The A Team

Mike Aitken has been look­ing af­ter Land Rovers since he was a teenager. Bob Weir went to see his su­perb Series IIA

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story and Pic­tures: Bob Weir

This month, Bob Weir’s Scot­land finds in­clude a rather su­perb Series IIA that has been lov­ingly re­stored

As you drive north on the A93 through the city of Perth and past Blair­gowrie, the scenery starts to change. De­spite the fact it is late spring there is still snow on the hills, the red squir­rels have come out of hi­ber­na­tion and the chil­dren are em­brac­ing the warmer weather, too, as a pair of red kites swoop ma­jes­ti­cally over Mike Aitkin’s back yard.

His petrol 2.25 is also pretty eye-catch­ing, es­pe­cially as it is still wear­ing one of the old-style A-reg­is­tra­tion num­ber plates. Read­ers old enough to re­mem­ber will re­call that these caused a lot of in­ter­est when they first came out in 1963. Alas, very few of the re­cip­i­ents have sur­vived to tell the tale, which makes BXA 212A a bit of a head-turner.

“I orig­i­nally come from Fife, and moved up to the High­lands a few years back,” he says. “When I was a teenager I served my time as a lorry me­chanic and worked for a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in cat­tle floats. Fife is a ru­ral com­mu­nity and these trucks were very pop­u­lar. Un­for­tu­nately, as the later commercial ve­hi­cles be­came more re­li­able, the job got a bit bor­ing and pre­dictable.

“Luck­ily I was also work­ing on older-type Land Rovers in my spare time. This was re­ally just a hobby, but was a use­ful way of earn­ing some ex­tra money. It also taught me a lot about what makes Land Rovers tick. In the end I took a gam­ble, and de­cided to go full-time with it.”

Mike soon built up a thriv­ing busi­ness, and his ser­vices were in great de­mand. He picks up the story: “My first of­fi­cial day was Jan­uary 10, 2000. I was still work­ing from my home base at Ceres near Cu­par, but things grew so quickly I had to find a new premises. I de­cided to move the busi­ness just up the road to Lady­bank. Work was com­ing in thick and fast, and I went out of my way to co-op­er­ate with the lo­cal Land Rover deal­er­ship. At the end of the day, I needed a source for spare parts. From the out­set I made it clear that I was not poach­ing on their ter­ri­tory, and only in­ter­ested in work­ing on the older mod­els. The deal­er­ship changed hands sev­eral times dur­ing this pe­riod, with mixed re­sults. Get­ting hold of parts sud­denly be­came an is­sue, so we ended up deal­ing with Pent­land Land Rover in Ed­in­burgh.”

It was also around this time that Mike and wife Donna de­cided they wanted to move up coun­try. He says: “My wife owned a cou­ple of horses, and was look­ing for more land. Af­ter search­ing the mar­ket, we even­tu­ally found our cur­rent prop­erty at Kirk­michael, near Bridge of Cally. The build­ings were in a derelict state, and it was ob­vi­ous from the word go that the prop­erty would need to be com­pletely ren­o­vated. Be­cause of the pres­sures at work, this could only be done at the week­end. I would travel up from Fife on the Fri­day, and re­turn on the Sun­day. It was quite a time-con­sum­ing and de­mand­ing project, but we got there in the end.”

By this time Mike had de­cided that he had had enough of the stress of run­ning a busi­ness. Once he had moved into the High­lands, he was also fac­ing a long com­mute into work. “I de­cided to hand the busi­ness over to my long-time col­league Ian Sim,” he says. “He had been with me back in the early days and was happy to take over.

“That doesn’t mean to say I have to­tally hung up my boots. I’m still work­ing part-time for lo­cal cus­tomers sort­ing out their De­fend­ers, as well as the older types of Land Rover. Most of the busi­ness still comes in via word of mouth. Brit­part and All­makes sup­ply me with spares, as and when I need them. I’ve got sev­eral projects on the go and have just fit­ted a new chas­sis to a Series III. I’ve car­ried out sev­eral re-chas­sis jobs re­cently, but I’ll only take on the work if I’ve got the time.”

Al­though Mike had been around Land Rovers from a young age, he did not get round to ac­tu­ally ac­quir­ing his first ve­hi­cle un­til he was 30 years-old, back in 1990.

