Dunsfold Diaries

Prices for some Land Rovers may be ris­ing but there are still bar­gains to be had in the ex-mil­i­tary world

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents -

REG­U­LAR READ­ERS will know that I have a mas­sive soft spot for ex-mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles of all kinds, not just Land Rovers. It’s a pas­sion I in­her­ited from my fa­ther Brian, who started col­lect­ing them in the 1960s. In fact, the Dunsfold Col­lec­tion it­self came about as a di­rect re­sult of my fa­ther’s hobby.

One of my favourite events of the year, there­fore, is the mas­sive War and Peace Re­vival show that’s been held in Kent for over 30 years. It’s the big­gest gath­er­ing of ex-mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in the world, and be­cause of its easy ac­cess from the Chan­nel it draws a huge num­ber of vis­i­tors from the con­ti­nent. It’s one of the very few shows where you can see tanks rum­bling around, there are air dis­plays, and it at­tracts the most amaz­ing finds from around the world, in­clud­ing a grow­ing num­ber from the ex-soviet states.

The show has tra­di­tion­ally been held at Pad­dock Wood hop farm, where it re­turned in 2017 af­ter a few years of re­lo­ca­tion to Folke­stone Race­course. It runs from Tues­day to Satur­day in late July and I’ve just re­turned from a great week there with my mate Roger Jones, guardian of REME’S his­toric ve­hi­cle col­lec­tion. We went down the Satur­day be­fore and took the Dunsfold Col­lec­tion’s pro­to­type Land Rover Wolf (main pic­ture, top right) as a cen­tre­piece for our stand, which we then used to pro­mote the Col­lec­tion. This ve­hi­cle, based on a 110 De­fender, was built in 1994 and has a unique high-roof hard­top; it’s only cov­ered 8000 miles but you can bet they were very tough ones!

War and Peace is as much a so­cial event as a trad­ing one for me, although I use it to move on all the non-land Rover mil­i­tary sur­plus stuff that I’ve ac­quired dur­ing the year when I buy job lots of stil­lages. There are al­ways ve­hi­cles for sale, too, and I was briefly tempted by an am­phibi­ous Jeep, although th­ese are now se­ri­ously ex­pen­sive. I saw a bas­ket case restora­tion project for sale at € 55,000, and there’s a fully-re­stored one be­ing ad­ver­tised on the in­ter­net for € 135,000.

But even they pale into in­signif­i­cance com­pared with the gen­uine WW2 six-wheel-drive Jeep that was on of­fer at War and Peace. Based on a friend’s of­fer that was re­jected, I’m guess­ing the ask­ing price may have been a quar­ter-of-amil­lion. Right at the other end of the scale, a stan­dard Jeep in good con­di­tion will cost £15,000 or more, and that means they’re be­com­ing old men’s hobby cars which younger en­thu­si­asts can’t af­ford.

That is why you see so many Land Rovers at shows such as War and Peace… At £4500-5000, the clas­sic square-rigged Light­weight mil­i­tary Land Rover is a third the price of a Jeep, and per­fect for tak­ing to mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle shows. The term Light­weight is a bit mis­lead­ing be­cause they aren’t any lighter than a stan­dard SWB Land Rover, but they are lighter than the stan­dard mil­i­tary ver­sion. They’re also

four inches nar­rower than a stan­dard Se­ries IIA, which meant that two of them would go side-by-side into a 1960s Arm­strong-whit­worth Ar­gosy trans­port air­craft; their of­fi­cial des­ig­na­tion was, in fact, Air­portable rather than Light­weight.

Like many oth­ers, the pro­to­type Light­weight in the Dunsfold Col­lec­tion (above) had been up­dated by later own­ers af­ter it was dis­posed of by Rud­ding­ton Auc­tions in 1973: it had been painted blue and fit­ted with Volvo seats and big tyres, among other things, and ended up on ebay in 2008, which is where we spot­ted it. This Light­weight was one of six pro­to­types built for eval­u­a­tion by the Army and al­most every panel is dif­fer­ent from a pro­duc­tion ver­sion – doors, bulk­head, wings, bon­net and even the front grille panel. The chas­sis and bulk­head were very rusty, pos­si­bly be­cause it was used for beach land­ings, but now that it’s fully re­stored it’s a crack­ing lit­tle car.

