As I shut the steel framed, aluminium skinned Series One Land Rover door, childhood memories come suddenly flooding back to me. The unique and unmistakable metallic ‘clack’ made by the door as it latches into place beside me, carries me back almost fifty years to a time when, as a small child, I would excitedly clamber up into my father’s old Land Rover. He was the manager of five farms and worked incredibly long hours, but if we made a lengthy journey from our farm to a cattle market or perhaps to a cricket match on one of his rare days off, we could spend an hour or two together, just Dad and I in the Landy. The particular rattle of the gearstick shuddering atop its four speed manual gearbox at tick-over is music to my ears, and after driver Neil ensures I’ve fastened my rudimentary seat belt, we pull sedately away into the ‘deafening zone’.
If you’re unfamiliar with the noise levels generated inside an aged canvas top Series Land Rover at speeds greater than nought miles per hour, imagine sitting on a cliff top in a force nine gale whilst immediately behind you, a spin dryer laden with a collection of broken iron and ceramic drainpipes, bolts and steel ball bearings, shakes itself to pieces at 2,500rpm; to me, it is a beautiful sound. Neil and I foolishly attempt to hold a conversation and as we do, I instinctively lean toward him and shout, then crane closer in a futile attempt to comprehend his inaudible reply; it’s a routine familiar to all Series Land Rover owners and precisely how I chatted with my father all those years ago. Soon we resort to just grinning and nodding as the other speaks, signifying that we know the other is talking, and although I can’t hear a word he’s saying, the ridiculous smile on my face tells Neil that I simply could not be happier. I’m genuinely feeling quite emotional while we drive calmly through the wooded lanes near the factory, as the long absent but never forgotten sensations, sounds and smell of an old Land Rover and the English countryside send my nostalgia neurons into overdrive. A very happy childhood revisited at 35 miles per hour — who needs a DeLorean?
Neil, an employee of Jaguar Land Rover Classic, is familiar with the beaming grins induced by 437 DEL, the 70 year old vehicle in which we are traveling. So strong is the affection held by Land Rover owners for the brand, that throughout the UK, Europe and the USA there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of companies specialising in the restoration of these charismatic vehicles. Sensing not just a commercial opportunity but also the chance to strengthen one of its core values, its long and respected history filled with iconic, highly collectible models, the Coventry manufacturer therefore established Jaguar Land Rover Classic in 2014, following the success of their sale of six ‘Continuation Series’ lightweight Jaguar E Types.
Between 1963 and 1964 Jaguar was to have built 18 of its lightweight, racing series E Types but only 12 were ever manufactured. The final six chassis numbers however endured on Jaguar’s books, so in 2014, Jaguar set about building the remaining cars by hand, reportedly selling them for around seven Million Dirhams each. Naturally, they sold out in minutes! Buoyed by their success, the project team evolved into a business now covering more than 15,000 square metres, located at an industrial unit just a few miles from the company’s Coventry headquarters. Here, a dedicated team of staff, many of whom moved from JLR’s production teams, but with others recruited from specialist restoration companies, work together to either recreate continuation cars — after the lightweight E Types came nine stunning XK SS roadsters, whilst 25 more D Types are currently in build — or to give new life to JLR classics such as the E Type, Series One Land Rovers and, another personal favourite of mine, two door Range Rovers.
To ensure a ready supply of the diminishing number of these old vehicles, JLR Classic staff are in touch with car clubs and dealers around the world, ready to buy up suitable cars as they become available. They recently acquired more than twenty Series Ones from Australia — they only ever buy vehicles with the original matching chassis and engine numbers — whilst four E Types and Range Rovers had arrived from the USA just days before I visited. And then of course, there’s “The Collection”. In the summer of 2014 Jaguar Land Rover bought a private collection of predominantly British cars from retired dentist Mr. James Hull; clearly Mr. Hull was a very good dentist indeed because he had acquired no fewer than 543 cars over the years, including an original XK SS, several C and D Types, plus more than 130 other classic Jaguars and early Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
If, like me, you enjoy admiring classic British cars, walking around the collection is enough to give you a headache, but possibly the best headache you’ll ever experience. I never knew where to look next, from the Mark II saloons to the C-X75 concept cars, the increasingly rare XJ Coupe to the 101 inch Forward Control vehicle, development cars for the Ford era F-Type which never came to production, and so the list goes on. By the time I’d spotted a TWR XJ 220, one of only nine ever built, I had come to a conclusion and only half in jest, asked for a job at Jaguar Land Rover Classic. Well, a man’s got to plan for his future!
Of course it would have to be in a sales or P.R. role since my aluminium welding, leather stitching and wiring loom fabrications skills are non existent, but since JLR Classic have got those areas covered by their dedicated team of resident experts, I’d have had no chance anyway. Although they specialise in restoring the E Type, Series Ones and two door Range Rovers which are ‘reborn’ for stock and offered with a one year manufacturer’s warranty, they will in fact take on restoration work for any vehicles built by JLR in the past. Reborn vehicles are finished to an astonishing degree of accuracy, so for example since the undersides of Series One bonnets originally left the factory largely unpainted to keep down costs, that’s how they leave JLR Classics today. Such is the demand for their cars that they now produce genuine replacement spare parts such as the steel wheels used on Series Landies and almost every panel fitted to a classic Range Rover. These are used not only for their own restorations but also sold to owners clubs around the world, thus helping to keep more of the vehicles roadworthy.
The unique and unmistakable metallic ‘clack’ made by the door as it latches into place beside me, carries me back almost fifty years to a time when, as a small child, I would excitedly clamber up into my father’s old Land Rover.
Naturally, total ground up rebuilds with genuine new panels and a manufacturer’s warranty, come at a price. Should you wish to buy a reborn Series One, prices start from around Dh400,000, perhaps a little less if you supply the donor vehicle. An as new E Type? Prepare yourself for an Dh1,200,000 invoice. My joy at the sight of the restored two door Range Rover, just like the one I bought in Dubai for Dh10,000 in 1993, turned to shock when I learned that it was worth Dh700,000 these days; in 1997 when I moved from Dubai to Australia, I had given mine to a friend before I left the country. Yes, given it away, for nothing, nada, maafi. Seriously, what was I thinking?
I had driven my first born child home from Al Wasl hospital in that Range Rover, so when I later sat in JLR Classic’s pristine 1978 example, once again I found myself carried away on a wave of happy emotion, fondly reminiscing about the journeys we made together in that vehicle. And just as my father had taught me to drive on the farm long before I could legally drive on the road, so I had taught both my daughters to drive in the desert in a 1997 Discovery, one of seven JLR vehicles I’ve owned over the years. Thus the Ansell family love affair with old Land Rovers continues, so I am quite sure Jaguar Land Rover Classics will never be short of potential customers in our household. Now if I could just find that old two door Rangie... and about a hundred thousand Dirhams for the restoration.