Another Shoolheifer masterpiece


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The owner’s original plan was for a factory-fresh-style restoration! : credit: © Martin Port
This latest work of art from Julian Shoolheifer shows how a patina resto is as painstaking to do as a factory-fresh overhaul

Unless you suffer from crippling amnesia or have been stuck beneath a Land Rover for the last 18 months, chances are you’re familiar with the registration JUE 477 and the man behind its restoration, Julian Shoolheifer. It’s fair to say that the limelight in which that particular 1948 80in bathed has contributed to a growing enthusiasm for patina – once upon a time deemed the preserve of those who couldn’t afford the factory-fresh makeover that was so desirable.

Of course, not every Land Rover has the benefit of such an authentic starting place as chassis 860001, but this wasn’t even a consideration when Shoolheifer was presented with another early 1948 vehicle to sell on behalf of the then owner.

The 1948 80in as found – sadly, little of the original paint was still hiding beneath the later Deep Bronze Green

​​​​​​GEW 132 had been in the same hands for almost 40 years and the logbook was witness to only a couple of names before that. Although it, like so many other examples, had been painted Deep Bronze Green since leaving Solihull, it was still largely original. It had been fitted with a later 2.0-litre engine, but as a package it had served its owner very well until the decision to sell.

Shoolheifer immediately knew who to offer it to. Having previously found and completed a restoration on a slightly later 1948 vehicle for a client in the US, he wondered if the gentleman in question would grasp at the opportunity to buy this earlier example – he was born in 1948 and this would surely satisfy his passion for post-war British engineering. Shoolheifer was correct – he agreed to buy and instructed the Essex-based restorer to carry out an ‘arrow straight’ full restoration, complete with fresh paint. This would make the perfect partner to the previous 1948 which had been painstakingly stripped back to reveal the original light green topcoat.

The 80in rides superbly on new leaf springs, but even they’ve been tweaked to give the best feel and to take into account the weight of both front and rear winches

Shoolheifer’s first task was to remove the bodywork. It was at this point that he made two key discoveries. When the chassis were originally assembled within the factory, they were stamped with a frame number. This number didn’t necessarily correlate to a vehicle build date or order, but the underpinnings of GEW 132 had been stamped with three digits, 970. Not particularly relevant unless you know that the other 1948 model restored for the same owner was stamped 971. The actual chassis numbers were 221 apart, but clearly both were next to each other in the factory 73 years ago when frame number allocations were handed out – now they were in the same ownership.

Unfortunately, the next discovery was rather less thrilling. Although the previous owner had never found cause to question the integrity of the chassis, Shoolheifer noticed that the outriggers had, some 40 years or more ago, been cut off and reattached in slightly different positions. Closer inspection revealed that the chassis was twisted and had been on the receiving end of a severe front-end knock – the repositioning of the outriggers had been executed to make the body fit once again. It also became apparent that there was more corrosion than initially thought and previous intentions to repair the chassis as necessary were put to one side by the owner, in favour of a new replacement.

Despite the patinated exterior, all mechanical components received the highest level of attention to enable a further 70 years of use​​​​​​

In the meantime, Shoolheifer had managed to source an age-correct side-plate engine and embarked on his standard practice of overhauling everything mechanically to the
best possible standard, taking the time to not just bolt overhauled or replacement parts together, but making sure that the fit and placement was as good as it should be on a restored vehicle. It was at this point that the owner threw a bit of a curve ball.

His existing 1948 80in had been present on the day that the completed JUE 477 was revealed to its owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Shoolheifer had assembled several other vehicles in support of the occasion and duly sent a selection of photographs back to the USA. Seeing images of JUE 477 and having the opportunity to absorb the story behind its resurrection resulted in a telephone call from Oregon: “Change of plan. I have other shiny vehicles. I don’t want this to be another.”

The reasoning behind this decision was simple – the owner was of the opinion that once you’ve bolted on all-new body panels, you don’t have much of the original vehicle left. Effectively throwing away 73 years of history – even if they do present a mixed bag of non-factory replacements, owner additions, knocks and bangs – is a choice you can only make once, so you need to be sure of your intentions.

The process of creating a patina-look Land Rover starts with knowing just how it would age and wear – even replicating tailgate chain marks on the tub corners​​​​​​

Of course, that didn’t phase Shoolheifer, but it did move the goalposts slightly and mean that the first job was to delve deeper into the now removed bodywork to see what lay beneath the Deep Bronze Green. In an ideal world, the original light green factory topcoat would have burst through, eager to be revealed. The reality was slightly different and what actually presented itself was, for the most part, a mixed bag of bare metal, damaged panels and old repairs. It wasn’t all doom and gloom however; several areas still retained the most fantastic original paint – under the bonnet for example – but the inconsistency on the visible faces meant that there was only one real option available: a complete respray.

Instead of going back to Plan A however, the owner wasn’t about to let this deter his intentions – he still wanted an original, but somewhat mellow-looking 80in and made reference to the supercharged Series I that Shoolheifer had built some years earlier. The lived-in look created specifically for that vehicle hit the spot as far as the owner of GEW 132 was concerned, acknowledging that if the original finish isn’t there to start with, you can’t put it back. His intention was certainly not to deceive anyone, nor was it to pretend that something was original when it wasn’t, but he knew from experience that Shoolheifer could create the look and feel that he wanted. Plan B was alive and well.

