1956 Series One 107″ pickup – The Black Pearl

So I’ve finally grown up, and bought a ‘proper’ Land Rover. It’s all very well overlanding with a turbodiesel, GPS, coil springs and cupholders, but after I travelled with Ben Stowe and his 1949 80” through Europe and up into the Italian Alps, with the roof down and the doors taken off, I knew there was a better way. So I’ve bought a Series One, a 107” pick up.

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To make things interesting, the truck is in Zimbabwe. Her history is still being filled in. According to her chassis number, she was built in 1956 in the UK for the Home Market, rather than built for export or sent out as CKD. That means that somehow, intact, she got to Zimbabwe, which at the time was Rhodesia.

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When I first bought the truck, it looked black in the photos sent to me by a Zimbabwean friend, so it was christened “The Black Pearl”. However recently I’ve actually been out to Zimbabwe to see it in the ‘flesh’ for the first time – and it’s matt dark green. This is evidently a local respray over a pale blue colour. This, in itself, isn’t the original colour! As a friend said to me today “Welcome to the rabbit hole of Series One ownership”! It seems that under the pale blue she would originally have been grey… I’m still chasing, and a Heritage certificate is on the cards to find out more. As I write, a friend has suggested that the fleet of Series Ones that built the mighty Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe was painted light blue by Costain Construction when they received their Land Rovers from the UK, so that may be it……. There does seem to be grey under the blue….

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Costain, sadly, don’t want anything to do with involvement in researching the history of the truck. I assume this is because when the Kariba Dam was built there were lots of deaths of local workers and they’d rather keep the spotlight off that aspect of their history – understandable, but frustrating.

At any rate, the Pearl had been standing unused since 2001 at a farm near Fort Victoria (Mavingo) when I bought her. She had been in use as a farm truck until then, with signs of fairly regular driving and registration, but obviously her running gear needed work as she’d been left idle for the intervening twenty years. Zimbabwe is landlocked, with no salt air, and little rain, so Land Rovers there suffer from very little rust. This is true with the Black Pearl – her bulkhead, rear crossmember and chassis are very rust-free, and her body panels are very straight. After the bush wars of the 70s and 80s, it’s not uncommon to find Series Land Rovers with bullet holes in their bodywork or glass – luckily the Pearl has escaped this treatment. However she was a non-runner, so Jordie, my mechanic in Zimbabwe, set to work, under the direction of Mark Woodward, a Rhodesian/British friend who had found the Pearl for me in the first place. She has a non-standard 2.25 petrol engine from a Series Two – I’ll probably keep that for the sake of power and reliability. However. The clutch rings and head gasket were replaced, as the original head gasket had blown between cylinders three and four. The lower hose to the radiator was missing as well, so all hoses were sorted. Battery and distributor leads were all absent; these appeared in quick time as well. To date the engine has had a partial rebuild and now runs well, though she needs a new carburettor.

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Otherwise, the axles, springs and bushes are good. She has the Rhodesia-pattern rear hubs, a local adaptation to enable easy changes of half shafts in the bush. Another local modification – her front grille is adapted for larger headlights. Mechanically, the gearbox works and selects all gears. Brakes are a bit iffy, so they are next on the list. The work continues. She needs a front propshaft and a low box lever, as the originals were sold for other projects before I took her over. She needs new lights, a starter switch, switches and tyres. Currently she has a later-pattern steering wheel; when I was in Zimbabwe the other day I found an earlier one in a scrapyard (cost – $10) but, though it’s better, it’s still not the correct 1956 model. I also found some chrome headlamp surrounds (again, $10) from a carcass, as she is missing one. It does feel horrible cannibalising old Series Ones – I feel they should all be saved! I’m sure I’m not alone in that…..

Bodywork and paint is an item for thought – patina restoration? A repaint? She has a framework on the pickup body, I’m in two minds about leaving it on, or taking it off. I even wondered about a hard top. She is up on bricks now, to stop the existing tyres deteriorating, and she is having her brakes and exhaust rebuilt as I write.

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The plan is to drive her home to the UK across Africa…… watch this space 🙂

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