Last November, the Norwegian authorities seized 93 Land Rovers stored in Sandnes. The story has been big news over the past few weeks, with a cancelled auction and much speculation surrounding the circumstances, and the actual Land Rovers. We travelled to Norway to discover the truth about one man’s love affair with collecting, and how the whole lot came to be purchased by John Craddock and Julian Gostling
Words by Kev Mills. Photography by Kev Mills and Matt Purdon
In a way, it wasn’t the nicest of circumstances to become acquainted with Norway. Here was one man’s passion; a collection that had been a total love affair with buying old Land Rovers, and that had escalated to huge proportions. And through a sad turn of events, during which many had been vandalised and left to deteriorate, here they were in new, British ownership, ready to be sold on to whoever wanted them.
how it all started
For us, and many others, it all started off with a copy and paste from Google; a rough translation of a Norwegian announcement. It said that 93 Land Rovers, plus a few other British vehicles, had been seized by the authorities and were due to be auctioned on site at Sandnes, near Stavenger, on Saturday December 4.The news spread like wildfire. Every Series and Land Rover forum in Europe seemed to be talking about it. Quickly, it was established that the collection was that of Ketil; a well-known Norwegian enthusiast who had amassed a huge selection of Land Rovers, mostly with a rare or unusual flavour. The starting bids were zero on all lots, and anything that didn’t sell would be scrapped.There was much speculation (and concern) about what had happened to Ketil, and even more speculation about just what would be in the sale. Ketil is a popular character throughout Europe; respected for his deep knowledge of Land Rovers and in particular, Forward Controls and fire engines. His hobby had spiralled into a full blown obsession and the 97 vehicles – all British – assembled at Sandnes were the result.They had been assembled from all over Europe. Most were eBay purchases and the majority came from Britain. To many British enthusiasts, there was no surprise when a unusual Land Rover sold to ‘a man from Norway’. So how did it come to this – a forced auction of what had clearly been Ketil’s huge passion, not to mention a considerable investment?It was suggested there were problems with outstanding rent on the building and land they were stored in, and also environmental concerns; Norway is not somewhere that takes kindly to old Land Rovers sharing their bodily fluids with the ground. When the sale was first announced, details were vague. It was known that Ketil owned some real rarities. The premises in Sandnes consisted of a warehouse and a lot of outdoor storage, but nobody seemed to know exactly what was there. There might be a Cuthbertson, an Eazion and a Forest Rover – but equally, some people reckoned these were either elsewhere, or had never made it to Norway.
plans take shape
Soon, some pictures surfaced showing exactly what was at the Sandnes site. The Land Rovers indoors were OK, but the many that were outside – including an ex-Dunsfold Series One Tickford – had been vandalised. Pretty much everything made of glass was smashed (including lights), fire engines were looted and various grilles bent and torn off. It was a heartbreaking sight.Various people came up with well-meaning ‘rescue’ plans. I wasn’t one of them, but this was a potential adventure too good to ignore. Flights were cheap and some friends were up for it too; it sealed the deal when a collector friend from France said he would meet us there with his transporter. Realistically I wasn’t going to buy anything, but there was a 109 high capacity pick-up...And then came the news from Norway that the whole lot had been sold to an anonymous buyer. The enforcement agents in Sandnes were keeping quiet on who the buyer was and it looked as though we were going to lose the costs of our flights. Clinging on to a hope of sneaking a peak at the collection, I contacted a few Norwegian enthusiasts to try and find out what was happening. No joy.Then, out of the blue, John Craddock and Julian Gostling of Exmoor Trim were announced as the buyers. The intention was to bring some back to England for a sale next year; however, you still had the chance to buy on-site from December 1 to 5.This was the answer to our prayers and we duly made arrangements to meet with John and his team in Norway. Not everyone was happy, though – quickly the forums were alive with talk that they had been snapped up cheap and were unlikely to now be affordable to the average enthusiast. We soon found that this was far from the truth.
across the north sea
On a freezing cold Friday December 3, we set off from Heathrow, bound for Stavanger airport. The rest of the UK’s airports were well and truly under the spell of ‘snow chaos’ and we were glad to hear that conditions in Norway were fine. I suppose they are a bit more prepared than us.We landed mid-afternoon, just as the sun was starting to disappear; luckily, it was a short drive to our hotel and we quickly dumped our bags and set off to find the collection’s hideaway.Sandnes is a nice little city; clean, smart and reasonably quiet. The collection was tucked away in a industrial part of town which was very European; all grey concrete and mass HGV parking. We found our destination easily; a huge former egg factory that had been sub-let into smaller units, but appeared to be largely empty. The collection was in the upper storey of one of these and spread around the outside of the building. Joe – one of my travel companions – suggested that Ketil’s part of the building wouldn’t have come cheap, and we later learned that it cost somewhere in the region of £4,000 per month in rent.As we pulled up, a 300Tdi Discovery slowly emerged out of the dark building, pulling what appeared to be a Series IIA on a straight-tow bar. We watched it being loaded into a 40ft curtainsider trailer, introduced ourselves and got a very warm welcome.John Craddock and his sales manager David McGloin had set off in the Disco from Cannock the Saturday before, arriving in Sandnes on the Tuesday. They were joined by Kev and Jed from Exmoor Trim, and had spent the previous few days shifting through the collection, dealing with buyers and loading lorries to take the ‘star’ vehicles back to Cannock.“I didn’t intend to buy the lot”, said John. “We’d obviously heard about the sale and we made the call to the enforcement agency in Sandnes who were handling the sale. They seemed surprised I was interested and opened discussions about just what I would be prepared to buy. Well, I said all of it – and it went from there. Julian and myself flew out to have a look, and we did a deal.”
