Earlier in the year, the Land Rover world was surprised by the reappearance of the first production Land Rover Series I ever made in 1948 -- chassis number 1. After years of being stowed away in mystery, it reappeared in the Royal Automobile Club's lobby in London for a week. Needless to say, the journey from being abandoned in a field to being displayed in such a prestigious location made people wonder what mysterious person could have bought the truck and brought it there.
The story of Chassis Number 860001, or as it is also known by its registration, JUE 477, is a long and winding one. After being the first Land-Rover ever to roll off the line at the Solihull factory on July 27, 1948, it remained on site as part of a development program. In 1950, it was sold to a professor at Newcastle University and registered. By the 1960s, it had been bought by David Fairless, for a reported sum of 15 pounds, who brought it to his farm in Northumberland, England.
There, it deteriorated over time in his field, until it was tracked down by some hardcore Series 1 enthusiasts in 1995. It would only be seen by the general public once, brought by Mr. Fairless to a Land Rover show in 1998 that celebrated the company's 50th anniversary. After that event, it went back into hiding, perhaps as much for its own protection as anything else.
In late 2017, there were rumors that it had been sold after Mr. Fairless' death, and in February it appeared at the Royal Automobile Club in London, a bit of a heap with a broken chassis and missing tub side. The new owner remained a mystery, however, and the only hint of who it would be was that it was obviously someone who was a member of such a prestigious institution.
Now it has been revealed: the new owner is Jim Ratcliffe, founder of British chemical company Ineos. Ratcliffe is a rabid Land Rover fan, and in the wake of the discontinuation of the Defender, he started Projekt Grenadier. The project (projekt?) plans to create a new off-road vehicle in the spirit of the original Defender, under the assumption that the coming official new Defender will be a more high-tech, luxurious vehicle.
JUE 477 will be restored by Julian Shoolheifer, who is a well-known figure in the Series 1 community. The goal is to rebuild the vehicle in a way that is sympathetic to its special story. That goal is complicated because the vehicle is currently not much more than a pile of parts in the vague shape of a Land Rover.
Said Shoolheifer, "it would be all too easy to hang the 70-year-old panels on an all-new chassis and put a different engine under the bonnet, but 860001 is unique in so many ways and we need to preserve, sympathetically restore and re-use parts wherever there is an opportunity to do so and using the most suitable methods – both traditional and contemporary – available to us. With that ethos and approach in mind, the incredible patina will be kept where possible so that we are preserving and celebrating the history that JUE 477 offers."
The restoration will be documented and will be assisted by Dr. Andrew Nahum, Keeper Emeritus at the London Science Museum, who will help with using proper preservation techniques befitting the vehicle's history.
It sounds like an exciting project, and it's nice to see the truck finally getting some attention. It's another addition to the now-known fleet of early Series 1s, including the famous HUE 166 (familiarly known as "Huey"), the first prototype, and the launch vehicle from the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, obtained by Jaguar Land Rover earlier this year. Now, does anyone know where that Centre Steer prototype is?
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