15 September 2022
When Stuart Keeves bought this Series IIB Forward Control it was just a pile of bits. Now post-resto, it’s a real showstopper. LRM first spotted it at the Land Rover Legends event where it won the Best Restoration category. Patrick Cruywagen heads to Stuart’s farm for a closer look
Everyone loves a Forward Control, whether it be a 101, IIA or IIB. Love is one thing but owning and restoring these monster truck Land Rovers is a different thing altogether. One which very few Land Rover fans actually ever undertake. Not so for Stuart Keeves, the Northamptonshire born and bred farmer, who has always had a few Land Rovers floating about. “My earliest Land Rover memories are of me driving an F-reg SWB full-tilt around the farm. I am currently trying to find it. According to the DVLA records PDB 495F is currently SORN. So if any of your readers can help out with some info I will greatly appreciate it.”
Full-length drop sides are useful
Stuart’s passion for restos and cars stepped up to a whole new level about 15 years ago when he purchased a Triumph TR6 as a project. When that was finished he found a tatty Series IIA on eBay – the sale included a new chassis so he clicked buy. Only afterwards did he find out it was located in the Scottish Borders area. The collection involved a 14-hour round trip. At only £500 it was definitely worth it and today it stands proudly in his yard. An (also yellow) 1978 Series III Lightweight was his next project and it has been widely featured in various Land Rover magazines.
Then about four years ago Stuart got a call that turned his life even more yellow. “This guy phones and asks if I want to buy a 1972 One Ten. Confusingly he also said it was a Series II. He obviously did not know what he was talking about. What if it was something special, I thought to myself? I had to go and have a look.” Stuart took friend Pete Hares (who knows a thing or two about Forward Controls) with him and they immediately spotted it was a 1972 Series IIB Forward Control. Stuart was happy that there was enough there, including a decent chassis and a cab, for a project and so he purchased it.
Lockers a leftover from FC’s early life as a Post Office cherry picker
Tailgate had to be sourced as in its original cherry picker role the FC didn’t have one
It was not all plain sailing though. Anything that could have been taken off it had been and it was in bits. Stuart and his mate took two trips down to London to collect it and gathered absolutely everything that they could: the only missing bits were the water pump and a single wheel step. The latter are quite rare. Stuart would later find out the hard way – by fitting it – that a standard Land Rover six-cylinder water pump doesn’t work and that a Rover car engine water pump is required. Sadly the engine had been left outside with no head on it and one piston had been removed, so it was of no use to Stuart and he had to locate a replacement unit.
An engine was sourced from another six-cylinder LWB Land Rover. “It ran beautifully and was an absolute gem, but when when installing the gear linkage that’s when I realised that I had to swap the head and water pump. It was a nightmare. Forward Controls have loads of unique bits on them such as the manifold and exhaust. I couldn’t get the exhaust back section so I made one up from a V8 Ninety’s. The rear crossmember on the chassis had to be replaced. I wasn’t able to find a Forward Control item, but with a little bit of modification we made a Lightweight one work.
Forward Control owner Stuart Keeves: farmer and Land Rover enthusiast
The FC came with a single wheel step – it’s the only way up into the high cab
Surprisingly plush interior. Sports seats an ironic touch in a vehicle as slow as a Forward Control
Stuart couldn’t find the correct cooling pipes for it either, so had to source some non-standard ones. As for the gearbox, he decided to use a Series III unit as the original had a few teeth missing. It might be higher geared now but he’s not planning on carrying heavy loads with the vehicle.
What Stuart had purchased was in essence a rolling chassis with the diffs out of the axles. While the painted up chassis looked good and ready to go on Stuart decided to sandblast and galvanise it. When it went away for said treatment they noticed that the entire length of the bottom of the chassis rail had been filled with P38. It was then returned to Stuart’s workshop where sons William and Oliver helped with lots of the welding. “It was done at the right time because it had all been sandblasted and stripped back to a bare chassis. If we had any doubt we just redid it and fixed it. Now we have a very good chassis.”
Nicely finished instrument panel includes new switches
The Forward Control was previously used as a cherry picker by the Post Office, so didn’t have the more usual rear payload area. Other peculiarities of its earlier life included two big lockers behind the cab, short drop-down sides and no tailgate as the cherry picker hung out of the back. It also had two winches, one up front, the other at the rear.
Fortunately, the axles were rebuilt without any problems whatsoever as everything was present and correct. How do you stop one of the biggest Land Rovers of all time? Stuart installed three-inch-wide six-cylinder brakes plus a different servo. “I’ve had a few issues with the rears and they’re not quite there yet, strange as they are only 109in stoppers.” It would have cost Stuart silly money to get the right rubber so the FC has 255/85R16 BFGoodrich Mud tyres on instead. He also painted it himself to save money and I must say that I’m pretty impressed with his effort. In fact, everything on this Land Rover – a total nut-and-bolt restoration – has been redone by Stuart with some help from his friends and sons.
Underbonnet area as neatly finished as the rest of the Forward Control
I ask Stuart about its working history. “I visited the British Motor Museum in Gaydon and found out that my Golden Yellow FC IIB was one of a batch of four that went to the Post Office in 1972. Three of these went to Malvern and the other one to Yeading, London. The Fab Four yellow FC IIBs were part of a bigger order of 40 cherry pickers.
“It also must have gone to Spencers to have the cherry picker installed. Then it went to Bedford where it served all of its working life at the telephone exchange. I was told that it spent some of this time at the BT depot in Bletchley Park.”
Chassis is solid now, but plenty of welding was needed to get it there
In one of those pieces of strange coincidence, when Stuart was on the hunt for possible repair shops to make the dented roof good again, he ended up at Hanslope, Milton Keynes, where the repair shop owner’s dad recognised the Forward Control from when he worked at Bletchley Park. “He even remembered how it once got stuck under the clock tower at the park. Surely there has to be a picture of that somewhere? I would love to find that. I’ll have to go Bletchley Park one day and check the archives.”
I ask if the restoration of the Forward Control was harder than Stuart’s other projects. “It was a real learning curve, both interesting and challenging,” he replies. “I didn’t take it apart, so I had no idea where all the little bits went. Yes, it did all come together in the end, but there was some head scratching. It was like a Meccano set really.
Rear location of filler neck yet another FC idiosyncrasy
“Fortunately some people in the Forward Control community have been absolutely brilliant. A few of them certainly know their stuff and they are well worth listening to. You can find bits for it in the most unusual places. The stuff that I haven’t needed I put back out there into the market and at a reasonable price.”
While Stuart’s Forward Control still has one or two niggles, I enquire about the practicalities of owning this whale of a Land Rover. “They are not that easy to manoeuvre: you saw how hard it was for me to get it in and out of the shed. I suppose if it lived outside I would use it more often. Saying that, it is not a pleasant thing to drive, all of my other Land Rovers are a lot better!
Quality of the restoration is evident everywhere you look
“It does have its uses with the big payload, plus it has carrying capacity, but you need a 10-acre field to turn the damn thing around. The steering is heavy, although once moving it is okay and you do sit nice and high. Not for me though, as a daily driver.”
At least the man is honest. I once drove one around the circuit at Goodwood and it felt like life was happening in slow motion. While Stuart’s Series IIB might not be a concours restoration it is certainly a top effort from a man who has lived and breathed Land Rovers all of his life. And unlike most enthusiasts, he’s one of a very few to take on the challenge of a Forward Control.
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