Series 1, part 3
When I left you last month Tink had just passed her first MOT in six years, and with the ink barely dry on her new MOT certificate I couldn't help grinning like a Cheshire cat as I drove her home. 'This is what driving a Land Rover should be about.' I thought as we basked in the beautiful afternoon sun. Tink was stripped to her waist with just her windscreen up and I was thoroughly enjoying the experience of driving a 1955 Series 1 Land Rover, what could possibly go wrong?
Up to that point she had been taking it easy in my back yard under a large tarp', but as I was able to drive her regularly now, my thoughts were on the the next obvious purchase, a roof, or a lid as Karen Lee once called it! At the time, L.Gosling were the only recommended manufactures for tilts on the Series 1 Club website, but as they never answered their phone, I ordered a lovely sand coloured tilt from Exmoor Trim. Once it arrived, I constructed the frame and fitted the tilt. It looked very smart, yet making Tink look like a very different vehicle. But at least now I had protection from the elements and a bit more security, well as much security as a sheet of canvas and a few knots can offer!
During the next few months we enjoyed the odd trip outbut nothing too taxing as we were still getting to know her. However, as she had to be a reliable 2nd vehicle, I figured there was no point in treating her with cotton gloves - even though at the time she she was nearly 51 years old. So, the best way to iron out any faults and to get an idea on possible updates and modifications, I decided to abandon my car for a whole week and use Tink.... daily! (I know, I wasn’t thinking straight!) Not only that, but I decided to drive some green lanes on the daily commute, just to make it interesting.
Monday and Tuesday I worked quite close to home, so that was quite straight forward and boring. However, on a Wednesday morning I used to visit a school in Tyldseley and I found a nice lane that if I'm honest was a ‘long cut' as opposed to a short cut, so I used it for my journey home. It began as the main access to some allotments, then as I pass a couple of farm buildings there's a long sweeping left hand bend on a hard surface. The lane is used regularly as it's the only access to other farms and business that are scattered around the area, it 's surrounded by wide open fields, quite pleasant really. What I found funny was that locals tend to be happier to see you when you’re in an old classic 4x4 than a shiny newish one.
After about a mile the lane takes me parallel to a railway line, and within a matter yards the surface turns from hard dirt to cobbles as the road takes a sharp right and over the railway line and then left again to run parallel on the other side of the track. From here on the lane returns to a dirt track and is full of large holes which will be fun once it’s rained offering huge puddles!
Back on the main road for less than a mile I find myself negotiating a housing estate to find the entrance to my next lane which offers me something different. It’s quite muddy initially, but still hard standing. The lane begins quite narrow and isn't that demanding, in fact my wife's little Citroen would cope easily, but that’s not the point is it? It's a fairly short diversion that bypasses a couple of farms, and again, residents seems to smile as we pass through. I'm pretty confident that it's the sight of an early Land Rover that cheers them and not a six foot, overweight, bald bloke whose grinning maniacally!
Thursdays school was only ten minutes from my house, so I had to do a four mile detour to enjoy the next 'off road' excursion. Bentley Lane only took around ten minutes to drive, and again wasn't that demanding, but it was fun none the less. It began as I passed a row of terraced houses and climbed gently towards farm buildings. The surface was quite hard with a few steps in places that Tink took in her stride. From the top on a nice day the views over towards Tottington and Holcombe were lovely, however the smell that was omitted from a nearby farm I didn't often linger!
During Thursday afternoons I'd find myself in Blackburn and looking forward to my favourite local lane in an area called Tockholes. This lane began with a metaled surface and gave access to a farm, but a bit further on the surface turned to dirt again. Once I’d passed a lovely looking barn conversion the track headed downwards and the trees towered aboveus and created a constant shade from the sun that left the track almost permanently damp with large puddles to negotiate. Within a matter of a hundred yards the track opened out to reveal a smallish car park often used by people who walk their dogs around the nature trials. Ahead is a small, narrow bridge and once over that, the road took a sharp turn to the right. As we turn, the track almost disappears, as over the years, a stream has eroded the lane, so we engage 4wd and lower ourselves into the water and up the other side. It sounds dramatic, but it isn't! Still under the umbrella of the tall trees the track heads upwards with large slabs of rock under the tyres. To my left is a bank with a stonewall on top that runs alongside the road, and to my right is a huge drop to the river below. Once out of the forest the lane becomes narrow and Tink is in danger of acquiring new ‘go faster’ stripes on either side of her body with the bushes that seem to move in as you pass by. You're always wise at this stage to either close your windows or refit your doortops!
Every year we planned to travel down with bags to pick the wild winberrys that grow around here, and every year we forgot! The lane then takes a sharp left and becomes very rocky with water erosion becoming visible. Although this part of the lane can be traversed in 2 wheel drive (as with all the lanes mentioned in this article), I always engaged 4wd as it stops the chance of the tyres losing traction and making a mess. As the gradient becomes steeper, the ground becomes a mixture of mud and rock giving some ‘steps’ that can catch you out. From here on, it was pretty much straight forward to the main road. What I loved about Tink was that every journey seemed like an epic adventure, I'd feel every bump, hear every scramble from the tyres, it's a much more involved driving experience!
