Rov in g Repor ter
“My little historic vehicle appeared to be a blot upon their landscape of uninspiring suburbia”
Are you aware of this? Can we assist in any way?” read the email from LRM editor Patrick. Beneath these ominous words is a Facebook screenshot showing my beloved Lightweight in a scrapyard, with swirls of pink spray paint on the windows. I literally cannot believe what I am seeing. My Land Rover – not just a vehicle I have owned for over 12 years but also a very old and dear friend – has somehow been relegated to a Devon scrap yard. And I am 3000 miles away in Iraq.
The pictures were posted in a Land Rover Facebook group by a fine chap called Jed who noticed it in the scrapyard. His post – reading: “Apparently it just came in from the council? Looks like it was someone’s pride and joy. Hope it’s not nicked!” – was how news of the Lightweight’s predicament managed to reach me.
A series of desperate Skype calls made over Iraq’s faltering internet connection ensued to the police (no, we’ve no record of it being stolen), the DVLA (no, there are no problems or issues with this vehicle), and to various friends and relatives in the vicinity who might be able to help. Luckily for Torbay Council who, it transpired, had seized and impounded my Land Rover under the spurious and baseless claim of it being an “abandoned vehicle”, it was my long-suffering and lovely mother who spoke to them because, by that point, my fury knew no bounds.
On various government portals and via the (actually incredibly helpful) DVLA, I research what constitutes an abandoned vehicle. Mine does not fit into any of the government-listed criteria, apart perhaps from having been “stationary for a significant amount of time”. But no one can confirm how long “significant” actually is. In fact, the DVLA said that, as long as the vehicle was legal, roadworthy, and was legally-parked and not causing an obstruction, there really was no time frame within which it had to be either driven or moved.
So, why was my fine Lightweight – insured, taxed and sporting a valid MOT may I point out – somehow designated as an abandoned vehicle? I suspect it was the innocent victim of a hate campaign by local residents living along a leafy avenue of Torbay villas probably worth half a million apiece, to whom my little historic vehicle appeared to be a blot upon their landscape of uninspiring suburbia.
But if these local residents and Torbay Council had hoped my apparently offensive Land Rover was going to quietly disappear into a crumpled piece of metal, they were sorely mistaken. They had not bargained on England’s community of Land Rover owners and enthusiasts swiftly mobilising to stage an intervention. And, actually, neither had I.
While I was in Iraq trying to remotely rescue my Land Rover, both LRM and the scrapyard were being inundated with emails and phone calls, after (in Patrick’s words) the original Facebook post “went viral”.
“That Facebook post caused me quite an issue because we got so many calls and messages,” lovely Chris from the scrapyard told me. “About 40 per cent of them were people saying: ‘ That’s Thom’s car, what are you doing with it?’ The remaining messages were apparently from other Lightweight owners scouting for parts, or enthusiasts asking to buy the whole vehicle. Chris, with infinitely more perspicacity than Torbay Council representatives, admits to having being mystified by the Lightweight’s appearance at the scrapyard. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it hadn’t been abandoned,” he said. “I mean, who abandons a vehicle of this calibre with new parts fitted?” From the Iraq cafe where everything is overheating in the 45 degree heat, I listen with pleasure as he flatters the Lightweight. And, after this recent incident, I can’t help but agree with his observation that its exterior could do with a good sandblast and new paint job. After a few days of umpteen phone calls and the payment of a ridiculous fine to liberate the Lightweight from the scrapyard, it is finally driven to freedom. It even showed off to the little audience at the scrapyard who had apparently gathered to wish it farewell by starting first time – something I confess it hasn’t done for me in quite a while.
Later that day, when it was being parked up – out of principle on the same avenue, outside the same villa – a lady pulled up alongside with a face like thunder. “That vehicle was towed away by the council!” she said. “Well now it’s back,” said my friend who had kindly volunteered to drive it back, slamming the door.
Delighted and relieved that this sorry tale had a happy ending, I am feeling quite unforgiving about the whole incident, and I’m filling occasional downtime in Iraq with penning an epic ninepage letter of complaint to Torbay Council.