Grandma's Truck

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By Alisdair Cusick

07 September 2020

Foleys_Restored_Ninety Toby and fiancee, Emily, couldn't be more happy with their wedding car : credit: © Alisdair Cusick

A well-loved grandma taught ten grandchildren to drive in the farm Ninety. Years later, the car is restored, to be wedding transport for one of those grandchildren.

We all know the Disney films. A basic moral story, given some impossible-not-to-love animal characters, a few emotional twists and turns, not to mention an evil baddie, a castle or two, and some irritatingly catchy songs. The ‘Disney Magic’, they’ll tell you. Others see them for what they are: gimmicks. Forgive my cynicism, but believe it or not, if the story has all the right ingredients, it doesn’t need cheap tricks or magic spells. Telling it straight is enough. Like our cover story this month, a tale of family history, emotional bonds, and an ever-present 1988 Land Rover Ninety.

One proud grandson and Grandma’s 90 

Our story starts with Toby Lane. His grandma and grandfather lived in rural Dorset and ran a farm. “She was quite mad, very batty; an old school farmer’s wife with four children,” says Toby. “Not the best, or quickest driver, she would tootle around everywhere in this Ninety at 40 mph. She loved her grandkids, and the farm was her life, which she moved to, newly-married, at 22,” says Toby.

Grandma pushing Toby in the wheel barrow

The arable farm has been in the family for 400 years. When his grandma and grandfather moved there in 1957, they bought a secondhand Series I to put to work. The farm was their absolute life, and they spent all their time and money making it better and better as the years passed. Fast forward to 1998 and they were still using a Land Rover, but by now this 1988 Ninety Turbo Diesel Truck Cab, bought after their previous Land Rover at the time was stolen. The Marine Blue Ninety worked carrying hay, feed and tools around the farm, plus one vital, family-orientated role. 

Each year, the many grandchildren would visit the farm, and the real fun would begin. “Grandma would give us a cushion, and there would be six of us in the back, and off we’d go” says Toby. There was one treat that Grandma allowed each dear grandchild, a sort of coming of age for each of them; they would each learn to drive with Grandma in the Ninety. “Our summer treat was very exciting,” says Toby. “Depending how much she trusted you, decided how high up the pecking order you were when you learnt, but I was ten years old.

“Grandma would give the lesson. You’d sit there, clutch and accelerator slowly moving – I remember thinking ‘how am I ever going to pull away at lights, when it takes me 15 seconds to start’. But she was very patient, you’d get better and better, though never beyond third gear. Post-harvest in the stubble, you’d fly, as there wasn’t much to hit.”

But it wasn’t without responsibility. There was one field, high up on the farm, dubbed Texas, with large stones protecting a water tower at the top of the field. The one, singular golden rule from Grandma was to avoid those rocks at all cost. “If you hit those, you were in big trouble, and your licence was revoked,” jokes Toby. “Actually, it is a great way to learn clutch control and find gears, compared to a Fiesta.”

All ten of the Lane grand children

Years roll by, with them, many summers packed with Grandma and Land Rover-based fun. In total, ten Lane grandchildren learnt to drive in the characterful truck cab with Grandma on the farm. The Ninety was used properly until 2012, when it was then laid up as the grandparents aged. Sadly, she passed away in 2017, and the car then sat in a barn. “We were talking about what to do with it when the time was right, and I said, unless anyone has any objections, I’ll take it, and at some point, do it up,” says Toby. 

The Ninety then went to a friend’s barn in West Sussex, boxed in by a caravan and hay bales, unmoving, which is where our story takes a modern twist. Enter Emily Westwood, who by now had accepted Toby’s proposal of marriage. Toby had taken Emily to the farm, so even she has memories of going around the fields in the Ninety, inducted into the Lane family tradition. His parents wanted to contribute to the upcoming wedding. Obviously aware of how significant the Land Rover was to the Lane family and Toby, then suggested they had it as the wedding car, kindly offering to pay to have it rebuilt for the big day. What more suitable vehicle to have for a family milestone?

Essex-based Land Rover experts Foley were commissioned to do the work. “I did some looking around, and I think Foley sat really nicely, in terms of doing a nice job, without turning it into something that it’s not. I explained to Stuart Foley what I had, and he just got it, he knew the sentimental importance, but also understood that there was a budget,” says Toby. In April 2020, the tired-looking ex-farm truck cab turned its wheels out of storage and went on a trailer to Foley’s workshop.

Rebuilds are never plain sailing, and sure enough, after seeing it, Stuart called back, saying it was in worse nick than first thought. Some to-ing and fro-ing finalised a spec list, and the work was given the go-ahead. “They worked incredibly quickly, and it was finished in a month. I just trusted him, really,” says Toby. That month was during the coronavirus lockdown in the UK; testament indeed to Foley’s expertise, knowledge and familiarity with the job in hand.

