The first bone of contention centred around this 1971 MkII’s interior because it was and is a minty olive suite as befits a low-mileage Limeflower Landcrab. The problem is summarised thus: rally-replica equals BMC colours (Tartan Red with white roof) which means a stripped out black interior. In other words, one of this Austin’s best features would have ended up in a loft, on Ebay or, perish the thought, in someone’s bin because olive and Tartan Red doesn’t really create a convincing motorsport look.
The second bone of contention, is Dep-O’s highly contagious Leylomania. We’ve got it deeply and terribly, and are quite proud of our sores. So to those of us who merrily quote BLMC colour names and be pedantic about model nomenclature, Limeflower is something ancient, almost holy and frequently misunderstood. Heathens may dismiss it as ‘sludge-green’ but the chance to witness a Seventies BL car dressed in a fresh coat of such distinction, was just too much to resist.
So Plan No2 now involves returning the bodywork to its cosmic Seventies best, although Mr Swingler is still clearly torn over the subject and may well end up repainting the whole car in Tartan Red in a lager-fuelled flurry…
“Well, I went along and had a look. It was covered in dust, it had been in storage for 11 years, had 13,000 miles on the clock and it turned out to be a beautifully preserved, nice old car. The old boy had bought it as a retirement present to himself and he had driven it until he no longer felt up to driving on the busy roads,” says Mark.
“I told the lady that it actually wasn’t that bad, because its mileage, the condition of its interior and I bought it for £100. We took it back to the workshop on the back of a lorry and I had to hammer the jet out of the carburettor, but I did get it running. I then fitted a clutch master-cylinder on it from a Triumph Herald and put it through the MoT. It failed on four out-of-shape tyres – that was it!
“So I ended up running it and running it – I loved it. The only thing was I didn’t Waxoyl it – which is why I’m having to do all this welding. It’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster: take a non-Waxoyled car out of long-term storage, use it on a regular basis and you’ll have similar problems. I always promised to Waxoyl it after I painted it – but I was always going to paint it ‘tomorrow’ – and one day it failed its MoT on the chassis leg underneath the battery tray. What you see now is really the result of somebody who knows better, who always tells everybody else what to do and how they should do it, but who has not followed his own lead. Now, I can’t believe I’ve been so cruel to it…”
“I would love to paint it Tartan Red with a white roof and a matt-black bonnet – but you can’t really go and park that down at Asda, can you?” says Mark. “I’ve actually bought the Limeflower paint now, to start using it under the wheelarches when I start putting the suspension back in – but I tell you what, that Tartan Red with a white roof doesn’t half look nice. Especially with a matt black bonnet and wing tops.”
See what we mean? Anyway, on with the rest of the story and how Mark got hold of this low-mileage ’Crab…
“The phone rang one day and it was a lady from a firm of solicitors. She asked if we would go and have a look at this bloke’s Austin 1800. I said no, it’s not by bag at all, it’s Austin, it’s rubbish, throw it away.
“She was really insistent though because the old boy was 93, he was about to go into a home and they had to get it valued to get it sold,” says Mark. “I told her there was no chance and that they should just throw it away and pay the old boy what his estate would have paid me to value it.
“A couple of weeks went past and she was back on the phone, asking me to have a look at the 1800. I told them that I would rather pay them not to waste my time – and again I told them to scrap it. So again, a couple of weeks went past and she was on the phone again, she offered to pay me my labour rate from the point I left my front door to meet them at the address and to write a report. Then she said they would willingly scrap it, but that they needed a report on headed paper from a specialist.
The paint has been stripped right back from the engine bay, all the underseal has been removed, and the rear arches have been rebuilt using Maxi wheelarch repair panels – a benefit of both cars sharing those doors. The sills and the floor lips have been seam-welded and the floors themselves are largely untouched and even still sport Longbridge paint.
“There’s a little three-quarter by three-quarter inch angle piece which has been spot-welded on the floor – originally it’s only 18 gauge steel, but that is now one-eighth of an inch thick angle steel and it has been seam-welded in to the inner sill/ floor fold, before I actually put the sill to it and seam-welded that on. So believe you me, that is not going to come apart. It would make a bloody good rally car, but…”
The engine had to come out to do the welding and the tidying up in the engine bay and because the head had to come off for the unleaded conversion, Mark then thought he’d pull the gearbox off to have a look at the bottom end and… Well, to cut a long story short, that is how the Landcrab has ended up with a 140bhp rally-spec B-series – which is where we came in.
“I did get carried away with it,” admits Mark. “Then stuff started coming back from the shot-blasters and the powder-coaters which was shinier than a shiny thing on national shiny day. The tie bars, tie-bar mountings, the rear displacer cradles and backing plates have been powder-coated. What cannot be powder-coated – such as the drums – has been cleaned with acid wash, put on the buffing wheel, acid etched and painted in two-pack black and a coat of lacquer.”
So in other words, Mark hasn’t just got carried away, he’s practically been adbucted by the project, so that now it’s far too good to be thrown around a Welsh forest and have its guts kicked in by tonnes of gravel.
Consequently, this now means that items such as the Landcrab’s original wings – which are pretty good – are not good enough. So Mark is fitting a pair of genuine NOS wings.
“The original wings have got a little bit of maggot here and there, and they’ve been welded on to a British Leyland standard rather than a classic car restorer’s standard. I’ve acid-etched the new wings ones so that they can be painted underneath and the original’s just aren’t good enough,” reveals Mark.
“The next step, is to build up the suspension. The displacer units have been rebuilt with new braided pipes and I’ve got new Hydrolastic pipes front to rear and these have been made with rubber which can withstand very high pressure.” Although following the Beaulieu incident, the displacers may now be surplus to requirement…
The only thing which hasn’t been answered though, is what Mark’s going to do with those good original front wings. “There’s bound to be another Landcrab out there for me to rally and I will then have a pair of good second-hand front wings for it,” says Mark. “The only thing is Rachel is going to absolutely do her piece when she finds out I’m going to buy another one.”