26 November 2022
The world’s most stylish travelling fun fair just became even more eye-catching with a Defender to help haul the rides around
The fun of the fair – the sounds, the colours, the lights and music. For many it reminds them of a childhood treat that ended with post-waltzer dizziness and sticky candy floss fingers and it is these memories that have been rekindled for the last 40 years by Berkshire-based Carters Steam Fair.
Anyone familiar with the Carter’s ensemble rolling into town will know only too well the heavy-hitters that move the collection of classic rides from one location to the next: Scammell, Atkinson, Foden, ERF. But at the centre of it all is a humble Land Rover Defender.
There’s little doubt this is a working Land Rover with full-length roof rack and front winch in regular use
John and Anna Carter began collecting vintage fair rides in the late 1970s and it soon turned into a full-time love affair and business. These days, the fair is largely run by son, Joby, and his family – John sadly having passed away over 20 years ago, but the Defender in question is actually in the custodianship of another Carter’s employee, Steve Mahon.
“I’ve known Steve for years,” explains Joby. “When he came to work for us he needed a truck and so I asked him what he wanted. I presumed he would want a van of some sort, but his reply was immediate: ‘a Land Rover’.”
The ex-utilities Defender was silver but was soon painted and signwritten to fit in with the collection of vintage rides and trucks
Although frequenters of the post-show clear up will often see Joby’s Discovery 4 being pressed into service, it’s fair to say that his own relationship with the marque is bittersweet: “I literally grew up in them,” he smiles. “My mum and dad had a Series II which, during show season, I would often sleep in as well as travel from one location to the next.”
Having lived with Land Rovers from an early age, the romance eventually wore off: “I have a right arm,” laughs Joby, “so I’m not entirely sure why anyone would choose to have one. But I’ve learned not to tell people what tools they need and don’t force something on them they don’t want, so when Steve said he wanted a Land Rover, that was fine by me.”
Land Rover enthusiast Steve Mahon at work with his truck
The search for something suitable soon turned up an ex-utilities Defender and from Steve’s point of view, it was the perfect vehicle. “My job involves everything from helping shunt some of the rides around on-site and back in the yard, to carrying out general maintenance. The fact that the body had already been modified to carry a variety of tools and equipment means I didn’t even need to fit it out.”
Steve’s own Land Rover history is far from fleeting: “I got my first at the age of 18,” he recalls. “It was a 1962 Series II, but this was followed by an early two-door Range Rover, powered by an Aussie V8 and with the suspension lifted by about eight inches.”
Although it does help out on-site, one of the Defender’s main roles is helping shunt rides around the White Waltham yard
Some of the rides weigh as much as 15 tonnes – no trouble for the 110
His ownership didn’t stop there: “I’ve had an ex-St John Ambulance Series III and an ex-military Defender 90 which I used when living in France – all of them great fun, so when Joby asked what vehicle I needed, there was only ever going to be one answer.”
Before the Defender came along, Joby had a Nissan Navara, but shunting some of the heavier equipment around eventually put paid to the transmission – no such worries with its replacement, however. It easily moves the heaviest ride into position, all 15 tonnes of it.
Joby Carter’s top-notch brush work in detail on the Td5’s bonnet
Some might know the name Joby Carter not just from the steam fair, but also thanks to his outstanding artistry at the end of a brush. His passion for signwriting and fair art undoubtedly stems from his parents – his father studied at Slade School of Fine Art and his mother still uses her considerable talents as a painter to inject new life into the rides, much as she did more than four decades ago. But Joby was further influenced by other key artists within the Carter camp, in particular Stan Wilkinson from whom he learnt the finer points of his trade. These days, Joby and fellow signwriter, Aaron Stephens, are responsible for making sure that the fair’s rides and vehicles look the part and they do so using the same methods as those that went before them – no vinyl decals or taped edges to be seen.
Joby at work on the Defender's signage
Of course, with Steve’s Defender now a reliable part of the wider Carter fleet, its silver paint job wouldn’t remain untouched for long and soon Joby picked up his brushes and worked his magic – applying the trademark colour scheme to the exterior and turning it into something that would look right at home next to the vast collection of period rides, trucks and living wagons that wend their way around the country during the show season.
Everything is done by hand and brush and Joby reckons that the Defender took around three weeks to complete – turning his attention to it whenever a spare moment presented itself. As with the rides, everything is painted in enamel – the durability and finish of which is perfect for the hard life that fairground equipment endures. Unlike the world of Land Rovers where patina is often celebrated however, all rides, signage and even Steve’s Defender will get a fresh treatment when the tiredness begins to take over – the fair needs to look its best at all times in order to provide visitors with an authentic experience.
The various cubby boxes hold a variety of equipment to aid in the fair’s smooth running
Aside from the obvious body modification with its side shutters and storage cubby holes, the Defender boasts a number of utilities upgrades compared with a standard model: double rear coils beef up the rear suspension, a second alternator fills out a space in the engine bay next to the Td5 powerplant and there are twin power outlets at the rear – all of which originate from its days with an overhead line maintenance outfit.
Up front there is a heavy-duty winch which, whilst rarely used to pull any of the trailers into place because of their size and weight, does occasionally come in handy when erecting some of the rides. Although the gutter-mounted roof rack with front overhang was present, Steve has modified it from a basic ladder assembly to something now capable of carrying anything from spare parts to dodgem cars. “The big advantage, though, is that it provides a safe platform from which to work,” he explains. “Overall, it’s just a truly versatile machine which is still capable of doing 70mph on the motorway – without the dodgems on the roof, of course.”
With the Carter collection in high demand for film and television work in addition to their touring – recent appearances include Paddington 2, Worzel Gummidge and Midsomer Murders – it’s surely only a matter of time before the humble Defender gets its time in front of the cameras. But for now, it’s business as usual – helping to keep Carter’s Steam Fair in fine fettle and on the move.
Learn to Signwrite
Everyone loves a signwritten Land Rover, so if you fancy brushing up on your technique (pun intended), Joby Carter runs regular signwriting workshops both online and in person. Visit jobycarter.com to find out more or to purchase a copy of his latest book: Signwriting Tips, Tricks & Inspiration.
Try a Budget Digital Subscription
Get access to over 7 years of Land Rover Monthly – that’s almost 100 issues plus the latest digital issue. The issues are fully searchable so you can easily find what you are looking for and what’s more it’s less than 10p a day to subscribe. Click here and start enjoying all the benefits now.