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Like it or loathe it, Lawrence Longnose is still recognisably a Land Rover : credit: © Gary Pusey
Nicknamed Lawrence Longnose, it’s definitely a Marmite Land Rover, but the story of its inspiration and creation is fascinating

And now for something completely different,” as John Cleese used to say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. What you see before you began life in 1963 as a perfectly standard Series IIA, and now it is one man’s homage to the (in)famous Bell Aurens Longnose. An act of vandalism or an inspired piece of DIY engineering? As the fictitious Prime Minister Francis Ewan Urquhart said in that wonderful British TV thriller House of Cards, “I couldn’t possibly comment.” I’ll present the facts and leave you to make up your own mind.

The one and only Bell Aurens prototype​​​​​​

First, some history. The Bell Aurens was designed in 2008 by two German Land Rover enthusiasts, Thomas Bell and Holger Kalvelage, who intended it to be powered by a 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce engine that would, in its Merlin form, have powered a Spitfire, or in Meteor guise, a British tank such as a Cromwell, Centurion or Conqueror.

Apparently, the killjoys in the German ministry responsible for approving Thomas and Holger’s modified Land Rover weren’t too impressed by their choice of engine, and it ended up being powered by a souped-up 4.6-litre Rover V8. Perhaps if the builders had chosen a 23-litre V12 Maybach from a Tiger or a King Tiger tank, the authorities would have been more sympathetic. We’ll never know.

The designers famously revealed their personal allegiances at the time, saying that: ‘‘Lawrence of Arabia would have stormed in the Bell Aurens Longnose towards Aqaba, and General Montgomery would have roared across the sand dunes of North Africa in pursuit of Rommel.’’ Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour? By the way, not a lot of people know this, but Lawrence of Arabia was known as Al Aurens by the people of the Arab kingdom of Hejaz who he led in the campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Bell Aurens. See what they did there? Herr Bell and Herr Kalvelage clearly had a bit of a thing for Lawrence of Arabia.

Bell Aurens only production vehicle​​​​​​

It probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that only one prototype (based on a 1967 Series IIA 109-inch) and one production vehicle were made, at least as far as I can make out. When the Bell Aurens was announced back in 2008 it apparently had a list price of around $80,000. One was offered for sale in 2012 and the asking price had almost doubled to $155,000. In 2019 when one appeared for sale again in Classic Driver the price had risen to a whopping $299,000. Maybe that is why LRM reader David Sexton decided to build his own. He was clearly inspired by Bell and Kalvelage’s rousing words about Al Aurens, because when the fruit of his labours was finished, David christened it Lawrence Longnose.​​​​​​

“I remember reading about the Bell Aurens when it was launched,” he tells me. “I was fascinated by the sheer audacity and boldness of the design, as well as the fact that it has more than a hint of silliness and fun about it. I didn’t think much more about it until some years later, when late one night two friends and I ended up looking at cars for sale on eBay. It would be fair to say that we’d already enjoyed a few glasses of wine, and I ended up buying a modified 109 chassis, sight unseen from Somerset. It arrived on a flatbed to great amusement all-round, although Mrs S thought (and still does) that one SIIA was sufficient for us as a family.”

It’s worth pointing out that the other Series IIA is a gorgeous and much-cherished SWB 1961 model, once owned by a doctor and registered with the astonishing number 73 FAB. Needless to say, the number has been sold, although not by David. He and I spend a few moments wondering where the number might be today and, more importantly, what it might be worth. The vehicle wears the patina of its 60 years with great style and charm while remaining exactly as the Wilks brothers intended. It is mechanically on the button and used every week in all weathers, and David does all the work on it himself. He likes to give his Land Rovers names, and this one is called Ambridge. Parking Lawrence Longnose and Ambridge side by side is certainly an interesting exercise.

Proud owner David with Lawrence Longnose and Ambridge. Which would you choose?

“The chap in Somerset I bought it from had started the longnose project and had made an excellent job of repairing the chassis,” David says. “He also completed the modifications to the steering and bulkhead, and these were already installed when I acquired it. He had started work on the body by fabricating the wings and the bonnet too, but to be honest, I completely underestimated the amount of time and effort it would take to finish it.

