21 January 2023
Roy Preston is a well-known and popular figure on the Land Rover show scene. This is his story…
Roy Preston has been a Land Rover enthusiast for well over 60 years and during that time has been a keen trialler and off-roader, an active clubman, a pioneering preservationist and a regular on the Land Rover show scene. He’s also one of life’s gentlemen.
Such is his enthusiasm for the first-generation Discovery that he founded G-WAC Notes, an informal digital newsletter intended to unite the emerging community of people who were researching and saving the pre-pro and early production vehicles. It also encompasses all other Land Rover models carrying the fabled G-WAC registration numbers. This in turn led to the creation of the Project Jay Preservation Group, of which he is co-founder and chairman. I’m meeting Roy at his North Yorkshire home and am keen to know what first ignited his passion.
“Unlike many Land Rover enthusiasts, I don’t have a childhood Land Rover story to tell,” he tells me with a chuckle, “mainly because when I was a young lad there weren’t any Land Rovers. By the time the first ones appeared in 1948 I was already 13 years old and no one in my family had any interest in shelling out the five or six hundred pounds needed to buy one.
Roy’s 80in UBH 797 after a particularly tough day’s trialling
“I was the fifth child of a bus driver with one brother and three sisters and we lived at Glasshoughton near Pontefract. My middle sister is 95 and she still calls me her baby brother. Dad took up lorry driving and we moved to Womersley, a farming village near Darrington. I was five years old when we moved and my first interest in motor vehicles was the tractors on the surrounding farms, which had only recently replaced heavy horses. As a family we had no cars, just bicycles and foot power. At the age of ten I succumbed to bronchitis and asthma, which interrupted my education and I left school at 15 with no formal qualifications.
“When I was 16 I bought a BSA Bantam motorbike as my first mode of transport, and entered local treasure hunts. I preferred motorbikes to cars and my first experience of off-road motorsport was in the 1950s, when I trialled a motorcycle and sidecar combination with the British Sporting Sidecar Association. My first four-wheeler was an Austin A55 van which I bought to tow the motorbike and sidecar, and it was the sidecar trials interest that led me to Land Rover trials.
“My first real off-road competition was the famous Proteus Trial, which ran from 1966 to 1972 and was held at what used to be the Proteus army camp near Ollerton in Nottinghamshire. It was organised by Roger Fell and Godfrey Orrell [see LRM March 2019, Ed] and one of the tests involved a timed drive over an assault course circuit which was the first of its kind in the UK.
ROY 1 trialling, date and location lost in the mists of time
“I entered the Proteus for the first time in 1966, its first year, in an 86in which I borrowed from a friend. The Land Rover trials bug well and truly bit and soon after the Proteus I joined forces with a friend to buy an 80in with the registration UBH 797. We joined the Peak & Dukeries Land Rover Club to compete in their events and I have a few trophies from those days to prove that I knew what I was doing. My friend bought his own 80 so I acquired his share of our 80 and trialled with a fake number plate, ROY 1.
“The Peak and Dukeries and other regional clubs such as the Midland, Pennine, Southern, Staffordshire and Shropshire, Welsh, the Scottish and others were all members of the Rover Owners’ Association, which was run by the Rover company at Solihull for both Rover car and Land Rover owners.
“The ROA was run on a part-time basis by a chap named Walter Duffield, whose day job was running the stationery department at Solihull. I got to know him quite well when I was a founder member of the Yorkshire Rover Owners Club in 1971, which like all the other regional clubs at that time included members with Rover cars as well as Land Rovers. The Yorkshire club hosted the ARC Nationals at Harewood House twice, in 1974 and 1979. The second event was a nightmare because of heavy rain and our host, the Earl of Harewood, asked us to stop the event because of the damage being caused to the ground.
Roy competing in a club trial. Note the prominent Yorkshire club plaque
“Things changed when Rover, which had become part of British Leyland, decided to withdraw from active involvement in the club scene, and the clubs that had been affiliated to the ROA decided to create a new organisation called the Association of Rover Clubs Ltd. This in turn became today’s Association of Land Rover Clubs Ltd (ALRC) following the departure of the last Rover car club in 2006.
“My working life was spent in road transport. The family had moved to Huddersfield where dad took employment as a semi-skilled engineer at David Brown Tractors Ltd. He secured an engineering apprenticeship for me at David Brown, which involved six years moving around the various departments such as the machine shop, design office, and so on, but I started in the transport and works vehicles maintenance department.
