James Taylor unearths the secrets behind the most desirable big boy’s toy ever – and finds out how to dig himself out of a hole
Discovered rusted and forlorn in a field, this ultra-rare – and ultra-useful – One Ten truck cab has been given a new lease of life thanks to enthusiast Paul Hazell’s dedication
How’s that for timing? Aiming for the Gaydon show on the Saturday, Paul Hazell completed his latest restoration on the Wednesday, got it Mot’d the same day, and was ready to welcome the LRO team to show it working on the Thursday. So what did he do on the Friday? Slept, probably; he says he was completely knackered by the time we got there!
The vehicle he’s restored is a real rarity. It’s based on a 1986 One Ten chassis cab, and it was Land Rover’s own demonstrator of a device called the Polymark Beaver D270 Rapid Transit Backhoe Digger. Quite a mouthful – so we’ll just call it the Beaver.
The idea behind the Beaver was to convert a Land Rover into a mobile digger for use in building, geological work and general earthmoving. It was a small version of what we now think of as a JCB, with the advantage that it could be driven (fairly) rapidly on the road from one site to the next. You couldn’t do that with a JCB in the 1980s – and you certainly couldn’t do it with one in the 1960s, which was when the idea behind the Beaver originated at a company called Airdrive Ltd.
An Airdrive conversion called the Harrier gained Land Rover Approval in the late 1960s, but only a couple were built. The Airdrive demonstrator, on a Series IIA 109, was recently rebuilt (LRO, August 2017). Airdrive went under quite soon after building it and nobody picked up the idea until the early 1980s, when Polymark Beaver had a go. The company had developed a backhoe digger that could be mounted on the back of a tractor with a three-point linkage and the appropriate hydraulic power source, and wanted to transfer the idea to a Land Rover. So Land Rover let them have a very early One Ten, registered CWK 14Y, to build a prototype.
We don’t know exactly when this was completed, but CWK 14Y was sold to Polymark Beaver on 14 April 1984. It became the demonstrator, and a sales brochure was prepared featuring pictures of the vehicle looking immaculate in all-over white. In reality, it wouldn’t have looked that good for long: diggers get very muddy in use.
When the Special Projects department became SVO in June 1985, the new division wanted its own demonstrator. So one was built, and was registered C271 ADU in June 1986. By the time it appeared on the Land Rover stand at the British Army Equipment Exhibition later that year, it’s thought to have been painted green all over – although the cab was certainly white when the chassis cab left the assembly lines. Land Rover probably thought there would be interest in the vehicle for various military engineering duties (it also appears that there was some military interest in a grave-digging vehicle...). For military forces already committed to fleets of Land Rovers, it could have made perfect sense.
However, there seem to have been no takers. There was one civilian buyer, and it’s just possible there were others but, one way or the other, C271 ADU didn’t see much action. It was last taxed for the road in 1989, and Land Rover sold it on in 1990.
Both Paul and I would be surprised if there were ever many more than those three examples. The concept was fine; it was simply that Polymark Beaver perfected it too late. By the time their digger was ready in the mid-1980s, mini-diggers had become available. Easy to transport on a trailer and less cumbersome than the Land Rover to operate, they had cornered the market. It seemed that nobody needed a digger based on a Land Rover.
So C271 ADU went to an independent Land Rover specialist in Devon, who used it for plant hire duties. However, demand seems not to have been great, and after a while it was put out to pasture. And that was how Paul found it – he spotted a picture of it on the web, sitting in a field, and decided to track it down.
You might well ask why. Simple, really: Paul is fascinated by Land Rovers that have been specially adapted, and this one certainly fitted the bill. He likes rarities too. No stranger to restorations, over the years he has done a replica Lightweight gunship, a TACR-1 airfield crash rescue tender and an ACRT crash rescue tender – to name just a few. Most important is that he’s a skilled fabricator and does most of the restoration work himself.
The great thing about the Beaver was that all the equipment was still with it. The downside was that it hadn’t been used for years and needed complete refurbishment. The subframe that carries the digger was severely decayed and the front chassis crossmember and dumb irons were beyond saving because of a long-term radiator leak. ‘To be quite honest, I was tempted to walk away when I first saw it – it was that bad,’ says Paul. ‘But then I thought, “I’ll never find another one like this. I’ve got to have it”.’
Paul points out several differences from the early Airdrive Harrier backhoe digger. Most important is that the Beaver design allows the digger to be rotated so that the arm and bucket
‘To be quite honest, I was tempted to walk away when I first saw it – it was that bad!’
rest over the centre of the chassis. On the earlier Harrier design, the whole assembly has a much smaller arc of rotation, so that the arm and bucket always face the rear of the vehicle. This puts all the weight behind the axle, which is less than ideal for road driving.
That smaller arc restricts the digger’s versatility, but the Beaver design has a larger arc pivoting 270º (it can’t be a full 360º because it would get tangled with its own hydraulic hoses).
In winter 2015 Paul began by stripping the vehicle – newly christened Doug the Digger – down to the bare chassis. Sandblasting, welding, painting and reassembly followed. Little needed doing to the low-mileage 2.5 diesel engine, but the cab needed work. New door skins were a start; new seats would have been nice, but Paul couldn’t find any, so he had to refurbish the existing ones as best he could.
The real challenge was the digger itself. It’s fortunate that Paul loves learning about the engineering behind a vehicle as he restores it, because he had to that with this one – there was no handbook to explain how it worked.
A local fabricator repaired the hydraulic tank behind the cab, and a specialist hydraulic company replaced corroded pistons in the hydraulic rams. Replacement connectors were no problem because they haven’t changed since the digger was built, but the hydraulic hoses had to be reproduced at a cost of £1000.
A lot of fabrication was needed on the corroded rear deck, but that didn’t present any difficulties. More challenging was finding a new wear strip for the pivot; astonishingly, one turned up on ebay in the US. Various safety labels were available from the same source, but Paul had to make the D270 model label for the hydraulic arm by copying the damaged original. He also made the Land Rover ovals for the doors.
Paul admits that he enjoys the restoration journey more than the arrival. However, Doug the Digger has a definite future in the Hazell household. There’s a very large vegetable patch that has to be dug over thoroughly once a year, and then there’s a post-hole borer attachment to be restored, and that will be handy the next time there’s some fencing putting up. Well, that’s what Paul’s telling himself, anyway.
Beaver digger pre-dated JCBS
Next stop is the veg patch
Paul refurbed original seats