De­fender dig­ger


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.

Com­plete re­fur­bish­ment

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).

The restora­tion

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.

What now?

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

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