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
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