Blast from the Past

Land Rover Se­ries I

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

Coun­try gravel crunches un­der the wheels as we grind through the Vic­to­rian bush. The an­cient 2-litre petrol en­gine puffs, huffs and groans as the driv­e­line whine res­onates through the cabin, build­ing to a crescendo be­fore Mal goes for an­other gear change.

You’d have to look a long way to find an old Land Rover as orig­i­nal as this one. And, when I say orig­i­nal, I mean that the old en­gine huff­ing away out front has al­legedly never had a span­ner on it. A rare beast.

There’s some­thing quite evoca­tive about an old Land Rover. Maybe I read way too many Wil­bur Smith nov­els as a young­ster but, to me, the Landy badge has al­ways reeked of ad­ven­ture and dis­tant out­back hori­zons.

Though it could be said that, for many own­ers, the Land Rover badge has equally reeked of elec­tri­cal grem­lins, ques­tion­able re­li­a­bil­ity and busted knuck­les. Maybe I’m just a ro­man­tic.

Not 12 months be­fore pro­duc­tion of the Land Rover De­fender fin­ished up, I took the op­por­tu­nity to take one of the last ex­am­ples of the breed for a spin in the bush. Even in mod­ern form, the old bush bus still had char­ac­ter in spades, even if terms like ‘er­gonomics’ have never been a part of the Land Rover de­sign brief. How­ever, I re­cently got to reac­quaint my­self with a bit of Land Rover her­itage.


Mal Butler res­cued his fa­ther’s 1954 Se­ries I Landy from a shed on the fam­ily prop­erty a cou­ple of years ago. I’d call it a barn find but Mal al­ways knew it was there; it was down to ei­ther Mal or his brother to bring the old girl back to life. Mal de­cided to take the job on.

The Landy was sold new in the Cen­tral Vic­to­rian town of Castle­maine. But, in the late ‘60s, Mal’s fa­ther went in search of a work­horse for fetch­ing wood to feed the wood-fired ovens of his coun­try bak­ery.

The hills around the vil­lage of Bealiba were a rich source of wood for the fam­ily busi­ness, but there was a slight is­sue in go­ing in and get­ting it. The fam­ily EH Holden wagon was just a lit­tle too good for drag­ging a trailer through the scrub in search of fuel.

Usu­ally lo­cal labour­ers were em­ployed to ven­ture deep into the eu­ca­lypt forests but, dur­ing shear­ing sea­son or har­vest, the lo­cal labour force was busy and the fam­ily had to fetch the wood them­selves.

Land Rovers be­came the ve­hi­cle of the ex­plorer and pi­o­neer and were in­stru­men­tal in open­ing up many tracts of agri­cul­tural Aus­tralia.

Mal’s fa­ther came across the Land Rover for sale, a deal was struck, and the Se­ries I hard­top ute be­came a part of the Butler fam­ily. The still rel­a­tively young Landy was then work­ing for a liv­ing in the bushy hills around Bealiba.

I can’t help but won­der if the sto­ries of the Bealiba Beast were do­ing the rounds back then as Mal’s dad ven­tured out into the bush. The story goes that Amer­i­can air­men kept a cou­ple of puma cubs as mas­cots while sta­tioned in Vic­to­ria dur­ing World War II.

Af­ter the war, these air­men were in­structed to kill the cats be­fore re­de­ploy­ment back home. In­stead, as myth and le­gend would have it, the air­crew set them free in the forests around the nearby town of Mary­bor­ough.

For decades there have been sight­ings of big black cats and mys­te­ri­ous killings of lambs dur­ing win­ter. The car­casses have been splayed out on the ground and eaten, com­pletely un­like a fox or dog kill.

I’m tempted to ask Mal about the le­gend of the big cats as we whine and groan through the bush, but I reckon he might think I’m a delu­sional nuffy if I do.

I de­cide to leave the sub­ject alone as the scrub marches past the slide-open win­dows at a mod­est pace.


There’s not a lot to the old beast that first ap­peared in 1948 – a gal­vanised steel box-sec­tion chas­sis and an alu­minium body. Some­thing made af­ford­able by the loads of sur­plus air­craft­grade alu­minium ly­ing around in Eng­land af­ter the war.

Even the orig­i­nal drab green colour is said to be war sur­plus from air­craft man­u­fac­ture.

