Blood and Custard

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Previous owner Jim Barnard thought his ex-British Railways Series II might be unique : credit: © Gary Pusey
Many of us have a soft spot for classic Land Rovers in commercial liveries, and this Series II in British Railways colours has a remarkable history

British Railways and Land Rover are both celebrating their 75th anniversaries this year. British Railways came into being on 1 January 1948, when Clement Attlee’s Labour government nationalised the country’s ‘Big Four’ privately-owned railway companies. At the time, it was probably the only way the UK could even begin to consider addressing the challenges of rebuilding the war-ravaged railway system, while at the same time dealing with its modernisation. The Land Rover, of course, debuted four months later on 30 April 1948, when it was officially launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show.

It is not commonly known that as well as thousands of locomotives, carriages and wagons, and thousands of miles of railway lines, the fledgling British Railways operated a huge road vehicle fleet, ranging from vehicles used to deliver goods from the nearest station to local customers (Scammell Scarab, anyone?) and vehicles used to transport men and equipment around the network and to engineering sites. It is no surprise to discover that Land Rovers quickly became an indispensable part of the British Railways fleet.The LTSV railway vehicles database lists 138 Land Rovers thought to have been in railway service, although the true total will undoubtedly be much higher. Most of those listed have been identified from contemporary and other photographs and only a proportion of these vehicles seem to exist today. The list includes Series I, II, III and Defender in short and long wheelbase configurations with utility and station wagon bodies, as well as fire appliances and vehicles fitted with equipment such as compressors and road-rail conversion equipment.

Back to the 60's: The 109 still looks the part

Some of the younger Defenders are still in use today, although when the time comes to replace them, you can bet Network Rail and the private-sector engineering companies that succeeded BR will sadly not be buying anything made today by JLR. Reimagined luxury has no part to play in railway engineering…

Among the vehicles on the LTSV database is the one you see here, a Series IIA 109in hard top registered BBH 942B. According to DVLA records it was registered on 25 May 1964. We have one man to thank for its discovery and preservation, and for what is known about its early history: the late Jim Barnard. Jim was a railway enthusiast. He’d been a railway enthusiast since he was a youngster, and in 1982 he became a hard-working and dedicated volunteer on one of the country’s most successful and popular heritage railways, the Bluebell Line in East Sussex.

Current owner Jo Connelly had the Series II repainted, but it’s no concours queen

In the February 2001 issue of Land Rover World magazine, Jim told the story of how he came to own BBH 942B, and how he turned it into a vehicle he would keep forever, which is exactly what he did, owning it until his passing in 2021. It is a story that revolves around what was a remarkable coincidence that seems barely credible.

Jim’s voluntary work at the Bluebell seems to have involved him dressing the part in period railway costume and displaying items from his and his friend Dave Woolgar’s burgeoning collection of railwayana, while giving talks to visitors on the history of the railways. Jim and Dave also attended many other events and shows, often aimed at raising funds for various charities, and they needed a bigger vehicle to transport all their gear. And because Jim’s passion for railways was matched by his enthusiasm for Land Rovers, he decided that a long wheelbase Series II would be the ideal solution.

He talked to John Doughty, a friend who ran a large Land Rover yard in Chertsey, and John promised to let him know if anything suitable came up. Eight or nine months later, Jim got the call to tell him that John had a Series IIA from a farm in Surrey that he might like to see. It was in pretty poor shape having been parked in a field since 1978, and the chassis was rotten, but a conversation with the farmer revealed that it had seemingly “been bought from an auction at Stewarts Lane, Battersea.”

Jo fitted new seats but otherwise the interior is exactly as Jim left it

The mention of Stewarts Lane, that hallowed portal of Southern Railway steam, the engine shed that provided gleaming, immaculately polished locomotives for the famed Golden Arrow Pullman express from London Victoria to Paris, was more than enough for Jim to investigate the decaying Series IIA in more detail.

Jim reported in the LRW article that under the coat of blue paint that had been crudely applied by the Surrey farmer, he and his mate Dave found a two-tone livery of crimson and cream, one of the earliest attempts by British Railways to develop a nationwide corporate colour scheme that was applied to passenger coaches and other rolling stock, as well as road vehicles. It was affectionately known to railwaymen and enthusiasts alike as ‘blood and custard’.

British Railways safety notice in thought to be original

73A was the depot identification number for Stewarts Lane

As more and more of the blue paint was removed, the British Railways serial number B 1347 S was revealed, the suffix ‘S’ providing the final confirmation that the Land Rover had seen service on BR’s Southern Region. Jim and Dave knew they had to buy it and renovate it to its British Railways blood and custard paint job.

