Series IIA restoration
A once-neglected and forgotten SIIA has been rescued and rebuilt for a round-britain fundraising challenge
‘Abandoned’ workhorse brought back to life for a unique 2000-mile UK coastal trip
It’s hard to believe that this splendid Series IIA spent almost two decades half-forgotten and totally neglected in an old railway van body. I’ve come to Tanfield Railway on Tyneside to find out from Tom Hartley and Kelly Thomas just what it took to get it back on the road and ready for a 2000-mile fundraising tour around the coast of Britain in a few weeks’ time.
A chequered history
This fine machine had last been taxed in March 1996, the year it finally ‘died’ and was stuffed into the old railway van body at the yard. It’s a
1966 88in 2.25 diesel hard top and has had about 20 owners. ‘Back in the early ’90s, Ian Cowan, the railway’s engineer, wanted a Land Rover and a couple of the lads here had a pair of them, a Series II and a IIA.
‘And from what I understand, one donated parts to fettle the other, which is the one I’ve got now. Later, they snapped its original chassis by overloading it with roof tiles when they were building Andrew’s House station. They completely rebuilt the chassis in the workshops here. Sadly no photos exist of that work.’
Deal or no deal?
The Land Rover was eventually dragged out of its hiding place in November 2015 and sat in storage at the warehouse-cum-workshop owned by John Lennox, the railway chairman. He’s also a serial Land Rover collector and restorer. When Tom went to see the Land Rover, the list of work needed kept growing:
the spring U-bolts had snapped on the front axle, the rear propshaft had been removed to get it on to the trailer because the rear brakes had seized and the Land Rover wouldn’t shift. ‘They’d got it out of the old van body with a telehandler and plenty of big straps.’
The IIA did have some things going for it. The original windscreen wipers/motors, gearbox, overdrive and freewheeling hubs – nice, early MAP ones – were all present. Even the engine turned over freely. On the other hand, the front wings were too far gone with rot and bent out of shape, and the bulkhead was knackered. Tom was hoping Kelly would talk him out of buying it. But…
‘He rang me when I was driving home from work,’ says Kelly. ‘I said, “You’ve got to buy it. I’ve always wanted one; you’ve got to buy it”.’ Just to be sure, Tom then rang his dad and he said: ‘You can’t lose money – just buy it.’
So, for £1000 and a bottle of good whisky, and after promising Ian that he would do a proper nut-and-bolt rebuild job on it, Tom bought himself a whole lot of work. He already had a steam engine in a million pieces (he still has, as it happens), so did he really need another project?
All the work was done at John Lennox’s place by Tom and Kelly, with help, parts and encouragement from John. ‘The whole hard top came off using John’s overhead crane, within an hour and a half of my ownership,’ says Tom. This was made more difficult by the random use of fixings. ‘Some of them were screws, one of them was a bit of wooden dowelling, some of them were BA, some were BSF, a couple were metric, there were Philips heads and screws… a bit of everything had been used to hold the roof down,’ recalls Tom.
‘By the time I got over there, the roof was off, the door tops were off and the seat box was out,’ says Kelly.
Tom used an angle grinder to take the door bolts off because they were seized, but he managed to save the hinges. They stripped the Land Rover right down to a bare chassis, storing all the parts out of the way; the axles were unceremoniously thrown on to a pile of scrap. ‘John has a stack of spare axles to choose from and ours were rotten.’
Tom cut off the back of the chassis and fitted a new rear quarter chassis from Paddock. There was one point under the passenger seat that was dented and rotten, but the remainder of the front section, including the dumb irons, was okay. Tom cleaned out loads of rust and rubbish from the chassis, using a forklift to pick it up and repeatedly bang it on the ground. Most of it came out.
‘Your bulkhead is in a carrier bag,’ are not the words you want to hear from the chap who’s just shotblasted your SIIA’S firewall. With fulltime jobs, spare time was a big issue. ‘Rather than make my own door pillars, I had to buy them because it was quicker for me to earn the money and buy them rather than spend a long time folding and welding a pillar myself.’ The repair sections all came from YRM.
‘I’ve learned a lot about rebuilding and welding bulkheads for Land Rovers. I took the external measurements of the top screen hinges off John’s SIIA cherry picker to give me an absolute width. Then I took a measurement from the centre of the hole in these hinges down to the centre of the hole in the door bracket. That gives the relationship between the windscreen and the height of the door for the barrel line in the body. I cut the door pillars off and cut the footwells out.
