HAPPY BIRTH­DAY LAND-ROVER!

C&SC marks 70 years of the world’s favourite 4x4 with a re­turn trip to the Span­ish site of the first demo runs

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS MARTIN PORT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TONY BAKER

How many of man’s no­table achieve­ments have started out as a pass­ing com­ment; a mad idea; or a scrawl on the back of a beer mat af­ter a few pints of ale? Would the quest for do­ing some­thing new or out of the or­di­nary ever have come about if it wasn’t for the sim­ple ethos of ‘I will do it, just be­cause I can’? Would moun­tains have re­mained un­climbed? Speed records un­bro­ken? Re­mote ter­ri­to­ries un­charted?

Per­haps we’re not talking about quite the same level of en­deav­our, but when four years ago Land-rover en­thu­si­ast Tom Pick­ford sug­gested do­ing “some­thing dif­fer­ent” to cel­e­brate the mar­que’s 70th birth­day, he cer­tainly didn’t mean a meet at the lo­cal tav­ern…

On 30 April 1948, three Land-rovers at­tended the Amsterdam Mo­tor Show and, in do­ing so, gave what would be­come known as the Series One its de­but to the buy­ing pub­lic. Of those three 80in ex­am­ples, two were en­sconced in the main hall, sur­rounded by the lat­est of­fer­ings from Dodge, Pan­hard and Re­nault, but a third was driven from the UK, placed out­side and listed as a ‘demon­stra­tor’ – af­ter all, this was a vehicle that would trade upon its prac­ti­cal abil­ity, so it made per­fect sense to rely on more than just a static pair­ing.

That vehicle was chas­sis L03, now owned by Tim Dines and the third of the pre-pro­duc­tion 80in Land-rovers to come out of the Soli­hull fac­tory. Along with L05 and L07, Dines’ car was charged with show­ing off The Rover Com­pany’s post-war ‘stop-gap’ vehicle.

The fact that L03 was left out­side may not have been en­tirely in­ten­tional, how­ever; as the story goes, de­vel­op­ment driver Johnny Cullen and Ernie Ba­con – son of the man­ager of The Rover Com­pany’s Lon­don de­pot on Sea­grave Road – were a lit­tle late ar­riv­ing in Amsterdam. To save face, and ab­solve them­selves of any blame, they duly re­ported that there was an is­sue with the gear­box – even go­ing through the mo­tions of crunch­ing the gears while driv­ing the 80in around the car park.

When the show was over, the pre-pro­duc­tion model was taken back to the fac­tory, fet­tled and reg­is­tered for the road on Fri­day 21 May as GWD 431 – be­com­ing the first Land-rover to be road-reg­is­tered. In­ter­est­ingly, it also had a new gear­box fit­ted – pos­si­bly due to Ba­con’s sug­ges­tion that the orig­i­nal was prob­lem­atic – but less than a month later, L03 was back on Euro­pean soil at the 16th Barcelona In­ter­na­tional Trade Fair, this time des­tined to cre­ate its own lit­tle piece of his­tory.

The Val­lvidr­era hills of­fer a spec­tac­u­lar view over Barcelona and the Balearic Sea, while spin­ning round by 180º pro­vides a glimpse through the trees of Tibid­abo – the tallest moun­tain in the area, topped by the Tem­ple Ex­pi­a­tori del Sa­grat Cor, a Ro­man Catholic church that was com­pleted in 1961. On 19 June 1948, when the church was in the lat­ter pe­riod of its 59-year con­struc­tion pro­gramme, GWD 431 made its way to the foot of the hills and com­pleted a brand first as it demon­strated its con­sid­er­able ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the as­sem­bled mo­tor­ing press.

The run was ar­ranged by lo­cal Rover dis­trib­u­tor Ro­magosa y Com­pañia SA, and the Span­ish

press was out in force, ea­ger to wit­ness the ‘Land-over’ (sic), as it was wrongly tagged by some lo­cal pub­li­ca­tions.

