A family affair

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February 2008 and Paul and Debbie get some help cleaning the gearbox from Anthony, Danny and Liam : credit: © Paul Ridler
At LRM we’re always delighted to hear about readers’ DIY restorations, even if they do take rather longer than planned to complete…

Paul Ridler with his newly-completed Series III – 17 years in the making!

Seventeen years. That’s how long it took Paul Ridler to complete the restoration of this 1976 2¼ petrol Series III 88in. It could well be a record. He did everything himself with the exception of the gearbox and transfer ’box rebuilds, which were entrusted to Whitehouse in Wolverhampton. Paul has a garage that will take two cars, but they have to be parked nose to tail, and there is barely room to squeeze between the walls on either side and the vehicles. Most of the work on the Series III was done outside, on the driveway.

I’m meeting Paul and his wife, Debbie, and their eldest son, Anthony, to hear the story, and hopefully go for a spin in the Series III. Paul’s introduction to Land Rovers started at a young age, on a farm in Somerset which was the regular destination for his family’s summer holidays. There was, of course, a Land Rover on the farm, and every year Paul would be driven around the property in it. It was a Series III and he knew that one day he would own one just like it. Debbie’s dad, Paul Newman, also developed a Land Rover habit and was an off-road driving instructor with Vince Cobley at Pro-Trax for many years.

The Series III as acquired by Paul in 2000

“I started looking for a suitable Series III in 2000,” Paul tells me. “I wanted a basket case that needed a full restoration, and I found this one in Borehamwood. The odometer suggested it had done 13,000 miles, but how many times it had been around the clock isn’t clear… There were five previous owners before me.

“It was leaking oil all over the owner’s new driveway, and his wife wanted shot of it. It was within my budget, and I bought it for £400. I’d worked on quite a few cars before the Land Rover, including a VW Beetle, an MG Midget and a kit-car, so I didn’t think a Series III would present any particular difficulties.”

It turns out that Paul served a four-year machining apprenticeship at Kodak, before spending a further 24 years working in the company’s forklift maintenance workshop. He’s in a similar profession today, working as a field engineer for a firm specialising in powered stair-climbing machinery. Along the way he learned to weld, which is a skill that always comes in handy where Land Rover rebuilds are concerned.

Liam looks on while dad checks things out prior to the strip-down, September 2003

“I started work on the Series III almost immediately and stripped it down. From the outset I knew what I was aiming for. I wanted a sound, reliable and useable Land Rover that was pretty much to factory specification, and I didn’t want any chequerplate or big wheels and tyres. But I’m not a rivet-counter so I wasn’t going to get too precious about things like fastenings. All the fixings on the vehicle are metric, for example, which I know will irritate the purists!

“Juggling family life and work commitments meant that the Land Rover progressed as time and budget allowed. Debbie and I have three sons, and the boys were always keen to get involved, so the restoration really did become a family project. I always joke that when I started the project the boys were toddlers, and now they’re all of driving age.

“There are always moments on a project like this when your motivation takes a knock, but having Debbie and the boys telling me to get on with it because they ‘wanted to go for a drive’ was a great help to spur me on to finish the restoration.

Narrow garage was not a problem in the early stages of the project, but soon the work needed to move to the driveway

“I knew before I bought it that it would need a new chassis, and I ordered a galvanised heavy-duty replacement from Marsland. One of the biggest challenges was the bulkhead, which was rotten in all the usual places. I decided that it was repairable, but I had to improve my welding skills to be able to do flat panel welding. I did most of the welding at work, where I had a large flat workbench. I made a jig to ensure everything stayed where it needed to be. The radiator panel was also heavily corroded on the lower edge, but I cut away all the rot, made up a repair panel, and successfully welded it
in place.

“The rest of the bodywork was re-used, although I had to replace the floor in the rear, and the underfloor support brackets. I rebuilt the engine myself, having first welded-up my own engine stand that allowed me to rotate the engine as I worked on it. I honed the bores myself with a Black & Decker drill and a honing tool. I measured the bores afterwards and they were all spot-on.

