Living Colour

First featured in Land Rover Magazine – Built 2 Last – December 2018 – (this is my first draft before publication).

I am in the first year living with Big Red my 1964 Series 2a after her restoration was completed. A nineteen month nut and bolt job that almost broke me in every way imaginable. However, driving around the Cotswolds today in the autumn sunshine, I am the happiest woman alive, singing to a ‘road trip’ soundtrack on Spotify bursting through Bluetooth earphones. The memorable sound of whine at 55mph is a distant one and I speak to people, listen to music and grow smiling Crows feet on every journey with her.

This year it is all about learning about each other, she just as much about me, as me about her. It’s easy for me, I can see her incontinence levels, her sounds and reactions, her distinct ways of creating road presence, and she is discovering how I need to think about time, productivity, attitudes to my own life and other hidden elements such as ambitions and dreams. It is true, I may have created a mythological character out of my car, humanised her in some form, but perhaps it is simply that over the nineteen months of first stripping her back then re building her I may have taken on more than I had initially envisaged and the car became a living creature.

Photograph by Charlie Chan

On passing her first MOT after restoration, I called up my father and we all went to the Lygon Arms for a champagne breakfast as her christening.  On passing her second MOT I went straight over to a wedding party, to a couple very very much involved with motorcycles, yet Big Red was coveted as much as the pretty historic motorbikes and she stood her ground.

I am lucky that her original factory colour was Mid Grey and with tremendous thanks to Adrian Wynn, who persuaded me to return her scratchy red (her namesake) to this grey, I am forever indebted. Well not only that, Adrian basically over-saw the rebuild with his scrupulous attention to demanding Original Engineered Manufactured parts, putting me to my paces and getting me to work. Becoming his apprentice and sending me off to do the bits I could do on my own – along with body preparation for paint which, I utterly I mean utterly enjoyed, dash-board work, fitting small parts… the list is endless on both parties. Adrian Wynn is a true craftsman and an extremely detailed historic vehicle specialist and I could not have rebuilt Big Red without his guidance.

Andy Tilley painted my top coat. After handing me back all of what I though was brilliant rubbed down body parts, he gave it all back to me with… do it all again and really get that back satin tickle of paint off before you come back here attitude. I did and the paint work is sublimely smooth. Wynn and Tilley along with a whole army of small unadvertised craftsmen manufactured, re-built parts, re-coated and helped to restore Big Red to an example probably a bit better than when she came out the factory in 1964. These hidden talented people are what make up this historic car industry today.

Big Red is not a rare car, nor is she totally, I mean totally correct: she has a Series 3 chassis with a drop down bar so I can take her gear box out, and her nuts and bolts are not sherardized, she has a 12 volt USB connection in her dashboard, and her door hinges are galvanised not zinc coated. Her indicators are delightfully lower than they perhaps ought and her carburettor is a Zenith not a Solex. However, Big Red is mine. She is not for sale so what does it matter. Her nuts and bolts and her lights are well made and from the UK (Lucas), her hood is Exmoor trim and inspected to the highest standard as I am a stickler for stitching, and her tow rope is hand-made by Bristol Rope and Twine.

One thing I cannot keep quiet about is the utter ignorance of both men but mainly women I often meet, who have this look of disbelief when they learn I worked on this restoration. How odd to judge without even speaking to me. It often upsets me. Would they look at me in this way if I were a man? People who know me are not at all surprised and ask ‘what is still to do are you having fun?  Everyone on the Series 2 Club Facebook page went through my dilemmas with me, but now often ask for my advice!  I suppose I have been brought up with a family who owned a theatre costumiers. So I know what it takes to make something from nothing. I am ardently against the generation of ‘want it yesterday’, unable to envisage even how something can be created. Despite my optimism for life as a photographer, I am simply saddened by seeing more and more people who forget at how one can make and one can recreate.  It is not all electronics and social media hot-desking. Life, and my life is very, very much about making, creating and producing a product that is of hand built, bespoke quality.

I am a photographer so perhaps I have a slightly different view on life and perhaps it is this that sustained my dedication to the restoration and now the ‘living with Big Red’ for we are one family unit: Big Red, Leica cameras, Martina the cat and I.

My lesson learnt is, to educate others to realise that everything can be made and explored, it is so rewarding and enriches your life as well as others’. Make something, research something, visit a place take a journey and for heaven’s sake, look at the person who says ‘I worked on this restoration’ and celebrate them without judgement.

Big Red is almost the daily drive (minus car park day stays and long long motorway jaunts), she loves a jolly and I hope to take her on an expedition next year… this year I am working on her soft furnishings, exhaust valve cylinder and that interesting oil drip.

Success is a journey and Big Red reminds me of this every day I drive her.