Toby kept the galvanised finish to the chassis rather than powder coating

Foley replaced only what was necessary mechanically

Work-wise, the chassis needed replacing, so a galvanised chassis was chosen, but Toby decided against powder-coating it. Aside from the extra cost, he favours the utilitarian finish of the galvanising. The original bulkhead was repaired, the nearside wing replaced and later doors and hinges were fitted. The rear tub was retained, removing a number of dents, but leaving a number of characterful marks in, as a nod to Grandma, including a dent to the tailgate from the tow ball. Though the body was beautifully resprayed Marine Blue, to preserve the feel of the car the original truck cab roof was simply left alone, the factory Limestone White paint untouched, the large dents simply accepted as being part of the car. “It would be terrible to lose them, really,” says Toby. The tilt was replaced with a new canvas one, in original sand, rather than garish blue Grandma chose. In the rear tub, bench seats and belts were fitted, replacing the cushions they were passed as children.

Interior kept, just cleaned up. Original seats re-covered

Seat belt scuffs from Grandma remain

Original headlining and speakers still in the car

The interior was kept as much as possible, despite the odd crack to the dashboard here and there. Original seats were recovered, original plastics cleaned up, and the factory headlining and speakers all remain in the car. “When it was all rusted, I wondered what do I do with it, but actually, it is so much nicer just to keep it all, remembering the huge shelf where Grandma would have had bundles of string, matches and boxes,” says Toby. He’s got it all just right, too. Opening the doors the car still has that smell of rubber, vinyl and, well, factory Ninety.

The engine was still only on 68,000 miles, and despite the reputation of the 19J Turbo Diesel, Toby decided it was to be left, rather than replaced. “I followed Stuart’s advice, and he said it’s fine. I liked the idea  of keeping it until it blows up, or something. I mean, it smokes a bit on start up, but they did that when they were new,” says Toby. Ironically, considering ten children learnt to drive in the car, the one part that wasn’t replaced was the clutch. Foley’s judged it as not being too bad; obviously it will fail one day, but for now, it was refitted and still is performing exactly as it should.

Restored, the car looks exactly right for a Turbo Diesel

So how was that first, emotive drive when it came back? Did it make him feel ten years old again? “It was just fantastic, I was giggling so much,” says Toby. “It is such a joyous thing to tootle around in, or go across the fields and have a beer sitting on the tailgate. It makes me remember getting in to it and learning to drive, I love the fact that if we look after it, it will be here for another 50 years, which would be great.”

Intended to be second car, a farm car and for short, special trips – aside from the big day – at the moment Toby and Emily don’t need much of an excuse to drive it around the rural countryside where the Ninety is kept. It’s no show queen, either, being already roped into moving wood and spraying jobs on the farm, and will be ideal for their beloved point-to-pointing, when things get back to normal again.

It is easy to restore a car, but everyone’s take on the task is different as they have their own, individual brief in mind. Toby’s brief was clear, in that he didn’t want to erase what the car was, instead simply refresh it, so the family could continue enjoying the car, their memories preserved. Looking around it, he’s definitely succeeded. Many would throw in a later 200 or 300Tdi for better economy and performance, or go for alloys, leather and some aftermarket chrome. But that would change what the car is. The memories and temperament of Grandma’s Ninety need the odd dent, a bit of dirt and the gruff original Turbo Diesel chugging away. 

That it is to be their wedding transport tells you the significance of the car to the family. “She was a crazy lady, but we all loved her very much, that’s why we wanted to keep the car,” says Toby. “For the wedding, for the Lane side of the family, it is a nod to her being there. It is an emotive thing.” As we lark about for action shots, the Ninety bouncing around the fields at speed, Toby smiling broadly, even he can’t help saying, “if Grandma could see us, I like to think she’d be laughing, thinking we’re all mad.”

Disney has nothing on these family Land Rover stories. No cheap tricks, just a great tale, of emotions created by times in a Land Rover with special people. Of course, if you happen to see Disney produce a musical of Grandma’s 19J Truck Cab, remember, you read it here first.

 

Tailgate dent from tow ball and cab roof untouched; heavy dents proudly displayed

Doing the work

Known for all manner of custom Defender work, including gun buses and 6x6 conversions, this project was nonetheless a little different to usual rebuilds for Foleys. How do you refresh a car without erasing its character? Stuart Foley explains.

“The hard thing is deciding what to do and what not to do. All of the work is easy, the decision is how far you go, because it keeps costs down. This car wasn’t about total restoration, instead, Stuart aimed to keep what he could, and only work on the parts that needed it. If it works, why change it? Axles were repainted, but left internally; only the brake components replaced, likewise with the engine and transmission. It was low mileage and working well. I wanted to lift the bonnet and it look original, not polished, so we left it alone. There aren’t many of these Turbo Diesels around now, so it is actually a rare thing. We wanted Toby to be able to sit in it, and be able to remember what it was. There’s history there. Paint has to be done properly however, so Foleys like to do that with stripped bodywork. Though we left lots of dents in, as it was about being true to what the car was, not working to make it perfect.” 

Contact: Foley Specialist Vehicles Ltd, The Roses, Epping Road, Roydon, Essex. CM19 5DD. Tel 01279 793500. foleysv.com