Collecting Series Land Rovers

The pre-Defender Series Land Rover comes in myriad permutations but is a car for all seasons, with a committed fan base – and escalating values, says Simon de Burton

1954 Series I (owned by Winston Churchill), sold for £129,000 at Cheffins
1954 Series I (owned by Winston Churchill), sold for £129,000 at Cheffins

They may be slow, draughty, leaky and spine-shatteringly uncomfortable, but there are few classic cars more universally loved than a Series Land Rover. Often erroneously lumped together with the later Defender models that ceased production in 2016, Series Land Rovers are the true classics of the breed, encompassing the three variants built from the start of Land Rover production in 1948 until the arrival of the 90 and 110 models in 1983 (subsequently renamed Defender in 1990). 

1980 Series III, sold for £21,275 at Bonhams
1980 Series III, sold for £21,275 at Bonhams | Image: Bonhams

Once available for a few hundred pounds, some Series Land Rovers can now command more than £100,000, with the most valuable being the Series I made until 1956. These are generally priced from £10,000 to £75,000, while Series IIs (1958-1972) cost £5,000-£35,000, and the more prolific Series III –  of which in excess of 100,000 were built from 1971 to 1985 – fetch from £3,000 in running order to £25,000 in concours condition.

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In October 2012, a 1954 model presented to Winston Churchill on his 80th birthday went for £129,000 at Cheffins, while Silverstone Auctions achieved £47,250 for a 1948 Series I in 2016, and last year, Bonhams sold a pristine Series III for £21,275. At the time of writing, Yorkshire-based classic Land Rover dealer John Brown 4x4’s stock list included a restored 1974 Series III ragtop for £13,995 and a 1959 Series II with period features for £14,995.

1958 Series II Cuthbertson, sold for £33,000 at Bonhams
1958 Series II Cuthbertson, sold for £33,000 at Bonhams | Image: Bonhams

But the world of Series models is something of a black hole that goes well beyond the three basic evolutions. As Land Rovers began to prove their worth beyond the farming environment for which they were designed, numerous permutations became available – from the 10- or 12-seat Station Wagon, commercial Utility models and expedition and safari versions to truck-like Forward Control models and even military airportable and lightweight types that could be transported by helicopter. Perhaps the most remarkable was the rare Series II-based Cuthbertson that ran on tracks rather than wheels, an example of which fetched £33,000 at Bonhams’ Goodwood sale in 2017. 

1948 Series I, sold for £47,250 at Silverstone Auctions
1948 Series I, sold for £47,250 at Silverstone Auctions | Image: Justin Harris Photography for Silverstone Auctions

Giles English, co-founder of Bremont watchmakers, bought his Series III lightweight by accident. “I went out to buy milk and saw a Land Rover outside the local garage. I mentioned that I was a fan – and was then invited to buy the car for £800. The whole process took less than half an hour and since then I’ve enjoyed six years of driving fun,” says English, who has now upgraded his model with a more modern engine, better brakes and power-assisted steering to make it suitable for longer journeys. “If you live in the country you can use them for practical tasks without worrying about the odd scratch or dent, but they are also regarded as ultra-cool urban vehicles,” he continues. “There are not many car marques on the road whose owners automatically wave at one another, but classic Land Rover drivers do – the affinity among those who drive them is very strong.”

Reborn Series I, £75,000-£80,000 from Jaguar Land Rover Classic
Reborn Series I, £75,000-£80,000 from Jaguar Land Rover Classic

Land Rover sales specialist Simmonites of Bradford recently sold a similarly modified Series III lightweight for £12,995, and has a 1980 Series III Station Wagon that has been restored to good-as-new condition for £13,995. But, says historic Land Rover restorer and valuer Julian Shoolheifer, prospective purchasers should do their research before taking the Series plunge. “There is a Series Land Rover for everyone, whether it’s a gleaming ‘trailer queen’ restored to perfection or a patinated ‘bitsa’ that will provide endless hours of off-road entertainment,” says Shoolheifer, who restored his first Land Rover 31 years ago (it now belongs to Ralph Lauren). “Many people imagine the relative simplicity of a Series Land Rover means it will be cheap and easy to repair or renovate – but a bad buy can quickly leave one out of pocket. The secret is to learn as much as possible before buying.”

1957 Series I Station Wagon, owned by enthusiast Tom Colville
1957 Series I Station Wagon, owned by enthusiast Tom Colville

A well-maintained Series Land Rover should, however, take you anywhere, regardless of its age – as evinced by Tom Colville, a retired overland tour leader who spent years driving them across Europe in the 1970s. But it was not until 2001 that he acquired the model of his dreams – a 1957 107in Station Wagon. “I spotted it in Switzerland in the 1990s and managed to buy it 10 years later as a wreck,” explains Colville. “It is an extremely rare version of the Series I that was designed as a personnel transporter, and one of those vehicles that Land Rover simply got right, as brilliant today as it was 60 years ago.”

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Despite their aluminium bodywork, the worst enemy of any Series Land Rover is rust, according to Shoolheifer: “Bulkheads are very prone to corrosion, and the chassis, though substantial, often rots badly, especially on vehicles used extensively off-road.” The good news is a number of specialists are remanufacturing parts, among them Dunsfold (holder of The Dunsfold Collection of 142 historic Land Rovers) and Wadsworth Panels, which specialises in top-quality reproductions of Series I bodywork. And John Craddock sells rust-resisting galvanised chassis for Series Land Rovers. 

For those who don’t want to get their hands dirty but do want the best, the Reborn department at Jaguar Land Rover Classic will source a sound but tired Series I, strip it to its bare bones and rebuild it using a combination of refurbished original and newly manufactured parts for an “as new” vehicle – with a 12-month warranty.

Such a service doesn’t come cheap – the starting price of a Reborn Series I is £75,000-£80,000 and can go up depending on the model and specification. But at least it should last the next 70 years.

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