Land Rover Series I
Theo hops into a scruffy old Land Rover and joins an Alpine adventure
1949 LAND ROVER SERIES I 80IN
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.