You Only Live Twice

Originally Published: September 2013 Words: Paul Looe Pictures: Harry Hamm
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Paul Mellor’s Land Rover had been stripped and condemned when he bought it. All the parts on it are other people’s cast-offs. And while he was building it, he was accused of trying to do the impossible. Well, today it’s living proof that raising the dead can be done after all…

This truck has travelled thousands of miles around the world and taken part in many big competitions,’ says Paul Mellor. ‘But it’s never left Derbyshire.’

He’s talking about his Land Rover, a 90 truck-cab that bears all the scars of a life in the challenge arena. Over the course of the last eighteen months, he’s turned it from a wreck into a masterpiece of second-hand shopping, DIY and making do.

‘More or less everything you see is someone else’s cast-offs,’ he continues. ‘There’s bits that have been to Croatia and Russia – some of the winch bits have even been to the USA. Many of the parts have done the Scotia Extreme, Howling Wolf and so on. I regularly trawl the forums and eBay, as well as knowing a few people who are into which challenging on a grand scale. When they buy the latest craze, I buy the bits they don’t want any more. It’s taken a year and a half of scouring, but it’s becoming complete now!’

Ironically, the 90 was already complete when Paul bought it. Complete, at least, in the way your life is when you get to the end of it.

‘The truck was destined for the crusher,’ he says. ‘The chassis came from a rebuild project. It had been replaced with a galvanised chassis and bulkhead. So I bought the remains, which were the chassis, bulkhead, roof and tub. The rest of it I collected and built as we went along.

‘I know the original truck started life in the fire brigade then went on to a farm in Wales. It had only covered 60,000 miles before it got the chop!’ It had still only covered 60,000 miles when it very nearly got the chop again – and but for a twist of fate, and a loose word or two, it might have turned a wheel for the last time.

‘The truck was always an all-out off-roader,’ Paul explains. ‘I’ve had challenge motors before but always had issues with them. So with this one, I decided to start from the chassis up and make sure I did everything as I wanted it.’

That’ll be a man in pursuit of perfection, then. And we all know where that can lead. ‘I threw a paddy on two occasions,’ Paul admits. ‘First time, we had built a trayback. I was in the unit alone when I decided it looked pants – so I cut it up and scrapped it there and then. The second time was when I just decided to sell it mid-build. An oldish, obnoxious fellow came to look at it and said “typical youngster trying to build something that’s impossible.” I politely asked him to leave – but it was this that gave me the determination to finish the build!’

Scroll back a couple of decades, and you’ll see where the seeds were sown for Paul’s level of off-road ambition. He’s not one for sticking with the simple things, either behind the wheel or in the workshop. ‘My dad was my introduction to off-roading back in the 90s when I was a young lad,’ he says. ‘Dad, my uncle Mark and I would go CCV trailing in his SJ410. Soon this was modified with a Suzuki Swift engine… onwards and upwards, we ended up with a 3.5 V8 Class 1 buggy! Dad won the Buxton and District Club championship four times on the bounce. I tried my hand at CCV, but soon got sucked into winching and here I am today!’

So, we have a man with a vision of his ideal challenge truck and the drive to see the project through. A good combo. And what did that vision involve? After all, when you’re starting with just a bare chassis the world is pretty much your oyster.

Well, the chassis was in very good nick, so Paul didn’t have to start by repairing it. He did, however, still need to show it the hot end of his welding kit. That’s because his big plan involved shortening it by 6” at the front and 8” at the back. He put his angle grinder through the dumb irons up front and tied the main rails together using a Gwyn Lewis winch tray, while at the back he trusted the same job to a challenge style rear crossmember.

You’ll have sussed from this that Paul’s not scared of rolling up his sleeves and doing a bit of fabrication. If you haven’t, take a look at the roll structure and you’ll certainly get the idea. He made the whole thing himself, using a Sealey tube bender and bolting it through spreader plates to the chassis.

‘The cage was designed to be a tight fit and make the truck look that little bit mean!’ he says. It was also designed to include challenge style tubular front wings and protect as much else of the body as possible, and when it comes to strength it’ll stay up through anything short of a tank driving over it.

The body it protects is made up from a bobtailed 90 tub, Series II Land Rover doors and a Defender bulkhead, windscreen, roof and back panel. Paul cut out and tubbed the wheelarches to prevent his Fedima Siroccos from fouling them when the suspension flexes, and shortened a Defender bonnet to go with the tubular wings. The flimsy little sill panels made way for a set of box-section rock sliders and tubular nerf bars, and then he added ‘some nice chequer plate to finish it all off.’