‘I rebuilt the bulkhead with it on the chassis, not a jig, because I wanted the door pillar feet to align with the chassis outriggers. I hung the bulkhead in position off an overhead crane, used a set-square to get it true, put the bolts through the feet, tightened up then tacked the pillars at the top, and then almost started working backwards from there. One footwell had seven layers of repairs. The rot on one side had crept up above the repair panel. I had to make a sandwich to go either side of the good metal just below the rain strip, and joined it to the new footwell.
‘The internal bulkhead panels – the shelf across where the barrel meets the top corners – were all rotten. Every time I attempted to weld it, more and more filler exploded right across the workshop.
‘The biggest faff was trying to salvage the passenger-side vent opening and top corner; after blasting, it was just hanging in the air. When the bulkhead came back from galvanising it bolted straight on, so my plan
worked out well. I’ve seen other people use bottle jacks to make them fit.
The bulkhead was the biggest job, but the gearbox came close; it was totally seized. Once he’d stripped it, Tom was surprised not to find anything particularly scary – no bits of metal, no water, just some surface rust and dirt.
But no oil. ‘The only thing that had oil in it was the overdrive, and that had far too much of it. It’s a Series III gearbox with synchro on all gears and a hydraulic clutch rather than the Iia-style shaft through the bellhousing. It’s a lot better for daily use, which is our intention.
‘We put new bearings and tried to fit a new layshaft but it didn’t match the first gear we had; it wouldn’t mesh, so we put the original layshaft back in; it only has a bit of wear on the reverse gear and we’ve had no problems so far. We didn’t change all the bearings – if they ran smoothly and didn’t wobble when I spun them on my fingers, I put them back in. I know it sounds a bit like farmyard engineering but it’s worked for years. It’s a bit noisy in second if you change up too soon, but the Fairey overdrive is very quiet.
The swivels had been fitted new in 1992 when Ian Cowan bought it and they were still in good condition. Tom’s renewed the braking system – wheel cylinders, pipes and shoes. Says Kelly: ‘The diffs were fine; we just checked the backlash and put them back in and rebuilt the hubs with new-old-stock bearings; the freewheeling hubs were fine. Tom binned the old wiring in favour of a brand-new loom from Autosparks; that was the last job.’
All that was left was the paint job, which was taken care of by a local chap who paints all of John Lennox’s vehicles. Despite working in a cramped little garage, the finish is superb.
Kelly was heavily involved in the rebuild from the start, even playing an instrumental part in persuading Tom to buy the SIIA in the first place – top work. The first major job on the rebuild she did was jetwashing and cleaning the engine and the stripped gearbox.
‘I spent all day on it – they were minging! But I’m not bothered about filthy dirty.’ [Kelly keeps horses, which also explains her keenness to get a Land Rover ] ‘I’ve never used an angle grinder and I can’t weld. I want Tom to do a really good job and not a bad job because he’s let me have a go at something I haven’t done before. So, while he was cutting and welding, I cleaned the inside,’ says Kelly.
‘And you put the engine in,’ pipes up Tom. ‘I was happy doing something on the back axle; something fiddly. You and John were there and he said to you, “Kelly, do you want to put the engine in?” And I said, “Hey – it’s my toy!”. Next thing I know, the pair of them are sat there with the engine on a hoist doing it.’
‘You were being tentative about doing it so we just got on with it,’ teases Kelly.
The final result?
‘It’s not concours but it’s been a proper nutand-bolt rebuild. If it were concours we’d be scared to use it. We want to charge around Kelly’s farm in it. It’s useable.
‘Without the knowledge and spares that John Lennox has provided I couldn’t have done it for what I’ve spent. Including the £1000 to buy it and £1100 on wheels, tyres, and shotblasting/painting them, I reckon I’ve spent between £4000 and £5000.’
Tom and Kelly have worked hard to breathe new life into what was a very sorry-looking and decaying Land Rover. Now, they’re about to embark on an ambitious fundraising trip around the UK’S coastline in it.
It just goes to show that the old saying, ‘It’s never over in a Rover’, still holds true.
‘I spent all day on the engine and gearbox. They were minging, but I’m not bothered about filthy dirty’
The perfect cockpit for a 2000-mile epic challenge
Mission accomplished: Kelly longed to get a Land Rover
Tom’s rejuvenated IIA is on track to last decades more