Over the hedge: the strange story of this Series 1 Land Rover
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Julian Paton is a research scientist at the Universtiy of Auckland and the details of the project he works on sounded fascinating, but not as fascinating as his Land Rovers.
He owns six Series 1 Land Rovers — five of which remained in the UK when he and his family came here in 2017. This 1949 Series 1 came with them. “I’m the third owner” and he brandishes the original ownership papers to prove it.
“My father had a 1953 Series 1 that stopped working, so he dragged it into the barn and left it,” says Julian. “I got interested, and had an equally interested uncle with Series 1s who helped me get it back on the road, and I got hooked on them.
“Really you want to find the holy grail, a 1948 one, but I found this. It was driven into a hedge on a nearby farm when the brakes failed, and just left there.”
He shows me a pic, and he’s not kidding — it’s covered in brambles, they’re even growing through the doors and dash.
But before he could check if it had the full grille across the headlights, he had to get the farmer’s permission to look.
“He told me to bugger off,” says Julian. “I went home and told my father, who knew him (Robert), and came with me next time. Turns out he’d let Robert use some water troughs in a dry patch, so he let us take a look at it. The full grille made it really exciting. He was prepared to negotiate.”
It cost Julian £75 and he dragged it out with the 1953 Land Rover. It took more than a year to do the first, rough restoration, and then he started driving it to school, taking his siblings.
“It was parked up when I went to uni, then I got involved with post doctorates and fellowships around the world, so it was shut away.”
Eventually he returned to Britain, to conduct his own research. It was time to pull the Landie out for its second restoration, “which we tried to do as sympathetically as possible, with original parts if possible”.
The Land Rover was designed as a post-war stop-gap vehicle and the first ones, back in 1948, were extremely basic — even the doors cost extra. Julian’s vehicle was £450 when it came out, and according to an advert he owns, the 1952 one was £598, including two doors, a full hood, seat cushions and back rests for front occupants, a spare wheel and tyre, starting handle, driving mirror, towing plate for the rear drawbar, a pintle hook, a socket for the trailer light and a hand rail.
The 48 pre-production cars used a galvanized chassis: “Which they then stopped — a mistake. The problem with a box section is they get water inside, which can rot from the inside.”
These vehicles were above all intended to be practical. Extras were designed so the Landie could run farm equipment.
So far Julian’s biggest trip has been from Somerset to Wales, about 450km return, but he plans to drive it to Invercargill, with his wife Julie as co-driver.
However, she finds it too noisy and bouncy, and even Julian admits the short wheelbase amplifies that problem.
Mind you it helps impart tremendous traction in mud or snow: “They seem to ‘crab’ along, with the permanent 4WD.”
The engine is 1595cc, four cylinders, drum brakes all round, no assistance for the steering and limited lock as it also drives the front wheels with a tractor joint — a kind of early universal joint.
“It’s got four speeds, with a top speed of 88km/h in top gear, on a good day, and low ratio — top speed in fourth is then about 24km/h, and you feel as if you could go up and over everything.”
Yes, he’s gone off-roading; rabbit shooting at night, driving over ploughed fields.