It was obvious the collection has cost John and Julian a not inconsiderable amount of money; just how much is nobody’s business but theirs, and there are other financial commitments relating to cleaning up the site and, of course, the haulage home which has pushed up the initial investment. But you get the distinct impression that John is having a ball; getting stuck in with digging out Land Rovers from the depths of the warehouse, dealing with customers and having plenty of discussion about each and every Land Rover there. There is no doubt at all that this man is a total enthusiast.
It’s properly dark now, but we decide to have a quick walk around before we head back to the hotel. Nearest the road, a gaggle of Range Rover Classic ambulances, fire tenders and some sorry looking standard examples are rubbing shoulders with such delights as a LHD Series One 86 with no front end, an Airdrive Series IIA 109 (with a huge air compressor built in) and a couple of Series IIB Forward Controls, to name just a few. Under the bridge that leads from the main road into the upper storey of the warehouse, another six-wheeled Range Rover sat with a Series IIA fire engine and a topless ex-military Series III 109, while out in the open next to these was a Series IIB fitted with a cherry picker. We then walked up a slight slope and round to the side of the building, where the vandalised Land Rovers stood.In the freezing gloom of the early evening, the Land Rovers made a spooky sight; jagged edges of broken glass, framing pitch-black holes in truck cabs, fire engine sides and ambulance bodies. The 109 HiCap I liked was here, too, sold to a local man earlier in the day. It was too dark for anything other than a brief look, and we headed off for a welcome beer and bite to eat with John and the lads.The next day – Saturday – was expected to be the busy day as far as sales were concerned. Many enthusiasts had made long journeys; either to pick one to buy, or to collect a Land Rover they had already bought over the telephone. Most brought along car transporter trailers.
The prices? Highly reasonable. Obviously some Land Rovers have a certain value in the UK and will be a big draw to the sale next year, and so these were either priced accordingly or simply earmarked for taking home. Most of the Series Ones will be heading back, though they were priced so keenly that two were sold earlier in the week; one locally, one to France. The cost of getting anything back to England had to be considered and it was for this reason that many of the Land Rovers were so cheap; with space on the lorries charged at around £190 per metre, for the roughest vehicles it simply wasn’t worth bringing them home. Many of the local chaps went away very happy with some good deals; 88 Series IIAs for between £100 and £800; the 109 digger for £500. For us, it was a chance to have a good look inside the warehouse for the first time. John and the team had moved some out already (the Tickford and a few others were already en-route to the UK) but it was still a sight to make your hairs on the back of your neck tingle.
Going in, as your eyes adjusted to the gloom, an early Jaguar V12 saloon lazed along the top of a raised platform on the left hand side. Behind this, an MG Midget fought for space with a Series III Shorland armoured car; surely the closest thing to a Land Rover tank you can get. In front of this, a disabled ex-military One Ten kneeled down on a nice Brian James car transporter, with a VPK-equipped, armoured Series III from Northern Ireland parked in front of it, and a lovely little 80 truck cab tucked in alongside. In front of all of these, dominating the scene and demanding all the attention, was the Cuthbertson.Restored in America and said to have links with Dunsfold, the Cuthbertson is rumoured to have set Ketil back a cool £30,000 and can only be described as immaculate. The Land Rover would be a concours example on its own, but the track subframes and associated equipment have been restored to such a high standard that you can’t help but think this must be the best of the surviving examples. And yet it has probably sat in here, unused, since it arrived from the States.
The Cuthbertson is likely to be a star attraction in the UK sale next year and, by the time you read this, it should be safe and sound with the other travellers in a barn in darkest Staffordshire – there’s a video of John driving it in Norway on YouTube; check out Exmoor Trim’s channel on there, or on the Exmoor Trim website. Directly opposite the Cuthbertson, a doorway leads straight into the main part of the warehouse. Here were the majority of the Forward Controls; both Series IIA and IIB dropside models, one with a home-made body, a box-body or two and some fire engines. In fact, lots of fire engines, and some had already left for England. An Austin Gypsy rubs shoulders with a smart six-cylinder 109 in the livery of the Southern Counties Historic Vehicles Preservation Trust; who used to be based in Worthing, where I grew up. Surreal. There is more, much more – 107s, 109s, a sole 101, two Lightweights and a few Series IIAs. It is difficult to take it all in.All day, buyers are coming and going – a 1-Ton 109 heads to Germany, an artic takes a pair of six-wheelers to Holland. Many are staying in Norway; a family of collectors take several home, including a nice Stage One V8. We were told by several visitors that this was the best gathering of Land Rover folk in Norway for years.
My friend from France still came along, too – and has boosted his own personal collection of Land Rovers by no less than twenty. More on these in a future issue.We had an amazing time in Norway and learnt a lot about the sad story of this collection, including the fact that this isn’t the whole of Ketil’s stash – he has more, tucked away in various locations around the city. What will happen to these is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, Ketil’s collection will now find itself in a more manageable state, allowing the love affair to continue.