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Proud owner: Rick with the beginning of an interesting Land Rover collection : credit: © Gary Pusey
We meet a man whose enjoyment of Land Rovers has recently taken an exciting new direction…

Rick Watts is a larger-than-life kind of bloke with boundless energy and enthusiasm for everything that’s important to him, whether it’s his family or working hard to grow and develop his successful building business. He’s a big-hearted guy with a passion for military vehicles and all things Land Rover, and he’s now reached that point in life where he has a bit more time and some spare cash to indulge his ambition to develop an interesting collection of Land Rovers.

Unlike many serious Land Rover fans, though, he doesn’t have a childhood story to tell that explains his Land Rover obsession. “There were no Land Rovers in our family when I was growing up,” he reveals, “but my dad was a very competent mechanic and he always worked on our family cars. One of my best childhood memories is helping him replace the clutch in our Morris Marina, which we did in the middle of our holiday caravan site. Pulling the caravan is probably what led to us having to replace the clutch in the first place, of course!”

Original Matchbox Range Rover Classic police car that sparked Ian's interest

“Dad liked to have British cars but he wasn’t a Land Rover man, so I can’t lay claim to the sort of thing you hear from quite a few Land Rover enthusiasts: things like learning to drive at the age of 13 in a Land Rover, or some other memorable experience. In fact, I think it was probably my Matchbox Range Rover Classic police car that started it all. You’ll probably remember the one I mean, with the bull-bar and the big roof light that on the full-sized car used to extend on a telescopic pole. Even when I was a kid I always thought it would be fun to own a real one like that, but those daft childhood ideas soon get pushed to one side as you get older, and more grown-up things take over.”

“I bought my first Land Rover in 2007. I’d been driving around in a Rover 800 saloon and I’d bought a private plate for it that I was very proud of. It read N 80VER and I’d become very attached to that plate. When the 800 finally gave up the ghost and I needed to think about a replacement vehicle, I decided to buy a Land Rover just so that I had a suitable car to put the Rover numberplate on!”

“I found a V8 Discovery 1 on eBay and bought it sight unseen. It was probably not the smartest thing to do and I had to go up to Manchester to pick it up. Needless to say, it broke down within a few miles when the alternator failed and I spent the next six hours waiting for a recovery truck and then being relayed from service station to service station, all the way back to Surrey. It took over 14 hours in the end, and it was not an encouraging introduction to Land Rover ownership!”

“I started doing some simple greenlaning in it and met other enthusiasts, and soon fitted a suspension lift and some Mud-Terrain tyres and started doing more serious competitive off-roading. But even though I had a lot of fun with it, that D1 was a real lemon. The stresses of off-roading made bits of filler pop out all over the car, and it was forever needing work. In the end I broke it for parts and by selling the engine, the ES-spec interior and other bits and pieces I was relieved to just about recover my purchase costs.”

Rick’s off-road escapades were pretty full-on!​​​​​​

“I replaced it with a Discovery 2 ES in 2009 around the time I started my building business. Soon afterwards a friend who owned a Defender took me out in his vehicle after we’d had a heavy snowfall. I was very impressed and decided I needed to have one myself. I soon found a 110 on eBay that had been tweaked to look a bit like a Wolf, and I bought it for £2000, although not before I’d gone to see it!”

“It was a genuine ex-military vehicle on a Q-plate, although when I asked the seller about this he cheerfully confessed that the Q-plate belonged to a Range Rover he owned and he switched the plate from that to the 110 when he wanted to go for a drive! In fact, the 110 had never been registered with the DVLA so I am actually the first owner after the MoD. I still own the vehicle today and have spent ten years rebuilding it with huge amounts of genuine Wolf components. Probably the only thing on it today that isn’t Wolf is the chassis! It’s always been known as ‘Walter’, which is what the army boys and girls call an imposter or a fake, after the Walter Mitty character.”