Turning into quite the concoction already, isn’t it? Well, there’s more to come. Those Siroccos are turned by a 300 Tdi Discovery engine, which replaced the naturally aspirated 2.5 diesel with which the chassis started its life. Paul cheerfully admits that he likes a bit of the loud pedal in his off-roading, and the Tdi breathes through a cone filter on top of a mid-height snorkel – ‘making it quite lively,’ he reports.

One issue with the shortened overhang is that with the radiator still being front-mounted, there’s no room for an intercooler in front of it. Paul found a space for it to sit horizontally in the top of the engine bay, much in the style of a lot of Japanese 4x4s, and it’s fed through a bank of air holes he cut in what’s left of the bonnet.

Behind the engine, a heavy-duty clutch leads to a standard LT77 short gearbox and LT230 Defender transfer case. Paul fitted an X-Eng disc handbrake and full breather kit, as well as wide-angle props from Bailey Morris – which lead to late Disco and 110 axles front and rear.

This is one area in which the policy of buying other people’s cast-offs hasn’t yet turned up the goods. Both axles run 4-pin diffs, and the 110 unit has heavy-duty shafts as standard, but what Paul really wants is a set of lockers and proper uprated shafts and CVs. ‘These are the one part people never seem to let go!’ he laments. ‘With a girlfriend and a house, someone will have to want to give them to me. But I will eventually get some – even if I have to fit Toyota Land Cruiser 80 axles to do it!’

One way or the other, then, it looks like Paul still has a good bit of internet action ahead of him. For now, though, his willingness to base his build around things other people have moved on from has yielded a full Gwyn Lewis +5.5” dislocating challenge suspension system, as well as 6-degree Qt radius arms and 11” Pro-Comp shocks, which all goes together to let the axles flex very nicely indeed. There’s a Gwyn Lewis track rod guard up front, too, though since the rod itself, like the drag link ahead of it, are from Sumo Bars, it would take something pretty brutal for it to make an actual difference.

Not that the brutal side of the off-road game is anything Paul shies away from. He wouldn’t need to – he’s owned a dozen different Land Rovers of various shapes and sizes, after all, and this one is the culmination of everything he’s tried off-road, so he didn’t exactly build it for pussyfooting around.

As well as competing in winch events, where two Warn 8274s and a centre-mounted 9000lb Come-Up are what he calls ‘the power behind the truck,’ Paul is also part of a tight-knit group who run the challenges put on by Trans Pennine Off Road Events. They’re a friendly crew who spend as much time together wrist-deep in grease as they do knee-deep in mud, and it’s no surprise to hear that there’s a lengthy roll of honour when it comes to the help Paul’s had in the workshop.

‘I’ve had lots of help from friends in the garage,’ he confirms. ‘James, Sam, Jamie, Ste, all the regulars who lend a hand. My dad was a big help, too, as he was magic on the tools. Sadly he lost his battle with cancer two months ago.

‘I’d also like to thank my better half Georgia for putting up with me and the truck, my mum for her input, my uncle and aunt from SJM plant hire for the unit I work in, Garry from Langset Light Engineering and Paul and Barry from Turner Auto Services, all for their continuing help.’

Most of all, though he doesn’t quite come out and say it, Paul probably needs to thank the top end of the challenge world for the speed at which it evolves. But for that, there wouldn’t be so many people willing to sell him second-hand kit because they’ve replaced it with something they hope will be better – and, to put it bluntly, this here truck wouldn’t exist.

Which means, of course, that Paul’s owed a debt of thanks too, by a Land Rover which owes him its life. Whenever there’s a perfectly good chassis on the way to the crusher, there should be someone like him ready to step in and turn it into a motor to be proud of – however many paddies might get thrown along the way. A typical youngster trying to build something impossible? Or someone with the vision to put together a Landy to be properly proud of? If the grumpy old bloke Paul turfed out of his workshop that time is reading this today, we hope he’s feeling humble…

X-ENG X-BRAKE, GWYN LEWIS SUSPENSION, WARN 8274, PRO-COMP SHOCKS, 90, DEFENDER, COME-UP WINCH, QT RADIUS ARMS, SUMO BARS, BOWMOTOR 2, OPTIMA BATTERIES, FABRICATED CAGE, GWYN LEWIS TRACK ROD GUARD, BAILEY MORRIS PROPS

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