It was a go-any­where ve­hi­cle for the farmer that be­come so much more. Land Rovers be­came the ve­hi­cle of the ex­plorer and pi­o­neer and were in­stru­men­tal in open­ing up many tracts of agri­cul­tural Aus­tralia.

That was un­til the Ja­panese on­slaught from Toy­ota. The ar­rival of a 4x4 that didn’t break down and could take an al­most un­be­liev­able amount of abuse soon be­gan to sway those on the land away from of­fer­ings from the mother coun­try.

It’s hard to know just how much work this old girl has re­ally done, since the odome­ter stopped work­ing some time ago. But it’s prob­a­bly safe to say that the old Landy hasn’t cov­ered too many miles for its age.

The old fourby was left sit­ting in a Bealiba shed af­ter Mal’s fa­ther passed away in the mid-1980s. But back in 2012 Mal de­cided to res­cue the short-wheel­base Se­ries I from the shed and get it back on the road.

As far as res­ur­rec­tions go, there ac­tu­ally wasn’t too much to do to the old girl. In fact, the fid­dli­est part of the job was re­build­ing the brakes. Other than that, a new wa­ter pump, new ex­haust, new tyres and new ra­di­a­tor were all that was needed to get the Land Rover ready for club rego. Mal also de­cided to fit free­wheel­ing hubs as well.

It’s prob­a­bly fair to say that the Landy won’t be see­ing a great deal of bush bash­ing these days.

A look un­der­neath the old banger shows that it re­ally has had a charmed life. All the usual Land Rover rust spots around the chas­sis are as clean as a whis­tle. Es­pe­cially around the front of the frame.


Af­ter we stop to take some pho­tos, I climb be­hind the wheel for a stint. The new cool­ing sys­tem seems to be work­ing al­most too well as it seems hard to get some heat into the en­gine. But with a bit of choke the an­cient petrol four pot coughs into life.

I gin­gerly slot the shifter into first and give the Land Rover its head in the bush. As we build up a bit of speed I dou­ble-clutch it into sec­ond; the still cold en­gine protests, coughs then catches, and away we go.

The sim­plic­ity of the short 88-inch wheel­base of the fourby gives it the char­ac­ter­is­tic noddy ride that comes from driv­ing many short off-road­ers. It also shows why these things were such for­mi­da­ble off-road­ers – there’s no body over­hang and such a small foot­print.

The Land Rover’s famed alu­minium con­struc­tion also means that the old jig­ger is also pretty damned light.

The en­gine be­comes a bit smoother as it warms up. How­ever, it would be fair to say that there ain’t an aw­ful lot of com­pres­sion go­ing on un­der that bon­net. It may be orig­i­nal but it’s also pretty asth­matic.

Mal hints that an en­gine re­build may be on the cards.

Aside from the vinyl seats, there’s not a stitch of pad­ding any­where – it’s all flat pan­els, flat glass and flip open vents. The dirt road rum­bles away un­der­neath.

De­spite all that, I can’t help but grin.

That old Landy has heaps of char­ac­ter and, even with its ad­vanc­ing age, still man­ages to evoke a spirit of ad­ven­ture. You could pre­tend you’re search­ing for big cats in the African jun­gle … or driv­ing through the Vic­to­rian gold­fields scrub.

Pulling back out onto the black­top and on the road back to town, I give the old girl some more gas. With a bit of mo­men­tum it seems con­tent to cruise on 40 miles per hour (64km/h) which, I might add, feels like 100mph (161km/h) as I swing on the big old wheel.

Like so many old timers found in sheds, this Land Rover has its own story to tell. But, like the myth­i­cal big cats of the Vic­to­ria’s forests, a barely touched and orig­i­nal Se­ries I Land Rover is a rare beast in­deed.

As we build up a bit of speed I dou­ble-clutch it into sec­ond; the still cold en­gine protests, coughs then catches, and away we go.

1. Aside from the vinyl seats there’s not a

stitch of pad­ding any­where

2. The old fourby was left sit­ting in a Bealiba shed af­ter Mal’s fa­ther passed away in the mid-1980s

3. Ah, the sim­ple old days

4. The odome­ter stopped work­ing some

time ago

5. The old en­gine has al­legedly never had

a span­ner on it 1 2 3 4 5

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