Saving a Legend – Epic Series 1 107 Recovery

Perched halfway up a hill under a tree in the wind blown grass is a 1955 Land Rover Series I 107 pick-up . It is looking over the valley waiting patiently for a new owner and looking for a home. Only the giggles and laughs of young kids, the mutter of working women, distant cowbells and the rumble of a forestry tractor keep this forlorn Land Rover company. Brian and Shelley spotted it while doing some GPS route plotting for a newly opened 4×4 track in the Piet Retief – Pongola area. After a few months of phone calls we got the go ahead from the local farmer to collect the vehicle. It was free of charge provided we did it all ourselves. This turned out to be an epic Series 1 107 recovery.

Recovery Plan

What seemed like a basic recovery exercise turned into an epic mission. Unfortunately our expectations of location, access and condition of the vehicle were not what we expected.

The total distance was about 450 km, to just south of Piet Retief. Our estimate was that the salvage could be done in one day. Departure at 5 am with 4 hours traveling. Then 2 hours to load the vehicle and a return trip of 6 hours. Arriving back home at 5 pm the same day. The exact location we had in the form of a GPS waypoint. Access was not going to be a problem. There was supposed to be a good gravel road right up to the vehicle with at most 500m of dirt track. The expectation was that the vehicle was complete except for rear axle, doors and a bonnet. So we carried 4 spare wheels, one axle, u-bolts, winch and a toolbox. We traveled down in Alan’s D90 Tdi with a low bed car trailer.

However what we experienced turned out to be a mini camel trophy. It tested our determination, endurance, ingenuity, navigational skills and driving ability.

Finding the Series 1

After picking up and loading the trailer we discover that one of the double axle trailer wheels is flat. After fixing it and packing everything we finally get to sleep at 2am. Three hours later we hit the road only to be faced with thick mist and rain on the entire journey up to Piet Retief. Once we get into the hills and forest tracks it becomes evident that the GPS co-ordinate for the vehicle is completely out.

The maps are also useless because of the maize of forest tracks in the SAPPI forest. Eventually we are lost and ask a local forester how to get to the Land Rover on the hill. He scratches his head and can’t explain because it is too complicated. Then we explain that we plan to remove the Series 1 from its resting place. He nearly faints and gives an “Are you dorps japies completely out of your mind” expression. Finally he decides to lead the way with his “1400 Datsun bakkie”. We breathe a sigh of relief but suddenly lose your breath when he stops halfway. H gestures to a distant koppie on the other side of a valley, and drives off in the opposite direction.

Access to the vehicle is disastrous. Its a 5-10km slippery mud track in and out up and down the SAPPI forest. Then a 1km rock and mud track leads to the top of the hill. After that no road leads to the Series 1. Normally this what you die for, but with a low bed car trailer behind a D90 it becomes very challenging, and that’s still while the trailer is empty.

Series 1 107 Recovery

Eventually we arrive at the vehicle only to discover that there are no springs on the back and the front hubs are rusted solid. Our penetrating spray has run out and all we have is a small hand winch. The vehicle is also on a side slope that makes the proposition of jacking and winching even more difficult.

We spend an hour deliberating the pros and cons of continuing the salvage operation. Eventually we get to work fitting the rear axle without springs and getting the vehicle mobile. It takes a painstaking 4 hours of careful winching and use of the high-lift jack to get the vehicle onto the trailer.

Thankfully the sun had come out for a few hours and dried up the tracks a little bit. But we still had to rush to get going before the sunset and the rain returned. The D90 performed faultlessly pulling the 2-ton payload up and down the slippery tracks. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief once we reached the tar again, with everything in tact. Our plan for this Series 1 107 recovery had worked.

The Journey Home

The journey home was long and seemed to take forever, but somehow that did not matter. Looking in the rear view mirror at the smiling face of a ’57 107”, brought images of what she was like in her heyday and what she will be like when she is returned to her former glory.

Brian returned to that same hilltop a few months later in search of the doors and the bonnet. He managed to find them on another distant hilltop where they were lying in a barn with the cattle. So now the Series I stands outside, patiently awaiting restoration.

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