Friday mornings brought the most frustrating commute of the week, Wigan, Ince-in-Makerfield to be precise. Sometimes morning traffic isn’t too bad, other times it’s a real pain, and I calculated that I could cut out around five or ten minutes of constant stop - start traffic by using an ‘unadopted’ lane. Initially the lane began at about three car widths wide, then narrowed to one car width after about half a mile. The surface wasn't bad, though a bit potholed, but generally undamaging. After driving past a row of houses the lane forks, but I bear right and eventually drive over a cobbled bridge that crosses a canal at Wigans Top Lock, then onto side roads heading towards the main road. Not a challenging lane, but a suitable short cut none-the-less.
On my way home however, I had the pleasure of driving along High Rid Lane, again passing a farm and then a reservoir that is used by colleagues from Outdoor Education and I'd sometimes stop for a brew and a natter. With the reservoir on my left and a golf course on my right, the lane changes from teeth clattering cobbles to dirt with overgrown trees. This is favourite for dog walkers who let their hounds off their leads to run free, so keep an eye out for them if you're ever driving it.
None of these lane are what I’d call arduous, but they offered a pleasant and therapeutic way home during week. Sadly though, most of these lanes are now closed to vehicular access due to the NERC bill, which is a real shame and another example of how we're losing our rights to live... but that a rant for another time!
So that my first ‘working’ week in my '55 Series 1, what did I think? Well, it was obvious that I was falling for her romantic charms, or was it the fumes and the lack of any suspension that had gone to my head? I loved Tinks small, stubby bonnet and the way in which my knees were above the doors, open to the elements. Her huge steering wheel, and her tight turning circle, and thenippiness of her original 2ltr petrol engine and the way in which it could keep up with traffic from the lights... then loose it at 40mph. I liked the way people of all ages would glance at her as we drove past, some would even wander over to us in car parks and just begin to talk about their times and experiences in similar vehicles. You can't be a shy person with a Series 1!
Anyway, back to her faults... sorry, I mean personality quirks! One of the things you forget about when driving a Series Land Rover (or at least I did), is the charm of the unlockable sliding windows. They have a habit of sliding open, which isn’t a problem when the weathers being kind, but when it’s not? Dammit, isn't it bad enough that I’ve got a 1” gap between the door tops and the frame? Obviously not! Another thing that really annoyed me was the wing mirrors, apart from being next to useless, they look awful, they'll have to go. Looking at various other Series One’s, I’ve noticed quite a variation of preferred mirrors ranging from the ‘lollypop’ type, to the modern and more practical 90/110 type that are attached to the doors. I've also noticed that some owners fix mirrors to the where the trafficators used to be on the windscreen. I'm undecided on that one, but I may decided to go for lollipops on the wings because I still want to see behind me when I’ve got the screen folded down.
On the aesthetic side of things, I wanted a new front bumper. I was actually getting used the oversized SIII bumper that was fitted, which just isn't right. I'm also not keen the colour green. There we go, I’ve said it. A Land Rover enthusiast who dislikes green, am I the only one? I had the idea to paint her in either Poppy Red or Limestone, both are good colours for a Series 1 in my book.
Next are the tyres, although they have plenty of tread, the sidewalls were showing signs of deterioration. I really fancied a set of mud terrains wrapped around some deep dished 1 tonne rims, so I kept a close eye on e-Bay for a bargain!
My main issue with Tink had to be her ride quality, or lack of. I was fairly confident that she was sitting on her original cart springs as she was quite low to the ground, or at at least in Land Rover terms she was. For the sake of my sanity and spine, I considered Parabolics springs and a set of matching shock absorbers. An alternative to parabolics, I was led to believe are the 7 leaf springs from a military Lightweight could be used, but as money was tight I decided to tolerate the pain and self counsel myself after a journey!
As I began planning to swap and change parts to make Tink more modern I then realised I had a dilemma on my hands. I felt sometimes that I swung both ways.... Oh come on, let me finish! I wanted to continue using her on a daily basis, which meant modifying her in some ways to address her shortcomings. However, I also wanted to keep her original and not mess with her at all. But having said that, don't Land Rovers evolve and become adapted to their owners lifestyles?
Confucius (or some drunk), once said, ‘The wise man adapts himself to his surroundings as it's unwise to adapt his surroundings to suit him’... or something like that!
But for the moment, as with any old Land Rover, the list of serviceable items that required attention, replacing and modifying was long. All her hoses looked original, so I’ll need to start replacing all of those soon if she’s going to get used on a regular basis. My maintenance plan was, if it moves, check it, grease it, fix it, or replace it, so I’d soon be coming to terms with being financially ruined! And on thesubject of becoming financially ruined, Tink had started with some more ailments, I suspected that there was some muck in the fuel system. When I accelerated there was a splutter, splutter, blurgh..... and she wasn't sounding to healthy. Not only that, but during a gentle jaunt at a friends farm, her exhaust began making the sound of a Lancaster Bomber, it wasn't until we limped home that it finally snapped in two. And there were other problems too, but I'll share those with you next month... joy and rapture!