Land Rover Se­ries I

Theo hops into a scruffy old Land Rover and joins an Alpine ad­ven­ture

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - THEO FORD-SAGERS CON­TRIB­U­TOR


It was time for a road­trip, and our plan was sim­ple. There’d be four of us in two Land Rovers. Mike Crab­tree and Pa­trick Foster would travel in Mike’s 1950 Se­ries I, while Ben Stowe and I would share Ben’s 1949 model. Both cars have 80in wheel­bases, flappy roofs, rub­bish body­work and bun­dles of char­ac­ter. Ben and Mike would camp on sim­ple bunks built into their Land Rovers, while Pa­trick and I would kip in two tiny tents. Our des­ti­na­tion was the 30th an­niver­sary gather­ing of ‘Land Rovers of Switzer­land’, a friendly bunch whose mem­bers can of­ten be found at Landy events in the UK.

And so, with beer, ba­con and cof­fee ac­counted for, we boarded an overnight ferry in Hull, rolled off at Zee­brugge and ploughed straight into… tor­ren­tial rain. I was de­ter­mined to ‘do an ac­tual hol­i­day’ and wear flipflops no mat­ter what, so my toes spent the morn­ing bathed in oily rain­wa­ter fil­ter­ing through the bulk­head. Such are the joys of trav­el­ling in a Se­ries. But any­one fa­mil­iar with the footage from the ‘First Over­land’ ex­pe­di­tion (which in 1955-1956 used two Se­ries I Land Rovers to com­plete the first ever land jour­ney from Lon­don to Sin­ga­pore) will recog­nise the sense of ad­ven­ture that comes with pow­er­ing along for­eign roads in a Se­ries I, with the door tops off and the wind in your face, watch­ing as another Se­ries I races de­ter­minedly along be­hind you.

The scenery be­gan near Na­mur in Bel­gium with a huge forested gorge where tall de­cid­u­ous trees lined the open roads. The sky bright­ened, my feet dried out and the Land Rovers roared on. The go­ing was good.

And it stayed good. Ben built both of these cars from the chas­sis up with long-dis­tance tour­ing in mind. Both have 2.0-litre petrol en­gines, as fit­ted to later Se­ries Is, and 3.54:1 dif­fer­en­tials, so they find cruis­ing at 55-60mph much eas­ier than with their orig­i­nal 1.6-litre en­gines and 4.7:1 diffs. Not that they’re mod­ernised; the all-drum brakes have no servo as­sis­tance, the steer­ing is unas­sisted and there’s no in­su­la­tion what­so­ever. It sounds like an or­deal, but this is proper trav­el­ling, and we rolled into Switzer­land the fol­low­ing day feel­ing as fresh as the Alpine spring wa­ter that bur­bles into ev­ery vil­lage.

The three-day event was su­perb – a real cel­e­bra­tion of the Green Oval and the ad­ven­tur­ous spirit it rep­re­sents, con­vened on the run­way at Saint Stephan and at­tended by jovial types from all over Europe. Some­thing like 400 Land Rovers made it, mostly De­fend­ers and Se­ries ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing a few other Se­ries driv­ers from the UK. There was Swiss beer, Alpe käse (the lo­cal cheese) and bold yo­delling in equal mea­sure.

Mike awoke one morn­ing in his Land Rover to find his bed tip­ping to one cor­ner. Sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that one of his tyre valves had given up. But dur­ing break­fast, a happy old gent vis­ited in his own

Se­ries I and, see­ing our plight, went to fetch a friend who knew about tyres. That afternoon the valve was re­placed, purely out of good­will.

Road books led us on lofty ex­cur­sions from the air­field along twisty pri­vate roads into the moun­tains, reach­ing well over 1800m. The off-tar­mac sec­tions are easy com­pared to what we’re used to in the UK, but the huge views, bliss­ful sun­shine and colour­ful plant life made trav­el­ling in these stun­ning moun­tains a sen­sa­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. Both cars worked like tro­jans and never missed a beat.

We said our good­byes on the event’s fi­nal day (Ben hav­ing been awarded a tro­phy for bring­ing the old­est ve­hi­cle)

’My toes were bathed in oily rain­wa­ter, fil­ter­ing through the Se­ries I’s bulk­head’

and ven­tured over the Col de la Croix (1778m) to our next camp­ing spot near Cham­péry – an idyl­lic ski­ing vil­lage in­hab­ited in the sum­mer only by a few non­cha­lant bar ten­ders. By this time Ben’s en­gine was start­ing to coke up a lit­tle on down­hill runs and chuff some smoke at idle, but still it sol­diered on.

Ham­mer­ing home­wards the next day, past the vast blue wa­ters of Lake Lau­sanne, our en­gine’s symp­toms were be­com­ing harder to ig­nore, but we still man­aged to clock 365 miles in nine hours, and spent our fi­nal night in a shady Lux­em­bourg camp­site.

Then, dur­ing our last blast, 100 miles from the ferry and in in­tense heat, our car de­vel­oped a wob­ble. The rare 6.00 x 16in Avon Range­mas­ter tyres (made in 1983) were be­gin­ning to de­lam­i­nate on the in­side, re­sult­ing in a bulge. In the next rest area the dodgi­est tyre was swapped for the spare, but the heat of the tar­mac was tak­ing its toll and our other tyres were also fail­ing.

We made it, though! Seven days and 1430 miles af­ter leav­ing home, we were wob­bling our way back around Hull, dis­cussing plans for next year’s ad­ven­ture. Tally ho!

OWNED SINCE I wish I owned it! Co-driver Ben built it for him­self in 2014. LAT­EST COSTS About £600 worth of ba­con and beer

Bag­gage tweaks of­ten needed when you have this lit­tle body­work…

Camp­ing on our first night in Switzer­land, with a tarp strung be­tween the ve­hi­cles.

50 years. his Se­ries I, which he’s owned for This friendly vis­i­tor showed us No rust, no stains, and all its Or­gan­iser’s road­books re­henim ant volorib took us on some spec­tac­u­lar drives through the moun­tains. Scenery im­proved with ev­ery pass­ing mile, cul­mi­nat­ing in these stun­ning Swiss views.

Ben ex­am­ines a tyre that had de­cided not to be round any more.

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