Louise Woodhams uncovers a 1949 Series 1 that has just 30,000 miles on the clock (and still works for its living)
Morning, are you here for the LAMMA Show?” said a voice from behind me in the dining room of the B&B where I'd just spent the night. I turned around, still half asleep – it was 5.45 am after all – and replied: “That’s the big agricultural show isn’t it? No, I’m not here for that, I work for Land Rover Monthly.” From the way his eyes lit up, I knew he was a Land Rover fan. “Oh, really? I used to know Richard, the original publisher of the magazine. I’m Will Gaze by the way,” he announces. “Tell her about the old lady,” chips in one of his colleagues. “Oh, yes, I have an 80-inch Series I with just under 30,000 miles on the clock,” he says proudly. “Wow,” I reply, “I think that could well be of interest to our readers. Can I have one of your business cards, please?” Later on that day, sitting in the office of LRM to proof-read the March issue, I retell the morning’s events to Editor Dave and he agrees it should make an interesting story.
I’m not sure why, but since I started on this magazine, Land Rover-obsessed owners seem drawn to me – it’s as if have the green oval tattooed on my forehead. Anyway, less than two weeks later I find myself in Diss, Norfolk, sitting at Will’s kitchen table, poring over old photos of BCP as she’s known, together with some interesting documentation and copies of Farmers Weekly that date back to 1949 – the year of his car – and which, much to my delight, feature those fabulous classic Land Rover adverts. Despite the fact his over-enthusiastic puppy had just taken a piddle on my foot, this was going to be a good day, I thought. “Jeremy Markham, the previous owner, bought it off a retired Wing Commander when he was about 20; in fact I have the original receipt here for the sum of £150. It was taxed as a heavy goods vehicle, and Jeremy put it back to a normal road licence.
He was originally going to buy an Austin Champ – he and his brother collect all sorts of military vehicles, trucks, motorbikes and tractors – but it had gone, then he heard about this,” explains Will. Apparently when he went to collect her it was laden down with Brussels sprouts as it was the only vehicle that could get across the field when it came to harvesting them. Jeremy and Will were both at Shuttleworth College in Bedfordshire, studying General Agriculture at the time, and it was regularly used as a means of transport for them and many of their friends. As you can imagine, it was much loved by all – so much so that Will asked for first refusal should Jeremy ever sell it. When Jeremy left college he decided to do something purposeful with it. He fitted Goodyear 15 inch wide wheels shod in low ground pressure tyres and a truck cab canvas, and used it for spreading slug pellets on growing crops. This necessitated fitting a pair of wings that he had sourced and modified to allow the front wheels to turn. It then fell out of use, and in June 2001 he agreed to sell it to Will for £1250, complete with the original wings. At
that point it had less than 19,000 miles on the clock, and while the body and the bulkhead were entirely rust-free, the carburettor, which now resembled a colander, needed to be replaced, as did the fan which flew apart. He also had the entire car resprayed, replaced the canvas top, retrimmed the front seat bases and fitted a pair of 80-inch bench seats and rear load mat. Did you spot the bonnet mascot?
It’s a bull and used to belong to his late grandfather, Billy Key, who was a beef farmer. So, having lived such a long and varied life (she’ll be 67 on September 1), what does she get up to now? “I’m not looking to challenge her and drive her through deep water or mud – she’s an old lady. She’s had her time and proved herself, she’s there to be looked after now. That said I don’t keep her pristine in the shed; if there’s any job that needs doing, I use her, such as collecting firewood or chicken feed. It’s a working part of this family. And my son and daughter, soon to be 13 and ten respectively, absolutely love it and quite often demand they’re taken to school in it,” he says. I’m told his son won’t ever let him sell the vehicle – not surprising given it will be eventually passed down to him, but having said that it will be an interesting day in the Gaze household when it reaches the point that the Land Rover is worth more than what’s remaining on the mortgage. “My wife tolerates it, but as I say to her, it’s practical, it doesn’t cost much to run – in that it is tax-free and the insurance is cheap – and it just keeps appreciating in value. If I sold it I’d only have to replace it and I’ll never find anything quite like BCP,” says Will.
His father is a young 81 and still farming and while Will has a hand in it, he left the industry in his early 30s. After travelling, he then set up several businesses (including a company that processed fresh herbs for major food manufacturers, an employment agency and an ironing business), which he then sold and after finding himself at loose end six years ago he started working for his brother-in-law who owns Finn Geotherm (supplies ground and air source heat pumps). Will loves his job, as not only does it give him great flexibility, but he gets to travel the UK and meet lots of great people. Surprisingly, having grown up with Land Rovers, this is the first Will has owned. “I don’t have a burning desire for the brand, but they have been a major part of my life growing up. I learnt to drive in a Land Rover, as my son has done in BCP, I went rabbit shooting in them as a teenager and then in my 20s as a farmer they were a principle vehicle,” explains Will. “A Land Rover is just a great fun vehicle to have.” Sure enough, over the course of the next few hours that enthusiasm really comes across. As he shows me several of his favourite spots to photograph his car, including woodlands, rivers and meadows, he fondly regales stories of the most memorable moments he’s had with her, interrupted only by a wave and a nod to any oncoming Land Rover. From being used as a wedding car to towing a broken-down vehicle off the A11 (much to the joy of the distressed owner, her children and the police on the scene), it just goes to prove how versatile and loved these vehicles are.
The day ends perfectly on his father’s farm. I get to see the great pines that line the driveway and started life as seed brought back in the pockets of his grandfather from New Zealand and the stone walls that, as a boy, he and his brothers jumped over on horseback – which is how they made their way to school most days. What’s more, he offers to do a spot of off-roading for me and engages low-range for the very first time in the 15 years he’s had her. I’m not sure who enjoyed it most – Will, me or the old lady!