This sort of or­gan­ised prac­ti­cal dis­play would be com­mon­place now, par­tic­u­larly for a firm such as Jaguar Land Rover, but at the time this was a new con­cept. Bri­tish Army Lieu­tenant Colonel My­hall and a Mr Waight from Rover car­ried out the ‘ex­cit­ing ex­hi­bi­tion’, and the re­ac­tion cer­tainly ap­peared to be pos­i­tive with Mundo De­portivo re­port­ing on its ‘high qual­i­ties and ex­cel­lent climb­ing be­hav­iour’.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to the UK, L03 be­came R03 later that same year – con­ver­sion to right-hand drive be­ing com­mon prac­tice be­fore most of the pre-pro­duc­tion ex­am­ples left fac­tory own­er­ship. It was des­tined to re­main ‘in the fam­ily’ un­til 1950, how­ever, be­ing run by Ge­of­frey Wilks, brother of Rover en­gi­neer Mau­rice.

Not un­til 1974 did cur­rent owner Dines set eyes on the 80in, while on a trip to Devon as a 16-year old. “My un­cle was an agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer and used to let me drive his Land-rover on pri­vate land when I was around eight,” he ex­plains, “so years later when I spied this ex­am­ple in a farmer’s barn, I knew what it was.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Dines, who was keen to bag his first car, the Land-rover wasn’t for sale, but the farmer knew the his­tory and hap­pily told him of its sig­nif­i­cant past. “You could buy an old Land-rover for around £30 then,” says Dines, “but even­tu­ally my dad ne­go­ti­ated its re­lease for the princely sum of £200 – worth it, con­sid­er­ing its his­tory.” That was a lot of money, of course, but through a com­bi­na­tion of hol­i­day-job earn­ings and a loan from his sis­ter, the car was his.

Dines set about get­ting the Land-rover an MOT cer­tifi­cate and then just used it, but even­tu­ally it was put in a shed for a num­ber of years be­fore be­ing re­stored for the 50th-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions in 1998. “I drove it back to show the farmer who had sold it to me,” says Dines, “and he was very happy to see that it had been looked af­ter and was back on the road, but I re­ally did put it through its paces – there’s no point hav­ing it if it’s not go­ing to be used as in­tended.

“I had been sent some pho­to­graphs in 1983 of my 80in driv­ing up that hill­side in Barcelona, but at that time R03 was still wait­ing to be re­stored and I failed to find out much more in­for­ma­tion be­fore the trail went cold.”

Then in 2009 – 26 years later – Dines no­ticed a post on the Land Rover Series One Club fo­rum ask­ing for help in find­ing out which was the first Land-rover ex­ported to Spain. Of course, L03 wasn’t ex­ported as such, but he duly replied in­form­ing the au­thor, Francesc Serra-graells – known as ‘Paco’ – that his was pos­si­bly the first Land-rover to be seen in the coun­try.

That ini­tial con­tact clearly cap­tured Paco’s imag­i­na­tion and, to Dines’ sur­prise, kick-started an in­ves­tiga­tive process that Sher­lock Holmes would be proud of. Be­fore long, Paco had made con­tact with the Pho­to­graphic Ar­chive of Barcelona, the Clas­sic Mo­tor Club del Bages and the Barcelona-based Land-rover dealer at the time of the de­mos, and had be­gun to piece to­gether the his­tory sur­round­ing the event.

Cru­cially, he had also re­turned to the Val­lvidr­era hills and found the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the re­ported demon­stra­tion runs, and was amazed by how lit­tle the area had changed.

“Af­ter the restora­tion I re­ally put it through its paces – there’s no point hav­ing a Land-rover if it’s not go­ing to be used as its maker in­tended”

Hap­pily, his ded­i­ca­tion was even­tu­ally to be re­paid, four years af­ter a trip back to Barcelona was ini­tially mooted. “Tom Pick­ford had posted on the LRSOC fo­rum about pos­si­bly putting to­gether a trip to Spain to com­mem­morate the Trade Fair, and nat­u­rally I reg­is­tered my in­ter­est straight away,” says Dines. “Ini­tially the ex­cur­sion didn’t re­volve around GWD, but in­evitably that was how it evolved – again thanks to Paco.”

With his prior knowl­edge of L03’s ground­break­ing demon­stra­tion run, Paco was soon on board with the trip. Af­ter a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion, he agreed with park au­thor­i­ties that spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion would be granted to recre­ate that hill climb on what is now pri­vate land around the Torre de Collserola – the Nor­man Fos­ter­de­signed tower built for the 1992 Olympics.