“BXA 212A is the first Land Rover I ac­tu­ally owned,” he

“I got the ve­hi­cle for noth­ing as it was in a par­lous state and needed a lot of work”

years, so I knew a lot about the mar­que. I had been bid­ing my time wait­ing for the right ve­hi­cle to come along, and the Series IIA seemed just right.

“The Land Rover has a well­doc­u­mented history. John, the pre­vi­ous owner, had in­her­ited the ve­hi­cle from his fa­ther, and it had been in the fam­ily from new. His fa­ther had been a se­nior of­fi­cer in the Royal Navy, and there is still a solid sil­ver navy crown on the Landy’s bon­net. I ac­tu­ally got the ve­hi­cle for noth­ing as it was in a bit of a par­lous state – it had bro­ken away in the mid­dle and needed a lot of work. To make mat­ters worse, by the time I got hold of it the Land Rover had been sit­ting ne­glected un­der a tree in all weath­ers for sev­eral years.”

For­tu­nately, the SIIA’S me­chan­i­cals ap­peared to be sound, so Mike made John a prom­ise. “I told him that as soon as the Land Rover was up and run­ning again I would pay him an­other visit and he could take the newly-re­stored ve­hi­cle for a spin. In the cir­cum­stances, I thought this was the least I could do. John just laughed and prob­a­bly thought noth­ing more about it and we left things at that.”

Mike was still hold­ing down a full-time job at the time, and the restora­tion took him the best part of four years. He went through the usual tri­als and tribu­la­tions, but was de­ter­mined to get things right. Ex­pe­ri­ence had taught him that there are rarely any short­cuts to car­ry­ing out a suc­cess­ful resto and that pa­tience is of­ten the key.

He says: “Ob­vi­ously I had to do all the work in my spare time, be­cause of com­mit­ments at work. This meant car­ry­ing out the resto dur­ing evenings and week­ends. There were no real hic­cups dur­ing the makeover, but it took a lot of time. For­tu­nately we man­aged to bring the task to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion, un­til the day fi­nally ar­rived for its MOT. The ve­hi­cle sailed through with fly­ing colours, and I im­me­di­ately went straight round to my friend’s house to ful­fil my side of the bar­gain.

“When John an­swered the front door, he could not be­lieve his eyes. He was very ex­cited as he looked over the ve­hi­cle. Af­ter he had given the Landy a thor­ough in­spec­tion, I handed him the keys. He was so taken aback he de­clined to drive it at first, but I even­tu­ally per­suaded him and we took it for a quick jaunt. When we got back to his house, he asked me to wait and went straight in­side. He re-ap­peared min­utes later, and pre­sented me with his fa­ther’s sil­ver crown.

“You’ll no­tice there are still a few dings on the body­work. Ac­cord­ing to John, his mother used to drive the Land Rover, even when she was well into re­tire­ment. There was a small junc­tion from the fam­ily’s house, on the way to Lady­bank, and John told me that his mother would oc­ca­sion­ally mis­judge the dis­tance and end up go­ing through the hedge by the side of the road.”

Now that the Series IIA was up and run­ning again, Mike de­cided to take it to some shows. He said: “I’ve been to Billing a few times, in­clud­ing the year the or­gan­is­ers held ‘the most Land Rovers in the world’ event. I drove the Landy down to Eng­land my­self and it cov­ered the sev­eral hun­dred miles with­out any prob­lems.”

Now that he is en­joy­ing life liv­ing in the High­lands, Mike has also got in touch with sev­eral other en­thu­si­asts. “Where we live is a small com­mu­nity and a bit iso­lated. I’d seen a few older ve­hi­cles and trac­tors run­ning around and one of my neigh­bours sug­gested we form a club. We held a meet­ing and sur­pris­ingly it at­tracted over 30 peo­ple. We thought this was prob­a­bly a one-off, but when it hap­pened a sec­ond time we re­alised there was some po­ten­tial. It’s still early days, but it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how many old Land Rovers show up over time. Watch this space”

Above: The Series IIA is prob­a­bly bet­ter re­mem­bered for its new diesel en­gine, but the petrol unit could also do the busi­ness

Top right: The cab and cargo area have been re­stored to their orig­i­nal con­di­tion

Left: Mike Aitken also owns a very nice De­fender 90

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