Jim told LRW in 2001: “You have to appreciate how much of a coincidence this was. John didn’t even know I was into railways. The Series IIA had only been used around the Stewarts Lane yard and then around the farm, so it only had 30,000 miles on the clock. It didn’t take me and Dave long to agree to stump up the £350 asking price and take it home!”

Perkins diesel was fitted by Jim and replaced the original Land Rover diesel engine

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Jim and Dave spent the next 18 months rebuilding the vehicle. Sourcing a replacement chassis was apparently a challenge, but one was made up by a firm in Bolton and brought down on a low-loader. The original diesel engine was replaced with a 1960s Perkins diesel, and a reconditioned gearbox was acquired as the original was beyond repair. Jim also replaced the original very uncomfortable seats with DeLuxe Series III items. He also re-wired the vehicle and replaced the standard wing-mounted mirrors with Series III door mirrors because he considered the originals “not really safe for today’s driving conditions.”

British Railways colours and graphics

The vehicle was repainted into the period blood and custard livery, replica British Railways totem logos were applied, and the all-important fleet number was stencilled on the doors. Jim and his friends had saved from agricultural oblivion what might well be a unique survivor, and by the time they’d finished, the Series IIA had set them back £3000.

Perkins’ performance is best described as ‘stately’…

After he got it back on the road, Jim was keen to find out everything he could about its British Railways history, and in the LRW article he told the story of meeting a number of people who had worked at Stewarts Lane when the vehicle was in service there and, according to Jim, “none of them enjoyed driving it.”

Jim went on to say: “They all said the Land Rovers were old dogs to drive. I mean, they’re hard work. You can’t roll a fag and drive at the same time, can you? But all the same, they were all happy to reminisce.” Jim sounds like a real character and it came as no surprise to me to discover that he was a great fan of the late, great, Fred Dibnah.

Jim owned his Series IIA for some 40 years, and it was often to be seen parked at the Bluebell Railway when he was working there. It was a regular participant in the Historical Commercial Vehicles Society’s London to Brighton run, and was displayed at numerous other events, where it appeared under Jim’s ‘Top Shed’ moniker. Rumour has it that it has a TV appearance under its belt as well.

Owner Jim Barnard added these replica station signs in the cab

After Jim’s passing his widow could not contemplate parting with the Land Rover, which had participated in Jim’s funeral procession, and it remained stored outside the family home. Jo Connelly knew Jim and his cherished Series IIA and was desperate to ensure that the vehicle should be preserved.

“I think Jim’s Series IIA is a remarkable survivor and an historically important vehicle, and I was eventually able to acquire it in December 2022,” Jo tells me. “I became only the third owner recorded on the V5C and I immediately embarked on a sensitive renovation. The paintwork had suffered badly, so I arranged for a full bare metal respray, retaining the very special crimson and cream livery, and fitted replacement British Railways totems and the door fleet numbers. Replacement rubber door seals were fitted, together with wipers, indicators, side lights, and new DeLuxe seats.

“I particularly love the interior, which I have left exactly as it was when Jim owned the vehicle. As well as the original British Railways warning notice to drivers, there are stickers and plaques inside the doors and around the roof attesting to the vehicle’s decades of adventures in historic rallies and shows and the stations it has visited. There are even two original and somewhat fragile Stewarts Lane dockets.

Jim Barnard and his beloved Series II, and the scale model it inspired

“During Jim’s ownership, the Series IIA was used as the basis for a wonderful 1:18-scale diecast model by John Ayrey, who created patterns in 2001 that led to the model being introduced in 2002, complete with its BBH 942B registration, the DeLuxe seats, the Series III wing mirrors, and the faithfully replicated livery.

“These models are now extremely rare and highly collectable, the first ten with the so-called ‘white certificate’ being especially so. There are also a few fitted with the wrong-coloured wheels that escaped the factory recall, which are obviously rarer still. Jim was presented with Model Number 2, which I still have. I understand that Oxford and Corgi also released their own diecast models of this actual vehicle, including the BBH number plate.”

Guard’s whistle and other railway memorabilia added by Jim during his years of ownership

Much as she loves Jim’s Land Rover and would like to keep it, Jo’s circumstances have changed and she is no longer able to drive it due to disability, so the Series IIA needs to find a new home. By the time you read this it may well have done so, and I hope the new owner cherishes it and uses it as much as Jim Barnard did.

 

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