“I very quickly decided that this was the sort of thing I wanted to build my career around, and I opted to take up the apprenticeship as a motor vehicle mechanic. The fact that David Brown owned Aston Martin Lagonda had a significant bearing on my choice. I could reminisce for hours about my time working on Aston Martin and Lagonda cars, but that probably belongs in another magazine…
Roy's dedication to the Discovery marque is unquestionable
“My education was enhanced by day release at college and night school, where I gained City and Guilds Certificates in Auto Engineering. The apprenticeship gave me a deferment from National Service at 18 years old until I was 21. When I was called-up, I attended basic training and after this took trade tests and was posted to the RAF as a Junior Technician and progressed to Corporal Technician in Motor Transport for my two years of National Service.
“On demob I went back to David Browns and started to think about my future employment. I was accepted to join BMC as a Field Service Engineer but took up a better offer as Transport Manager for Shaws Fuels, a coal merchant and oil distributor in Huddersfield. In 1977 I was transferred to their Scottish depot and I joined the Scottish Land Rover Club and participated in their trials. In 1984 I returned to Harrogate to manage the company’s nationwide fleet of 120 oil tankers and tippers, and 80 cars. The job was rather intensive and involved a lot of travelling around to the various oil depots in the UK, and with so little time at home I decided to give up trialling. It was a sad day indeed when I sold my trialler and its trailer.
Late 1980s’ interior still looks fresh and modern
“In 2000 I retired from the company, which was now part of Coal Products Limited of Sheffield, and soon afterwards, with more time on my hands, I decided to have another go at trialling and started looking for a 90 to enter the RTV events. Even then, they were quite expensive so instead I bought a 1990 200Tdi Discovery registered H564 XUC. The plan was that I’d sort it out and use it as a trialler instead of a 90. Once I had the Discovery back on the road I found that I really enjoyed the comfort and performance, and I decided it was too good to knock about and so I kept her for road runs and treasure hunts. I had a company car at the time, so the Discovery was really my hobby car.
“I was so impressed with the Discovery that I started to investigate the history of the model, and that’s when I learned that the development programme at Solihull was known as Project Jay. I also learned that the factory had registered a fleet of 86 vehicles for the press launch at Plymouth in 1989, and all had been given G-WAC registrations. I became more and more interested in finding out more about the Jays and decided that one day I would own a G-WAC.
“In 2007 I entered the H-reg in the much-missed Heritage Run from Lode Lane to Gaydon and when I arrived at the British Motor Museum I noticed there were no less than three G-WACs already parked up. I introduced myself and that’s how I met Graham Bethell with G469 WAC, James Cromar with G488 WAC, and Ian Rawlings with G480 WAC. It was very pleasing to see Graham’s 469 awarded the Tom Barton Trophy at the show, and Graham and I discovered that we had a shared interest in trying to find as many of the other launch cars as we could. I started to write the G-WAC Notes and Graham set up a website in 2011. In a way it was a bit like the initiative started by Geof Miller and others in the late-1980s to try to track down the surviving Velar pre-production Range Rovers.
A fascinating collection of original design sketches dating from the mid-1980s, created by the Land Rover design studio: George Thomson (top), Mike Sampson (centre), Dave Evans (below left) and George Thomson (below right)
“The Discovery was just as important as the original Range Rover, perhaps even more so given the state the company was in by the mid-1980s when development of the new vehicle began. The Discovery opened up a brand-new market for Land Rover, just as the Range Rover had done in 1970, and historians and enthusiasts are generally agreed that the successful launch of the Discovery in 1989 actually saved the company from going under.
“Graham and I personally funded both G-WAC Notes and the website, and together we purchased two of the five known pre-pro five-doors, G266 EAC and G513 DHP. In 2018 at the Billing Show we were called to a gathering in a gazebo by a number of our followers who said that they appreciated what we were doing to promote the saving of these old Jays and wanted to know how they could help.
“Although running the website and producing G-WAC Notes were not hugely expensive or time-consuming, Graham and I were delighted to know there were others who shared our enthusiasm for the Jays and we were extremely grateful for the offer of a contribution to the costs.
“To formalise things properly, it was decided that as of January 1, 2019, we would create a subscription club called the Project Jay Preservation Group, which would be dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Land Rover Discoverys built between 1989 and 1993.
Project Jay Preservation Group members are regular show participants
“All the founding members shared a common interest in restoration work and displaying their vehicles at shows and other suitable events, and from the outset the PJPG has had a thriving show calendar. Things obviously took a battering during the pandemic, but it’s great to see that we are bouncing back this year, with a club presence at the NEC Practical Classics Classic Car & Restoration Show, the Welsh Land Rover Gathering, the ALRC National Rally, Land Rover Legends at Thruxton Historic, the Billing Off Road Show, the Classic Land Rover Gathering, the Peterborough Land Rover Show, and the NEC Classic Motor Show. Membership continues to grow steadily as more and more Land Rover enthusiasts begin to appreciate what an excellent, usable and affordable classic the Discovery is, and anyone interested can find out more on the PJPG website.
