Having once served the RAF this 1952 Series I now belongs to a former Air Training Corps member, and he's very proud indeed
Words and Photography by Lara Platman.
The Royal Air Force is the oldest independent air force in the world. Since its formation in 1918 the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history, in particular in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.
Since then the RAF has maintained quite a few Land Rovers and anoperational fleet of various types of mainly fixed-wing aircraft including: fighter and strike aircraft, airborne early warning and control aircraft, aerial refuelling aircraft and strategic and tactical transport aircraft.
I visited the inaugural Land Rover Legends show at Bicester Heritage earlier this year and caught up with Malcolm Monroe, who has a big connection with both the RAF and Land Rovers. He was a member of the Air Training Corps and has family members who served in the Great War as medical officers and Illustration staff and his father also served in the RAF.
Malcolm has owned Land Rovers since 1982 and was lucky to find his current model, one of 622 that were dispatched on the last batch of the 80-inch Series I that went to the RAF. To be exact it is No. 195101953, a 2.0-litre Glider Tow Land Rover. It was first built on January 2, 1952, and dispatched to the RAF a week later.
Malcolm bought it as a recommissioned barn find rebuild from Lakeside Garage, Stroud, in 2011. Largely complete, the previous spread bore 1955cc engine has since been replaced with an earlier – and correct – siamese bore 1997cc unit. The gearbox is a military replacement, which Malcolm has just rebuilt, too. Much of the car was in original condition when Lakeside began work on the vehicle but there one or two things Malcolm had to put right.
A stainless petrol tank is now fitted along with correct-pattern side screens and doors. The incorrect ‘lights behind the grille’ is believed to be an ex-MoD replacement; as with many such vehicles, few replacement parts or panels are as supplied. The rear floor was missing, as it had later been converted to tow gliders prior to demob in about 1968.
The bulkhead has been replaced with a correct ex-MoD item with new electrics, using replacement period lamps added front and back. New Exmoor Trim hood and seats have been recently added as the vehicle has been brought back into regular use.
After the engine refit and chassis repaint, Malcolm continues his passion for the restoration of this vehicle.
A genuine car with original civil 1968 registration, history compiled from DVLA records show four previous ex-MoD owners. Malcolm picks up the story: “Unfortunately much of the early records of ex-RAF Land Rovers have been lost in time, unlike many army examples of the same period, so detailed information of the many base allocations within the RAF from 1952 up to the early sixties are unknown.”
Much of the original paint of the upper body was stripped, obliterating any tell-tale marks. “It is quite likely that at some later stage in its unusually long career in the RAF, this vehicle saw use as an Aircraft Crash Tender,” says Malcolm.
Given the likely replacement by better-equipped Series II vehicles, many like this Series I were converted to lighter glider-towing duties on the various air training squadrons across the UK where glider flying was undertaken.
The actual glider towing only involved fetching and recovering gliders on and off the airfield – in no way were these vehicles used to tow gliders into flight. This was done mainly by light aircraft or more usually by very large winches placed at the end of the airfield.
“A pair of steel supports in the rear tub indicate that possibly a winch or towing frame was positioned to aid this recovery process. As yet I have not found images to support this, however, I replaced the floor with external ply and decked for safety.”
It took seven years for Malcolm to restore and while for the most part he has made every effort to put his pride and joy back to original standing, there are one or two exceptions.
“No one drove a specific vehicle in the RAF and as they wouldn’t have time to know who had the key for each one, there was simply an on-off switch. I have fitted another immobilising switch and fitted a key, but it’s hidden very discreetly,” he confesses.
Here at the Land Rover Legends show at Bicester Heritage, it seemed only right to shoot his beloved Series I next to a Tiger Moth.
“After you had done your glider training you would fly a Tiger Moth but I never had the chance. These single engine biplanes would often tow gliders in the air and it was a majestic sight. While I may not have achieved that one dream of mine, I have at least achieved another – seeing my Land Rover in LRM, my favourite magazine,” grins Malcolm.