PRETORIA, South Africa – After playing a starring role in Land Rover’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018 the ”missing” original-launch Land Rover demo vehicle from the 1948 Amsterdam auto show is back on the road (and in the mud) for the first time since the 1960s,
It’s been through a year-long restoration/rebuild was by a team of experts at Land Rover Classic at its Classic Works facility in Coventry, central England – a workshop said to be dedicated to preserving Land Rovers that have been out of production for 10 years or more using a mixture of traditional skills, original drawings, and 21st-century technology.
The historically important pre-production vehicle, which had vanished for decades but was found in 2016 in a garden near the Solihull factory where it was built. has been kept as authentic as possible.
It is now back to its 1948 specification – including left-hand drive, its prototype braking system, and all-wheel drive controls an approach which required the team to strip down the vehicle to its bare chassis and begin a painstaking process of testing and checking which components could be re-used and rebuilt after decades of decay and rust.
Calum McKechnie, head of Land Rover Classic, told The Corner in a media release: “It was important to strike the right balance when restoring the launch Land Rover. We had to replace some parts but were keen to keep as much of the original vehicle as possible to retain the unique characteristics of this 70-year-old model.
”The team has done an incredible job and the result is a testament to the unique expertise and tireless passion of the experts at our Classic Works facility.”
The front axle required no significant repairs, the rear axle showed signs of extreme damage and fatigue, so the original part was X-rayed and depth-tested using state-of-the-art techniques and found to be strong enough to keep, rather than be replaced. During this process the Land Rover Classic technicians even uncovered the original axle number, thought to have be lost.
The original through-dash selectable 4WD controls, known by enthusiasts as the ‘Organ Stops’ due to their similarity to those on a church organ, were also reinstated. The three pull-push knobs operate the two- and all-wheel drive transmission and High- and Low-range gear selection. This system fitted only to some early pre-production Land Rovers before being replaced by a simpler set-up for production.
Land Rover Classic technicians, the Corner was told, used their expert knowledge to reinstate the original combination of rods, levers and linkages to replicate the design of the vehicle when it assembled in 1948.
Pre-production Land Rovers had a Lockheed braking system, customer vehicles Girling.
”The rare set-up on the ‘missing’ Land Rover had been removed,” Landy said, ”so Land Rover Classic referenced period drawings to restore the authentic Lockheed design. This meant engineering replacement master and wheel cylinders, drums, pads and backplates before the brake pipes were carefully hand-fitted to match the routes followed on the original vehicle.”
The flaking exterior paintwork doesn’t look like it has been subject to a year-long restoration but the goal, Landy said, ”was always to retain the patina of this important vehicle”. Minor repairs were made to the original panels to remove tears and sharp edges and where new panels were needed they were created in their original two-mm thick aluminium – unique to pre-production models – and painted in the original light green, colour-matched from the underside of the original seat base before being aged to complement the original panels.
RE-BUILDING THE BADGE
Michael Bishop, Land Rover Classic Build Engineer, said: “Bringing this historically important Land Rover back to life was a huge challenge, given its wear, tear and decay from the elements since the 1960s’- but also a real pleasure. Being able to open up our archive and revisit the original Land Rover engineering programme from more than 70 years ago was a great privilege for the whole team.”
With the original badge missing, the team went to great lengths to ensure this was recreated exactly. To do this they digitised a photograph of another Land Rover on the stand at the 1948 Amsterdam show and used computer-aided design specialists who transposed the photograph to calculate the size of the lettering and its position on the front wing to cast an accurate replacement.
Parts that needed to be replaced or had been removed during the vehicle’s life were re-created from the extensive archive of original drawings kept by Land Rover Classic, plus access to other surviving pre-production Land Rovers. The technical illustrations helped to restore the original routing and mounting system of the exhaust, the brass wheel hubs, the gearbox, and the transfer box.
ENGINE STRIPPED AND REBUILT
Interesting discoveries during the work included an original King George V sixpenny coin from 1943 which had been deliberately left under the galvanised capping of the rear tub as a hidden memento. The team worked with the UK’s Forestry Commission to identify the wood used for the sections at the rear of the front seats – they were ash and replaced like-for-like.
With a fully-rebuilt engine incorporating specially-made pre-production-specification high-compression pistons, the result is a vehicle that drives just like it did when it left the factory and retains the unique patina acquired over more than seven decades of use and disuse.
The completion of the ”missing” Land Rover came just days after Land Rover revealed the latest Land Rover Defender at the 2019 Frankfurt aut show.