One fa­mil­iar name that was im­me­di­ately on the pas­sen­ger list for a re­turn to Barcelona was former Land-rover en­gi­neer Roger Crathorne. “One of the first over­seas trips I did in the ’60s was to Barcelona,” he ex­plains, “but I had no idea at the time that some­thing so im­por­tant in Lan­drover’s his­tory hap­pened a stone’s throw from where I stayed.” With Crathorne’s sup­port and Paco’s or­gan­i­sa­tion on the Span­ish/cata­lan side, the trip started to come to­gether and on 5 June, a group of seven Series Ones set off from the UK on a ferry bound for Bil­bao.

An hour north of Barcelona lies Les Comes, home to one of the most pic­turesque Land Rover Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tres in the world, and as the in­trepid trav­ellers pull into the sun-baked court­yard of the 10th-cen­tury house on Fri­day morn­ing, fresh from an overnight stop in a nearby vil­lage ho­tel, there is a tri­umphant air be­cause they have all made it with­out ma­jor prob­lems. All ex­cept one, that is: ac­cord­ing to a flurry of mes­sages, GWD 431 is hav­ing some fairly ma­jor steer­ing is­sues. Is there re­ally a pos­si­bil­ity that the one vehicle that should be here may not ac­tu­ally be present?

Of course not. If there’s one set of qual­i­ties that Land-rover fans have, it’s grit, de­ter­mi­na­tion and an abil­ity to cope – much like the ve­hi­cles them­selves. An hour later, GWD is driven gin­gerly through the court­yard and straight into a wait­ing garage, where it is de­scended upon by half a dozen ea­ger bod­ies.

This is no hap­haz­ard ap­proach, how­ever. Some ex­citable plan­ning the day be­fore means that spare parts – not easy to find for a 1948 pro­duc­tion Land-rover, let alone one of the first pre-pro­duc­tion ex­am­ples – have been packed into the lug­gage of fam­ily mem­bers and friends join­ing the ex­pe­di­tion by aero­plane. An hour in the work­shop con­firms sus­pi­cions that there is a prob­lem with the steer­ing nut and locker arm – the in­sert has dis­in­te­grated, al­low­ing a quar­ter of a turn of play at the wheel.

With a re­place­ment fit­ted and track­ing ad­justed, there is a spon­ta­neous round of ap­plause as Dines and GWD roll into the court­yard with rather more di­rec­tional con­fi­dence. This suc­cess means that we can now con­voy into the moun­tains that make up Les Comes, the se­date pace of sec­ond gear in low range af­ford­ing plenty of time to take in the breath­tak­ing sur­round­ings as the dusty tracks wind their way through 518 hectares of sun­burnt rock.

This is verg­ing on heaven for any Land-rover en­thu­si­ast and as LR Ex­pe­ri­ence in­struc­tor and Dakar Rally com­peti­tor Moi Tor­ral­lar­dona leads the con­voy in a Her­itage Edi­tion De­fender, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to ab­sorb the sheer num­ber of tracks spread across the land­scape.

With Dines and fam­ily lead­ing the Series One pa­trol in GWD 431, the cou­ple of hours spent nav­i­gat­ing the route fly by, in spite of the ris­ing heat – graph­i­cally demon­strated by an ea­gle over­head tak­ing ad­van­tage of the ther­mals to corkscrew its way up­wards. All too soon the group con­gre­gates back in the court­yard as ex­cite­ment builds for what has be­come the fo­cal point of the trip: the op­por­tu­nity to re-en­act that fa­mous demon­stra­tion over­look­ing Barcelona. Fol­low­ing an evening of fab­u­lous food, ve­hi­cles, own­ers and pas­sen­gers all re­tire with alarms set for an early wake-up call.

The morn­ing of 9 June dawns in fa­mil­iar fash­ion, as a slight haze across the moun­tains soon lifts to re­veal a clear blue sky. A hasty break­fast is con­sumed be­fore the team gathers to be­gin the hour-long drive into Barcelona it­self.