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Shoolheifer has been breathing new life into old Land Rovers since he was a teenager – the results of his vast experience easy to see in every vehicle that leaves the workshop

​​​​​​In order to make the 80in have the appearance of an original paint finish that had begun to age, it would first have to be painted in the same way. Two-pack paint is rarely (if ever) found in Shoolheifer’s workshop and so the panels were treated to a single coat of etch primer and a topcoat of enamel, all panels painted in the same session in order to achieve consistency. “This is where some restorations go wrong,” explains Shoolheifer. “They put down multiple layers of two-pack paint and marvel at how shiny it is, but if you’re after an original look, it needs to be done as it was in the factory.”

The downside is that there is no polishing out, very little opportunity to correct mistakes and it takes a lot longer to harden, but there is no denying that the extra effort is worth the end result. The irony is that, having achieved such a finish, the next job was to begin the long process of taking it away. And this is where a popular misconception can really be challenged: “Some people think that producing a patina vehicle is a lazy option,” explains Shoolheifer. “In fact, it’s the complete opposite – certainly if you do it right. The easy option would be to either replace the bodywork with brand new panels, or to strip the original ones down to bare metal, fill in the imperfections and hit it all with multiple layers of two-pack paint before bolting on brand new parts. Producing a patina-look vehicle takes a lot longer and is more of a challenge to get the right end-result.”

The underside of the bonnet retains its original paint. Over the years GEW 132 was fitted with a 2.0 engine, now replaced by this age-appropriate 1600cc

The key, he says, is getting the vehicle to sit well within itself. At first read, that may sound like some motivational meme found on Instagram, but it makes perfect sense: “There is no point in constantly comparing an original patina vehicle to what you are doing,” he explains. “But you need to make sure that what you do doesn’t look like a pastiche. If you put an artist’s interpretation of the Mona Lisa next to the original, you’d quickly see which is real, but hang the copy in isolation and if it’s good enough then many wouldn’t give it a second thought.”​​​​​

He admits that there’s a huge amount of trial and error in getting the right end-result – lots of experimentation with methods and approaches, redoing parts until you’re happy and, ultimately, everything is done by eye. There is no formula to be followed, but you know when it is done. Of course, this isn’t limited to just the bodywork. Original galvanised finishes are cleaned up and where there is little choice other than putting a new part on (such as the bumper on this example), it is aged and weathered first to ensure it blends in. Even wheel nuts are repainted but then matted down, flatted where appropriate and polished back up to the right level.

The interior was deliberately left with fresh paint so that the driver is in no doubt that they are at the wheel of a properly restored vehicle

The replacement chassis was painted with several different shades of silver in order to give the look of being aged – refurbished, but certainly not new – and while GEW 132 may wear its mellowed exterior with pride, the view from behind the wheel or when checking the oil level is very different: “We decided to keep the cabin and the engine bay fresh after the respray,” Shoolheifer explains. “We wanted the owner to still sit in the driver’s seat and not be under any misconception that he had anything other than a fully-restored Series I. Likewise, although we left the fabulous original paint on the underside of the bonnet, the rest of the engine bay and everything within it has not been aged. Mechanically, the 80in has had the highest level of attention lavished upon it and has been done to the best possible standards and it’s important that this is recognised.”

If ever there was any questioning of this last point, you need only get behind the wheel and take GEW 132 for a drive. That rebuilt 1600 purrs away reassuringly, like a contented cat on your lap and as you double de-clutch into second, you already notice just how well the 80in rides over farm tracks. Unsurprisingly, this is as a result of yet more attention to detail by Shoolheifer and his team. “The owner had bought a pair of winches and, although you wouldn’t normally fit both, he specifically asked that we put one at each end. That obviously affected the ride quality and so we adjusted the leaf springs to suit, adding leaves and shortening others in order to get it spot-on.”

Early gauges were cleaned up but not over-restored

A glance across the bulkhead shows that all of the instruments have been meticulously overhauled and cleaned to just the right level. Put simply, everything is as close to perfect as can be achieved with older parts, but there is absolutely no questioning the end-result. The client wanted a mellowed early 80in, one that has the aura of a treasured working vehicle that has been in daily use for a decade or so; the light dings and dents are noticeable but don’t scream with the unabashed confidence of something that has been given a deliberate beating, and you’re not going to get a boot full of rust from a collapsing bulkhead.    

The brief has clearly been fulfilled, but in some ways this is more than giving just the client what he wanted – it’s another weapon in Shoolheifer’s impressive arsenal. “I want people to see that doing a patina resto is misunderstood,” he implores. “I want people to see them as a jewel rather than a poor cousin. People fall in love with Land Rovers because they fall in love with imperfection; with the character, the stories, the battle scars – like a boxer who’s survived time in the ring. We want the finished vehicle to look achingly desirable however we restore it. If they don’t tug at the heart strings, if owners don’t switch on the garage light and just smile or turn back for a glimpse once they’ve parked up and given it a thankful pat on the wing after a successful trip, then we’ve failed.”


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