30 March 2023
John Dyke and his father, Ian, have a fascinating collection of unusual Land Rovers. Their latest restoration is a star of the silver screen
It is the year 2139 – bear with me, this is a Land Rover story. An unspecified calamity has turned the world into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic and barely habitable wasteland. Most of those who survived the disaster that brought humankind close to annihilation are living in vast, crime-infested Mega-Cities. Law and order are the responsibility of a special force of officers who combine the roles of policeman, judge, jury and executioner. One of them is known as Judge Dredd, and in the 1995 film of the same name he is played by Sylvester Stallone.
Land Rover’s promotional leaflet
You might remember the movie, Judge Dredd, which was based on the 2000AD comic character. It’s probably a good thing that we aren’t here today to be film critics because, if the truth be known, the 1995 Judge Dredd movie (there was another one in 2012 which was rather better received) has had quite a bashing over the years.
To be honest, I rather enjoyed it when it came out and I can even remember the original comics because my brother was into them in the 1980s. Film reviewers saw things differently. The movie was attacked for its poor script and because it wasn’t faithful to the original comic-strip hero. The critics were also unimpressed by its leading man’s acting. It is invariably said to be one of Stallone’s worst films. On the Rotten Tomatoes website it scores a miserable 22 out of 100 on the infamous Tomatometer, and critic Todd McCarthy of Variety magazine was short and to the point when he wrote it was, ‘a thunderous, unoriginal futuristic hardware show for teenage boys’.
Judge Dredd hardware is what we’re going to talk about today. One of the most memorable and interesting of the many Judge Dredd film props were the visually arresting and aggressive-looking City Cabs, with their futuristic body designs, grime-streaked sci-fi paint jobs and prominent Land Rover badges. It was a clever bit of product placement: even in such troubling times a Land Rover is still the vehicle you can rely on to get you about, a full 191 years after the 80in was launched at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.
Ian (left) and John with their beautifully restored Judge Dredd 101in
John Dyke and his father, Ian, share my fascination with the Judge Dredd Land Rovers. In fact, they are enthusiastic collectors and restorers of numerous examples of what John calls interesting and oddball Land Rovers, and have some enviable examples, including a couple of Series IIB fire appliances, a Cuthbertson, a 1975 military 101in Forward Control, and a 109in APGP amphib. But they had always fancied a Dredd (and if anyone has any leads on a Hover Rover or the Series II from the Italian Job, they’d love to hear from you).
“My first car was a perfectly standard Land Rover and I grew up with them,” says John. “Dad used one as a recovery truck in his garage business for years. We’ve still got it today. I remember seeing Philip Bashall floating his APGP years ago and I’m sure that had an impact on my subsequent collecting habits.
“A Judge Dredd film vehicle has always been on our list after seeing Land Rover’s own example around the shows. After the film finished, many of them were put back to standard 101s but a small number were sold with their Dredd bodies still fitted. JLR have one, and there is another at the British Motor Museum I believe.
Interior detailing is positively luxurious when compared with the movie-prop original finish
“When one appeared on Facebook a few years ago we had to have it, even though the cab had been extensively modified. We bought it sight unseen from Scotland and had it trailered down to us in Hampshire. Once it was here, we gave it a quick once-over and tucked it away until we had time to start on it. The Covid lockdown provided the perfect opportunity, and we had it finished in time to take it to this year’s Land Rover Legends show in June, for its first public outing.”
And that’s where I saw it for the first time. It stood (literally) head and shoulders above pretty well everything else there. It looked like an alien invader as it rumbled menacingly from the display area and onto the race circuit, and watching it drive past during the parade was nothing short of surreal. It was a very popular vehicle with show visitors and countless parents photographing their smiling children in front of it during the weekend.
But what really impressed me was the quality of the restoration workmanship. The attention to detail is remarkable, as are the efforts put in to turning what was originally an empty movie prop without an interior or doors into something that could be driven legally on the road. The Land Rover National Awards judges were also impressed, because they presented John and Ian with the winner’s trophy in the Best Bespoke Vehicle category.
It might look good on film, but the windscreen offers limited forward vision on the road
“It turned out to be quite an interesting restoration,” says John. “The previous owner had raised the cab roof, we assume in an attempt to improve the forward and sideways visibility, and we wanted to return it to the original body shape. All but one or two of the film vehicles had no interiors whatsoever, and access was only via a hatch in the back of the roof. We wanted to fit driver and passenger doors, as well as a door into the rear of the body. We’d noticed that the JLR vehicle has doors and we studied how they had been done. We also wanted to make the body useable by creating a floor and adding mirrors and wipers in order to achieve our goal of having it road legal.
“The fibreglass bodies were originally made in two halves which were mounted on the chassis and then bolted together, with the join covered with fibreglass. We had to take out the bolts, poke around until we found the join, and then carry out surgery on it to open it up and lift the two halves off. The fibreglass panels needed an unbelievable amount of work before they were ready to be painted. We wouldn’t work on another fibreglass body again because the dust and mess went everywhere!