“I have spent many hundreds of hours on it over the past seven years, initially focusing on the bodywork. The seat boxes had to be modified and cut into the rear wheelarches, and a new cockpit floor was fabricated using the side panel from an old fridge. The same fridge gave up its other panel to make the bulkhead behind the front seats. The front seats are standard Land Rover items heavily modified to fit. When you are driving it, you are really sitting where the rear seats would be on a regular 109. The seats in the back are standard Land Rover, but everything was retrimmed in a suitable shade of brown.

Rear bulkhead was fabricated from the side panel on the fridge

David taught himself trimming so he could upholster the seats

Neat spare wheel installation took many hours to fabricate

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Spare wheel mount is welded to the chassis​​​​​

“Creating the mounting bracket for the spare wheel was hugely labour intensive, because not only did the wing panels and bonnet need to be cut back and made good, but a sturdy frame had to be made up and welded to the chassis rail to provide a safe and secure mounting. Before I got the hacksaw out, I had to decide what wheels I was going to use. I didn’t think it looked right on standard wheels, so I ended up investing in five very expensive Forward Control deep dish rims, which I think suit the overall proportions very well and also maintain the period look. I wanted it to look as though it might have been made in the 1960s and not the noughties.

Contact! Lancaster bomber magneto switches and Spitfire starter button

“I spent a lot of time on the cockpit area, and in the spirit of what I think the vehicle is all about, I couldn’t resist fitting a twin magneto switch from an Avro Lancaster bomber to control the fuel pumps, and a starter button from a Spitfire. When I overhauled the 1940s magneto switch, I was astonished at the quality of the engineering. All the more remarkable when you think about the switch being fitted to aircraft that suffered such heavy attrition night after night during World War Two.

“The ignition set-up works very well and there’s always a lot of interest in the start-up routine when I’m flicking the switches and the pumps whirr into action before I lift the lid and press the button. When I took it to the Goodwood Revival just before the pandemic, one wag watching me shouted ‘contact’ at the appropriate moment, much to everyone’s amusement.

Plenty of room under the bonnet for the 27-litre Rolls-Royce engine originally intended for the Bell Aurens

“I fitted a 3.5-litre V8 from a Rover SD1 and had a tough time overhauling and setting up the SU carbs, which took forever, but I was determined to get it right and I did, eventually. I fitted a Fairey Overdrive and have installed it so that it is permanently engaged. I find this gives the best ratios, although I rarely take Lawrence much over 60mph.

Lawrence Longnose imitates Bell Aurens’ exposed downpipes

I can’t resist asking David whether he’s ever thought about fitting a 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce engine, as originally planned by the designers of the Bell Aurens. I’m delighted when he tells me that he has often toyed with the idea and actually knows of several Meteor engines currently for sale, one of which is claimed to be zero-hours. “It’s a tempting proposition,” he says wistfully, “but I’m not sure I have the engineering skills to make it work. I’d also have to source a suitable transmission. I’ve even found some videos online that explore the work involved, but deep down I know I’d quickly run out of time, talent and money. Nevertheless, it’s still possible that I’ll do it. After all, I have been known to make some pretty idiotic purchases over the years…”

Windscreen is secured by homemade clamp that uses a Harley-Davidson saddle spring

“I like driving it with the windscreen folded down and I made up a catch using a Harley-Davidson saddle spring with a bonnet-mounted boss, threaded shaft and handle that I can screw down to keep the folded screen securely in position. I enjoy the full flies-in-your-teeth driving experience. It’s not at all difficult to pilot but you need to be focused all the time and remember that the front end arrives at road junctions some considerable time before the cockpit! You also need a sense of humour and I still wrestle with the ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ attention it draws. Desert Sand probably wasn’t the best choice of colour for a low profile.”

Etched Lawrence badge is a lovely bit of detailing

David kindly offers me the keys and with some trepidation I set off along the local lanes (watch the video here). The extended bonnet looks like the deck of an aircraft carrier stretching into the distance, but it acts as a very good reminder to take care at junctions. Lawrence Longnose drives nicely and feels like a Land Rover, and I think it does very well in avoiding some of the brashness and bling of the Bell Aurens. It’s certainly a head-turner and we experience pointing fingers, gaping mouths and friendly waves during our short drive.

Afterwards, we can’t resist taking it off-road through an area of private woodland that David has access to, and Lawrence Longnose burbles and weaves its way through the trees and the rhododendrons with ease. Sadly, we don’t have any sand dunes to roar across, and I’m pretty sure the chap I glimpsed briefly through the undergrowth wasn’t Rommel walking his dog…

 

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