Roy and Daphne in G478 WAC at Plymouth Hoe for a launch anniversary gathering
“I still very much enjoy taking my own vehicles to several events each year and my particular favourites are the Practical Classics show and the Classic Motor Show, both of which are held at the NEC in Birmingham in March and November respectively. I also try to attend one or two shows over the summer months and always look forward to meeting PJPG members and Jay enthusiasts. It’s wonderful to see how many classic car enthusiasts are beginning to appreciate the first-generation Discovery as well.
“Whatever direction your interest in Land Rovers takes, it’s invariably the case that one is not enough. One Discovery was definitely not going to be enough for me, so after acquiring my first, H564 XUC, I finally managed to buy a G-WAC in 2006, which was number 465. I sold this in 2008 when G526 WAC was looking for a good home, and the five-door pre-pro G513 DHP was added in 2016.
Five-door prototype G513 DHP poses on Anglesey
“Naturally enough, a V8-powered G-WAC was deemed necessary to accompany the 200Tdi-engined 526, and I bought G478 WAC in 2012. With 478 came G610 WAC in a Project Jay ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal, and I loaned it to Kevin Bond. With his sad passing, 610 was returned to me and is now with my son, Stephen.
“The 2.0-litre Mpi-engined Discovery was a relative rarity back in the day and even more so now, and when L637 LRX came up in 2014 I decided that I might as well go for the full set. Equally rare in the UK is the Honda Crossroad, which was a rebadged Land Rover Discovery sold in Japan between 1993 and 1998 which was the last knockings of what had been an incredibly fruitful collaboration between Rover and Honda. Honda were dealt with rather badly during Rover’s changes of ownership, which was very unfair.
“I acquired two examples in 2017. I bought the first one knowing that it needed work but when it wasn’t ready for a particular show that I planned to attend, I bought a second example that was taxed and tested and on the button. Its previous owner had rather bizarrely set in train a request with the DVLA to have it reclassified as a Discovery rather than a Honda, but as soon as I bought it I put a stop to that! I also removed the Discovery badges he had fitted and sourced the correct Honda badges. We also had to replicate the very distinctive Crossroad decals, and my son-in-law was able to do that using his computer and printer. I still have one of the Crossroad vehicles, and my stepson-in-law has the other. We like to keep our Jays in the family.
Discovery Commercial is a rare survivor
“Another rarity is the Discovery Commercial van and one of these, L549 VKV, became the most recent addition to the collection last year. I think I may well be the only person to own a full set of Jays.
“Finally, there is the ‘winter wheels’ Discovery, a Tdi three-door, registered L680 YVV, which was acquired in 2013 specifically to use in the winter when there’s snow and salt on the roads. My daily driver is a Rover 75 which I bought new. I got an incredible deal at the time, because the infamous Phoenix Four were hammering the final nail in the coffin of the Rover car company, and everything was massively discounted. The winter wheels Discovery comes in handy if the snow and ice mean I can’t get the 75 up the drive.
“All of the Discoverys in the collection have required work and, just like first-generation Range Rovers, rust is the daily enemy. Even the most die-hard Jay enthusiast will acknowledge that the level of anti-corrosion protection engineered into the design is almost non-existent. Thankfully they are reasonably easy to work on and keeping on top of things is the only answer, with repairs carried out as necessary before every MoT. Among my vehicles, only G478 WAC has had a body-off restoration, but 526 is rapidly approaching that point and is likely to require more intrusive surgery next year.
Roy’s G526 WAC was displayed at Balmoral Castle in 2018 as part of a a 70th Anniversary tribute to the Land Rover
“PJPG member Dan Clark has started his own business so perhaps it will be a job for him. Dan was an engineer at Ripon Land Rover and its successor, Lloyd Land Rover, for many years and knows all there is to know about our kind of Land Rovers. He decided to start his own business around 18 months ago and he is the ideal person to work on the Jays in my collection. After all, at the age of 87 there are limits as to what I want to be doing myself.
“Daphne, my second wife, is a huge supporter of my Jay collecting habits and attends all the events with me. She is also much better than me at preparing the vehicles for shows. We got married in 2018. My first and late wife Margaret and I were married in 1957 and we had two boys, Stephen in 1960 and John in 1963, although sadly John died in 1997 from complications associated with diabetes. Daphne, a widow, has a married daughter with three children and four grandchildren and I’m trying to ensure they become interested in Land Rovers, and especially Jays.”
Postscript: LRM is delighted to congratulate Roy on becoming the 2022 Winner of the prestigious Brian Bashall Memorial Award, which was presented to him by Philip Bashall at Land Rover Legends at Thruxton Historic on 12 June
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