The Range Rover Classic is as legendary as the SAS itself. Enthusiast Chic Doig recently acquired an ex-22 Regiment SAS vehicle after a ten-year wait
The SAS motto is ‘Who Dares Wins’ but in the case of Chic Doig it was more a case of ‘Who Waits Wins’ as he patiently waited a decade before the former SAS Range Rover he had his eye on finally went up for sale. But feast your eyes on the images of the blue beauty on these pages and you'll surely agree that it was well worth the wait.
When they were not busy abseiling down buildings or rescuing hostages, the SAS would have been driving the likes of N843 YCR. This Range Rover was one of 22 Regiment SAS’s regular runabouts, until it was finally stood down from service 12 years ago in the spring of 2001. Since the early days of Range Rover production, the type has been selected as a supreme off-roader by Britain’s Special Forces. The day-to-day comings and goings of the SAS’s 4x4s are naturally shrouded in mystery, but Chic’s ‘Big Blue’ can still put in a good day’s shift. The 3.9-litre automatic SE (chassis no: SALLHAMM3MA662483) originally went into service on January 15, 1996, wearing the army registration number EV 72 AA.
It eventually went under the hammer in May 2001 at the British Car Auctions in Newport, Gwent. SAS Range Rovers were deliberately meant to blend into the crowd, and the blue paint is a standard shade. Only the Land Rover Special Vehicles ID plate and quick-release fittings on the front bumper point to a less conventional lifestyle. The latter would have been used to secure a heavy-duty bonnet, while the minor body dents and scratches suggest that a roof rack platform had also been fitted at some point. The driving force for the use of Range Rovers by Special Forces is thought to date back to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Conscious of the UK’s own vulnerability, Prime Minister Edward Heath decided to form a specialist counter-insurgence unit, and 22 Regiment SAS was given the task. The decision to acquire the recently-introduced Range Rover was a formality, as this was considered to be the best available vehicle for the job.
Not only did the new Rangie’s powerful V8 offer the best combination of on-road and off-road driving, its traditional ladder chassis meant it could easily be put on a plane and flown anywhere in the world. The first vehicles in service were the early two-door version. These were later replaced in the mid-1980s by the latest four-door model. N843 YCR is believed to be one of the last Range Rovers ordered by the unit. The late Classics model was chosen in preference to the newer P38A shape, as the older design was considered to be more discreet. Chic said: “I’ve done some research, and it would appear that N843 YCR was one of a batch of four vehicles bearing the call signs TAC71 through to TAC74. They were also given military registration numbers in the range EV 70 AA to EV 73 AA. While they were in the UK, they would also have been fitted with random civilian number plates. I have also been told that one vehicle was painted green, another metallic red and the other two in blue.” Chic has been restoring old classics since 1983, and has been a big Land Rover fan for many years. His first garage was in Glenrothes, Fife, before he moved down the road to Kirkcaldy. When the landlord decided to convert his forecourt into a block of flats, he relocated to his current premises in Cardenden. The car lot at the front of his garage is literally overflowing with classic vehicles. Although a lot are highly-desirable sports cars, he is happy to restore whatever waifs and strays turn up on his doorstep. This also includes the occasional Land Rover. “I learned my apprenticeship at a village garage near Cupar,” he explained. “As a sideline I started restoring old cars, including Land Rovers. Back in the early 1980s you were spoilt for choice, and could easily buy a car for a few pounds.” It was during those early years that Chic learnt the value of accumulating a healthy stock of spare parts.
These are the lifeblood of professional restorers, and it was a lesson that has stood him in good stead. The bulk of his restorations are local cars, and Chic is usually acquainted with at least some of their history. He also gets plenty of enquiries from other parts of the UK, and handles requests from places as far away as Cyprus. He currently employs several staff. The roster includes a pair of mechanics, a paint sprayer, a panel beater and a couple of assistants in the parts department. Most of the tasks are bread-and-butter jobs, although he tries to complete several major restorations each year. Chic first heard about ‘Big Blue’ back in 2002. This was just a few months after it had been sold at auction on June 20, 2001, showing a recorded mileage of 62,064. “My friend Dr Mark Whitehorn from Bromyard in Worcestershire rang me to say he had acquired the Range Rover from a local dealer,” he recalled. “I first met Mark when he was up in Scotland working as a professor on assignment at Dundee University. Back in those days, I used to restore his old Triumphs and Bentleys. Tracking down a former SAS Range Vehicle is quite a coup, and he paid me a visit. I was interested in acquiring it even back then, but Mark and his wife Mary had other ideas. They came up with the nickname ‘Big Blue’, and proceeded to hang on to the vehicle for the next ten years.” Dr Whitehorn is believed to have used the car as his regular transport, clocking up 100,000 miles in the process. Chic said: “Last year he talked about getting rid of the car, but in the end nothing came of it. Then I got this phone call, asking whether I was still interested. Mark had decided to sell it and replace it with a new Defender. I didn’t hesitate as I knew the Land Rover had spent most of its time running up and down the motorway. Mark had spent around £12,000 over the years, keeping it in good condition.”
During its heyday, Big Blue would have been fitted with a demountable assault platform over the bonnet. However, apart from the two receiving sockets on the bumper that were used to hold the support legs, there is little external evidence to suggest that the vehicle was anything more than an executive runabout. According to Chic, Doctor Whitehorn decided to remove the sockets during his period of ownership. Bromyard is just down the road from the SAS's Hereford base, and they were a bit of a giveaway. The deformed roof gutters at the points where the roof section of the assault platform was supported, are also a subtle clue to the vehicle’s previous owners. Yet it would take an overactive imagination to point a finger at the ‘Who Dares Wins’ motto being the culprit, as the giveaway is more the wear and tear of carrying a heavy roof rack.
The area where the door panels are slightly deformed to accommodate the struts for the lower ladders could also raise the odd eyebrow. However, the roll cage is sufficiently discreet to pass almost unnoticed. Chic said: “The Range Rover is fitted with a full roll cage, as well as anti-roll bars front and rear. Inside there is an Army map reading light, and a second battery box in the boot. Mark also converted the vehicle to LPG to reduce the running costs. This affects the performance, but it is a lot easier on the pocket.” Other less noticeable changes include the Southdown steering, and axle guards for underside protection. N843 YCR is also still fitted with a police-style occulting switch unit, along with 120 decibel two-tone horns. As was standard procedure at the time, this was disconnected before going to auction. The same applies to the infrared lights. “The switch for the infrared is protected by a self-locking toggle to avoid it being activated if hit by accident,” says Chic. “Apparently this kills all the other lights, and the whole system has to be reprogrammed to get things back to normal. I assume this was also disconnected, but I’m not about to put this to the test. I think we’ll let sleeping dogs lie on that one!” This is definitely a case of ‘Who Waits Wins.’