Chequerplate was an ideal solution for the steps into the rear body
“We also had to think very carefully about our plan to create doors in the bodyshell, to make sure we cut in the right places,” says Ian. “It all worked out in the end, but we had to examine 20 or 30 different hinges before we found ones that would do the job for the driver and passenger doors, with different ones for the side access door.
“The side door ended up being in two parts, with the bottom half opening downwards and to the rear, and the upper part opening upwards. I wanted them to work electronically, and it took a lot of experimentation before we found power-operated struts that would do the job.”
Electric motors and extending struts for the doors are a perfect example of clever ideas and attention to detail
I have to say these are a wonderful touch and reinforce the sci-fi aspects of the finished restoration, but Ian isn’t totally happy and is trying to find a way for both doors to operate with one switch rather than two, with synchronised opening and closing, and for the lower half to close with a final and satisfying clunk that will lock it. The front doors lock electronically, and I was delighted to discover that they are unlocked by punching a code on the keypad mounted on the bodywork behind the driver’s door.
Gear knob is a wonderful touch and a nod to Stallone's shoulder boards in the movie
Inside the cockpit everything has been neatly finished and trimmed, and it is impossible to miss the eagle’s head knob on the gear lever, which has more than a hint of Judge Dredd about it (if you’re as much of an anorak as I am, check out the huge shoulder epaulettes on Stallone’s costume in the film). Driver and passenger comfort is assured with a pair of futuristic-looking seats taken from a sports car. A new fuel tank was fabricated from an old gas cylinder, and neatly constructed aluminium steps are revealed as the side door opens. After several false starts, Ian and John managed to get the most prominent decals and stickers replicated locally, and these were fitted just in time for the Land Rover Legends event. They certainly finish off the vehicle nicely.
“The chassis was in reasonably good shape but we had to fabricate a new frame in order to install the floor and the new fuel tank,” says John. “The engine and gearbox seemed to be okay, so we just cleaned and fitted them, but I discovered that third and fourth were missing when I started to drive round the circuit at Thruxton. We stripped and repaired the gearbox as soon as we got home and it works perfectly now.”
Sorting out the wipers was another challenge, but Ian found that Vauxhall Astra arms with short wiper blades would work, and he celebrated the fact that the vehicle was now road legal by driving it to the Simply Land Rover event at Beaulieu, where it picked up another award.
Land Rover Legends at Thruxton Historic: the Dredd creeps out menacingly to join the circuit parade
“It certainly attracted a great deal of friendly attention on the road,” says Ian, “and there was a lot of interest at the show in July. The forward visibility is very limited but it’s adequate, although you can understand why the previous owner had tried to modify the cab. The only problem I found was the fuel pump isn’t quite man enough for the job, but that should be an easy fix.”
Ian and John plan to take the vehicle to the Amberley Museum Land Rover Day on 9 October, and it will be appearing at other events next year. Ian has a cunning plan to install a screen in the rear that he can use to run the film and a slide show of the restoration when the vehicle is displayed at events, which will be much more in keeping with the character of such a futuristic Land Rover than the usual propped-up picture board.
The only thing that intrigues me is why so many of the Judge Dredd vehicles are fitted with 7-inch Lucas-style reflector headlamps. You’d have hoped things might have got a bit better than that by 2139…
The Judge Dredd vehicles
The full story of the Judge Dredd vehicles has never been told before, and research is ongoing. You can be sure we will bring it to LRM readers as soon as we can.
By way of an introduction to what is a rather complicated story, Land Rover secured the contract to design and build the vehicles for the film, and the body was designed in-house by David Woodhouse.
Dunsfold Landrovers Ltd was given the task of identifying a suitable driving chassis that would accommodate the intended City Cab bodies, and Philip Bashall suggested the 101in Forward Control chassis because it was relatively flat and had incredible steering lock.
NPK 63P was one of the roadworthy examples, pictured here outside the Odeon in Middlesborough on a tour to promote the film. And no, neither of the actors depicted is Sylvester Stallone… (Photo credit: Bubblemania)
This was agreed, and the final body design was completed to fit the 101 chassis. Dunsfold was asked to source around 30 Forward Controls for Land Rover and, as luck would have it, a large batch of vehicles was coming out of the forces at the time, and Land Rover bought the lot.
Land Rover constructed a prototype at Canley and two contractors, Futura and Wood & Pickett, were tasked with creating the production bodies. The prototype was then finished to a high standard with a complete interior and was used during filming for close-ups and interior shots. The completed vehicles were finished in three different liveries: yellow and black, silver and black and red and black.
Filming took place at Shepperton Studios in the autumn of 1994 and was done at night. At Land Rover’s request, a small number of vehicles were made road-legal so they could be used at the première in London’s Leicester Square, and as promotional vehicles subsequently.
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