“I fitted a replacement wiring loom, but feeding the harness through the chassis was a nightmare. Much easier if you can tie a rope to the old loom when you pull it out, and then use the rope to pull the new one in, but that was of no help to me with a new chassis.

Five litres of Bronze Green paint was mixed by a friend and brush-painted by Paul

“I decided to paint the bodywork by hand, and a friend offered to make up a five-litre tin of Land Rover Bronze Green for me. I started on the bonnet, and by the time I got to the final panels, which were the doors, I’d improved my painting skills considerably. It’s not perfect, but it does the job and it cost a lot less that having a professional painter to the work.

“I did have a major disaster with the painting when I accidentally knocked over the paint tin. It spread across the garage floor in an ever-expanding lake, and because it was specially mixed for me, I knew I’d never be able to replace it with paint that would be exactly the same shade of Bronze Green. So I scooped it up off the floor, filtered it through some gauze to get rid of the dried leaves, grit and other muck, and then filtered it some more until I thought it was good enough to use. It worked!

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Paul discovered the garage door wasn't high enough so slave rear hubs were required to get the vehicle in and out

“As the rebuild progressed, it became obvious that the Series III was getting too tall to fit into the garage. The only way to get it in and out was to remove the rear wheels and replace them with wheels without tyres, and roll it in on those. Of course, this was never going to be a viable long-term solution, so funds earmarked for the restoration had to be diverted to pay for a bigger garage door!

February 2010 and Danny gets stuck into installing the fan and is certainly enjoying the challenge

“Although the vehicle had a hard top and side windows when I bought it, I’d decided from the outset that I would restore it with a full soft-top, and because we planned to use the vehicle as family transport, I fitted bench seats and lap belts in the back. One of the biggest challenges I had was the quality of many of the replacement parts that I bought. These were admittedly replica or aftermarket parts, but even so they should have been fit for purpose.

Almost everything on the rebuild was carried out on Paul’s driveway, including engine and gearbox installations

“I hoped the gearbox would be okay so I refitted it as it was, but it kept jumping out of gear on the over-run, so that was when I took it out and sent it to Whitehouse to be rebuilt. It’s been a delight to use ever since. I also ended up buying a new carburettor. The Series III came with a Weber but I could never get it to run right. I’ve got a leak from the steering box to deal with, and one of the rear springs seems to have gone flat over the winter, so that will need to be replaced, but otherwise it has been a reliable and fun family vehicle. The total spent on parts to complete the restoration was around £6500.”

Debbie suggests that we go for a drive, so I jump into the passenger seat while Anthony rolls up the tilt and clambers into the back, camera at the ready to record some video footage. Paul heads out of town and soon we’re motoring over the downs. The Series III rides well and pulls cleanly, and the engine runs like a sewing machine.

Trialling at Devil’s Pit in Bedfordshire last year

“Debbie and I are committee members for the Aylesbury Land Rover Fanatics club,” Paul tells me. “The club’s been around for over 20 years. It’s a great family-oriented club with a monthly meet in Aylesbury and a full calendar of varied events throughout the year, including camping weekends, off-road events, greenlaning days and holidays, and competitive RTV events with another club. We also have a club stand at the Billing Show every year, and I’ve displayed the Series III on the stand and also driven the famous Billing off-road course.

Liam and Danny, with Anthony in background, making good use of the newly-installed rear tub in May 2014

“Our eldest son, Anthony, is a keen Land Rover enthusiast and has his eye on the Series III, which has become a bit of a family heirloom. He has a lot of video footage of the Series III at Billing and other events, and for a while was posting it all on his own YouTube channel.

“We also have a Discovery II and are restoring the Defender 90 200Tdi that Debbie’s dad previously owned. I am currently in the early stages of rebuilding it, and by early stages I mean I’ve only been working on it for five years!

“It’s not going to be a chassis-up rebuild because it’s basically very sound, but the bulkhead needs a fair bit of work. I’m planning to use it as an off-road competition vehicle when it’s finished, and I hope it doesn’t take another 12 years to complete! But it will mean that we have three Land Rovers – one each for Anthony and his brothers, Liam and Danny!”

 

Read more great resto stories in our Classics section.

 

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