“Over the years I’ve also owned quite a few dedicated off-roaders but I found out the hard way that you can’t be a serious and competitive off-roader unless you’re totally committed. They’re a bit of a money-pit and it all took up so much time. You have one great day having fun at a trial and then two or three weeks of DIY repair work to get the vehicle ready for the next event!” he chuckles. “All my serious off-roaders have been sold now because I think I’ve done all the off-roading I need to do, and my Land Rover interests have evolved. I’m more interested in owning and preserving vehicles that are historically interesting now, plus there’s the hope they might actually go up in value over the coming years, rather than down!”

“But the Land Rover bug has well and truly bitten and all our family vehicles are now Land Rovers, with a Discovery 3 as a tow hack and load-lugger and an L322 as comfortable family transport. I have to say I am really impressed with the D3 but the jury’s out on the L322 and I’ve a feeling it won’t be staying long. It is a wonderful, relaxing and comfortable vehicle to drive but I don’t trust the tech and am already experiencing trivial but frustrating problems like the battery draining for no apparent reason one day but being fine the next.”

Military vehicles were initially at the heart of Rick’s collection

“I’ve always had an interest in military vehicles generally, which probably explains why I decided to buy the ex-army 110. I used to buy occasional items of militaria because I liked the sense of history, and when various friends started to buy military vehicles to attend shows and events, I decided I’d like to own something from the World War Two period. That’s when I bought the Dodge Weapons Carrier from a lovely old boy who stored it near my yard. When he passed away last year I helped his widow to sell everything in his collection, and she offered me her 1944 Ford Jeep. We’ve done quite a lot of events with the Dodge, including battlefield tours in France, various events in the UK like the War and Peace show, and the Goodwood Revival.”

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“Buying the Dodge and the Jeep was really the point when I decided to take my vehicle collection more seriously and to think about what I wanted to add to it, and why. Ever since buying the ‘Walter-Wolf’ I’d thought it would be great to own the real thing, but I’ve never felt able to justify the generally huge price tag. But early this year I decided that a genuine Wolf 110 would be the first serious Land Rover addition to my collection and I bought an excellent example.”

Rick’s newly-acquired Defender Wolf is an impressive example

“Like many enthusiasts I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Philip Bashall and his old team at DLR, all of whom I got to know well over the years. The advice and guidance they provided was unbelievably valuable to me, and I’ve become a huge fan of the Dunsfold Collection. I think that Land Rover enthusiasts owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dunsfold for saving dozens of fascinating vehicles that would otherwise have been lost, and I’m pleased to be a Lifetime Friend of the Collection.”

“When I heard that DLR was closing and Philip intended to repurpose the building for the use of the Collection, it only seemed fair that I give something back for all the free help and advice I’ve received from Philip over the years, and I’m very pleased and honoured to be involved in the project to convert the building. Once everything is done it is great to think that we will be able to visit the Collection and see the vehicles displayed under cover.”

“It was when I turned up one day in March to fix some blocked drains that my life with Land Rovers seemed to go full circle, and I have to say when I walked into the yard I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing! It was as if fate had taken a hand, because parked there in all its glory was a 1987 Range Rover classic in the ‘jam sandwich’ livery of the Wiltshire Constabulary, complete with working ‘blues and twos’. Childhood memories of that cherished Matchbox toy came flooding back. Amazingly, the full-size version was owned by one of Philip’s old customers and was for sale. I bought it on the spot, and I couldn’t have been happier!”

Rick stumbles across his childhood dream

Jam sandwich logo: An impressive detail added by the original restorer of the vehicle

Buying the real thin was a dream come true

“It felt like I’d well and truly crossed a bridge with my Land Rover habit, and I’ve already started thinking about what else I’d like to add. I’ve heard there might be a Press Launch Range Rover P38 2.5DT coming up that has fascinating history and a factory CVC registration, and that ticks a lot of boxes for me as well. If it’s in good shape I will almost certainly go for it. It’s a lot of Land Rover for very little outlay and something special to cherish and preserve, as well as being something that should appreciate in value over the coming years. I also fancy a Series I, although with prices going sky-high I might have missed the boat on that one.”

And as if to underline how dramatically Rick’s Land Rover interests have changed, one of his off-roading mates calls to tell him there’s a greenlaning trip being planned that will happen as soon as the easing of the lockdown rules allow it. “No thanks,” says Rick, “I really do think I’m done with all that!”


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