Af­ter the empty roads and tran­quil­ity of Les Comes, the traf­fic and bus­tle of the city come as a bit of a shock; quite what it would have been like in 1948 is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine, but re­mark­ably the group man­ages to stay to­gether. With the Val­lvidr­era hills loom­ing ever closer, we be­gin to climb and aboard GWD a deft dou­ble-de­clutch brings a smooth tran­si­tion into sec­ond as the in­cline rises and sharp turns lower the speed.

Ex­it­ing a left-hand bend sud­denly re­veals a set of steps ahead, carv­ing through sur­round­ing prop­er­ties, and those in the know smile: these are the same steps that L03 drove up 70 years ago, on its way to the demon­stra­tion.

Another right-hand bend is rounded and with­out warn­ing we’re faced with the hill, still un­mis­tak­able, and as Dines pulls in to the gated in­cline, the rest of the group buzzes past, aim­ing for the car park at the top of the hill.

Then there is a strange mo­ment. With the rest of the con­voy out of sight, we silently con­tem­plate the gate that blocks our path. Paco has or­gan­ised ac­cess and the fee of sev­eral hun­dred Eu­ros has been paid, but there’s no sign of the key. No prob­lem: mak­ing use of the verge as well as the Land-rover’s abil­ity, we’re through with a few inches to spare, and there’s noth­ing left to do but to ful­fil the rea­son for the trip. Slot­ting the pre-pro­duc­tion Land-rover into low range and selecting sec­ond gear, Dines sets off as the rest of us record the oc­ca­sion on cam­eras and phones. In less than 200 yards and 60 sec­onds, the 80in has reached its des­ti­na­tion – another gate and, be­yond that, trees that block its path.

There’s a sense of an­ti­cli­max. This Lan­drover has made its way from the south of Eng­land to the hills of Barcelona; it has recre­ated a mo­ment in his­tory; but what next? Sim­ple: do it again, and slowly some­thing won­der­ful hap­pens. Those who had gone to the car park start to wan­der down the hill and a buzz starts to build. With ev­ery run, more peo­ple gather: res­i­dents of the houses at the bot­tom of the hill, lo­cals en­joy­ing their daily walk, plus the con­tents of another five lo­cal Land-rovers that have driven to see the spec­ta­cle. Sud­denly, this is an “I was there when…” event. The hill­side be­gins to look alive – and very sim­i­lar to how it ap­peared 70 years ago, when it was packed with peo­ple mar­vel­ling at the sight of just one vehicle.

There are two types of clas­sic-car owner: those who keep their pride and joy largely to them­selves, closely guard­ing the keys; and those who, re­gard­less of value, are hap­pier to share the ex­pe­ri­ence. Tim Dines is clearly the lat­ter and over the course of the fol­low­ing hour it’s eas­ier to count those who don’t get a chance to drive this his­toric vehicle up the hill than those that do; cru­cially, this of­fer ex­tends to Paco, Pick­ford and Crathorne – the trio that was so in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the re-en­act­ment to­gether.

I, too, get a turn be­hind the wheel and, even though it’s over in a flash, the sense of ful­fil­ment is huge. Many a jour­ney in an old Landie can feel mo­men­tous, as if a moun­tain has been climbed, but in this in­stance that re­ally is the case. It’s proof that what be­gan as a stop-gap in a corner of the Soli­hull fac­tory is still ca­pa­ble of do­ing what it was de­signed to do, 70 years on.

Thanks to Tim Dines, Paco, Roger Crathorne, Moi Tor­ral­lar­dona and Isa Kröger at Les Comes, and JLR

‘The hill­side be­gins to look alive – and very sim­i­lar to how it ap­peared 70 years ago, when it was packed with peo­ple mar­vel­ling at the sight of just one vehicle’

Clock­wise from left: the group as­sem­bles af­ter a long drive; L03 be­ing demon­strated in the Val­lvidr­era hills; spot the Landies at Les Comes; stun­ning off-road tracks make a great play­ground

Clock­wise: small de­tails such as the bronze ped­als iden­tify this as a pre­pro­duc­tion vehicle; 1595cc Series One en­gine; ‘R03’ was orig­i­nally LHD ‘L03’; unique door mech­a­nism

Clock­wise, from main: the orig­i­nal demon­stra­tion run took place on 19 June 1948; lo­cal Series Landies were out in force to join the re-en­act­ment; Paco gets a well-de­served drive of GWD; fully-laden as­cent

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