rural Australia.

An Aussie essential: Aftermarket air conditioning

​​​​​​Another modification that is noticeable on a number of these Australian market Range Rovers is the fitment of aftermarket air conditioning. Whereas the 1970s Land Rover officially-approved air conditioning unit consisted of a huge almost fridge-like structure fitted to the roof, the local Australian market versions were a lot more discreet.

If a quick straw poll of the vehicles seen here is correct, there were several different manufacturers of Range Rover aftermarket air conditioning in 1970s Australia. Some were made by Amcair of Granville, New South Wales, whilst other companies such as Marlan and Allcar also offered their own versions. Each of these high-capacity Australian installations featured a new set of air vents in the dashboard, along with integrated controls and an underbonnet compressor. These versions predated the factory’s own (similar) solution by five years, and quite a few of the vehicles in Ian’s collection have them fitted.

This Range Rover shows the effects of solar load on the top of the dashboard​​​​​​

Talking of dashboards, many of the vehicles here suffer from a problem that is typical to many early Range Rovers that have been left outside in the sun for many years: dashboard tops that are literally crumbling away. Ian demonstrated the problem by touching the dashboard of one of the Range Rovers that already had a hole in it. Gently he picked out pieces of brittle plastic and rubbed them between his fingers turning them to dust – the plastic returns to its original powdered state after decades in the sun. It was interesting to note that quite a few of the Range Rovers have material covers on the top of the dashboard to stop this happening – clearly this was a well-known issue when these vehicles were just a few years old.

Fortunately, Ian and Tim have a couple of pristine new old stock dashboards that are tucked away indoors away from the sun, and the plan is to get some reproduction ones remade locally to replace the originals that are turning to dust.

After many decades of sun, the Range Rover dashboard will disintegrate to dust​​​​​​

As many of the vehicles in Ian’s garden have been there for decades, it’s fair to say that they’re in varying states of repair. Some have panels that are rusted through and are beyond help, while others have that delightful surface patina that you get with vehicles that are kept in a hot climate with minimal moisture. Even so, it’s clear that not all these vehicles are going to live beyond donating their parts to keep others alive, but for Ian and Tim, this has been the point of keeping as many as they could. “Throughout the 1990s, Rangies were being scrapped in great numbers,” says Ian. “And many of these early cars were purchased for a few hundred dollars while others were free to take, simply to make room.” 

As well as the numerous Range Rovers, there are several Series Land Rovers that have been saved

“It’s been great saving all these vehicles from being scrapped,” says Tim. “But now it’s time for us to take stock of what we’ve got and find new homes for the parts and vehicles. Even if we had five or six lifetimes, Ian and I are never going to be able to restore all these vehicles.” Both Ian and Tim are keen for the Range Rovers (and the accompanying huge stock of early parts that they also have) to help keep other vehicles on the road. They have employed a chap to start restoring and selling the vehicles depending on what people are interested in.

“As well as this garden of goodies, we’ve another field of dreams nearby,” chuckles Tim. “Ian never throws anything away, as he has always been a believer that something might come in useful, even if it needs to be repaired. We’ve got Range Rover bits everywhere.” After nearly 40 years of collecting, sorting everything out is not going to be a five minute job, but if you’re looking for a specific Suffix A or B part, or even a complete vehicle, you can contact Tim at [email protected]


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