Lightweights were built from 1968 to 1984 but are get­ting quite hard to find in un­mo­lested con­di­tion, now that so many have been civil­ianised with non-stan­dard en­gines. But there are other op­tions out there if you fancy some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent. Ever heard of a Per­en­tie Land Rover (above, top)? Un­til re­cently, there were just a cou­ple of th­ese Aus­tralian­built army ve­hi­cles in the UK, but now that the Aussie Army has been kick­ing them out, there are some su­per orig­i­nal ones be­ing im­ported.

The Per­en­tie was made by JRA Ltd in Aus­tralia in the 1980s and 90s to re­place the Army’s Se­ries ve­hi­cles and it is a fas­ci­nat­ing ma­chine to take to a Euro­pean show. Based on the De­fender 110, it has the huge ad­van­tage of a gal­vanised chas­sis and bulk­head, plus an Isuzu 3.9 four-cylin­der diesel or tur­bod­iesel. They were well main­tained dur­ing their ser­vice lives and, although a bit agri­cul­tural to drive, they are su­perb value for money.

At the time of writ­ing, The De­fender Cen­tre near Stour­bridge, West Mid­lands (www.ex­mod.co.uk), has a 1988 soft-top, Mot’d and ready to go, for £10,800, and an im­pres­sive 1991 turbo 6x6 drop­side for £19,200, both in­clud­ing VAT. And th­ese aren’t clapped-out Army cast-offs, by any means: the 6x6, for ex­am­ple, has re­cently had a new en­gine, trans­mis­sion and front axle. Most im­por­tantly, they are ef­fec­tively rust-free, and their gal­vanised chas­sis means they will last for ever.

But if that kind of money’s still too strong for you, then you could do a lot worse than con­sider a Min­erva (op­po­site page). A Min­erva is a Se­ries I 80 inch Land Rover that was built un­der li­cence in Bel­gium for the na­tional army, but with a slightly re­shaped body that’s made in steel rather than Birmabright al­loy. You might think that’s a dis­ad­van­tage, but the steel body makes a Min­erva ride bet­ter – and not many peo­ple use a Se­ries I every day, so cor­ro­sion isn’t so much of a prob­lem.

That said, I have a Min­erva sit­ting out­side my of­fice right now which has come down from Lon­don for some work; the owner uses it to smoke around town. They are great lit­tle trucks, and be­cause the ex­haust pipe ex­its un­der the driver’s seat, they have a lovely crisp ex­haust note, too. Screen folded down, roof off – what a great thing to cruise around in on a sum­mer’s day!

Only the very ear­li­est Min­er­vas used Land Rover-built chas­sis and bulk­heads, which were shipped over as CKD kits, and you can tell a lo­cally-built chas­sis be­cause it doesn’t have a hole for the PTO in the rear cross­mem­ber. Yes, they do rust, but most of the sur­vivors will have had re­place­ment bulk­heads dur­ing their ser­vice lives, and re­con­di­tioned en­gines too. Every Min­erva I’ve ever seen has had a red-painted en­gine, which in­di­cates that it was re­built in Bel­gium rather than sent out like that from Solihull.

The best part of 10,000 Min­er­vas were built, and as late as 1985 there were still nearly 2500 serv­ing with the Bel­gian Army, so they are not par­tic­u­larly rare. Un­til two years ago I was buy­ing th­ese in run­ning or­der for £2000-3000 but now you’re look­ing at £5000-6000. That’s still half the price of a Se­ries I, and a third the price of a WW2 Jeep, for some­thing that looks, goes and sounds very much like one. It’s the bar­gain of the decade.

THE DUNSFOLD COL­LEC­TION is not yet open to the pub­lic but is hop­ing to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent mu­seum. You can help make that a re­al­ity by be­com­ing a Friend of the Col­lec­tion for an an­nual sub­scrip­tion of £35. Visit dunsfold­col­lec­tion.co.uk for more info.

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