Car of the Month : September 2015 – Chris Chantrell’s Austin 1800

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Here it is, AROnline’s latest Car of the Month. But hang on, we hear you say, all there is to see in the picture below is an empty patch in a slightly overgrown garden…

…if you want to find out why, you’ll need to read on.

Words: Alexander Boucke Photography: Chris Chantrell

Re(u)sting place
Re(u)sting place

Back in November 2013, AROnline reader, Chris Chantrell, heard that a fellow BMC 1800 owner who needed to part with his car, due to health problems. After resting it in his garden for years, a new loving home was needed for the Austin – before the car deteriorated too much.

Hence, one morning, after some careful un-seizing of brakes using big tools, a Damask Red Austin 1800 MkII rolled onto tarmac for the first time since its tax had ran out in 2004. And that’s where the story really starts – with the above picture.

As found and rescued
As found and rescued

After rescuing the car, and upon its first inspection Chris noticed, there was a bit of work to do. He said, ‘An initial poke around highlights some bodywork problems. I needed to get her up in the air for a proper look at the underside, but the floors looked good from the inside, so fingers crossed.’

What did he know…

Over the next couple of days Chris rooted into the documentation that came with the car, such as the original ‘Passport to Service’. Later on, he started poking some funny blisters at the car and found the odd nasty bit. Still, he was in good spirits and fired up the welding machine.

By December, Chris had enrolled into a welding class at the local college and could report greatly improved welding skills. The car? Well, from then on, it gradually became an increasingly good example of where these cars can (but often do not really) rust. Before the dawn of 2014, Chris’ health caused him some trouble.

However, in the aftermath of his trouble, his recovery dictated a slower pace for the restoration – or was it the car that told him to recover more quickly? While spring 2014 blossomed, Chris was back in full swing building his own version of Trigger’s broom from this 1800’s body. In May Chris acknowledged, that this particular Landcrab was possibly not in the best condition. He said, ‘I have to say that this isn’t car restoration – it’s open-cast rust mining.’


Open-cast rust mining

Weeks of finding various rust spots followed – usually turning into full-sized holes. That was followed by larger work, when the engine came out for cosmetic work and then went back in again, and the brakes were rebuilt. Finally, in March 2015, the Austin, by now called ‘Red Dog’, moved out of the garage under its own power.

A first attempt at the MoT failed on one side of the rear brakes but, apart from, that everything went well. After resting in a damp corner for so many years, nobody would expect that from then on everything would go smoothly – and nor did Chris. A burned-out alternator, a broken wiper switch, some Hydrolastic failures later and the Austin seems to have finally morphed into being the rugged and dependable transport the Landcrab is known for.

At the MOT station, first try.
At the MoT station, first try

After nearly two years of hard and often tedious work, the ‘Red Dog’ started to pay Chris back with some enjoyment, as he started driving it. It did, of course, throw the occasional spanner in the works. As Chris said, ‘I must admit that I am rather proud of the car, as there was a period of time when I really didn’t think I could do it, so it represents something rather important to me. She will be painted over the autumn. I will keep her Damask, as it is a lovely colour.’

After a first bath - it really starts to look like a car again
After a first bath – it is really starting to look like a good and solid car again

Oh, and if after reading this, you want to know more about the ins and outs of owning a Landcrab, you want to see that the classic car hobby needs dedication more than deep pockets or simply need to find some motivation for your own project, head over to The Landcrabs forum and settle down for some reading.

Alexander Boucke

Based in Aachen, Germany, Alexander has had BMC>ARG cars around him since birth - in fact his earliest childhood memories are from buying a new Landcrab with his family at the age of two. The new cars have aged to classic cars and a few more have joined the family fleet - most of them by now proper classics and many with Hydrolastic or Hydragas suspension. Alexander joined the AROnline team back in 2002 when helping out to get some facts right on the Austin 3 Litre.

15 Comments

  1. I certainly remember them rusting. Sills in particular, and the headlight bowls in the inner wings. Having to remove the engine fora clutch change was a right pain as well..but they were just such a pleasant comfy car to ride in.

  2. The word “dedication” comes to mind!!

    As you say, Chris, looking like a sound car again in that final picture. Just imagine it painted!!

    Another childhood memory from when I lived in Distington, if you’re reading this Glenn. I lived on Swallow Hill and on the way to Pica a guy by the name of Dick Scraggs had a service, repair bay to the side of his house. There was often a LandCrab there and Dick drove them himself.

  3. A tremendous undertaking but looks like it’s bearing fruit. Yes Damask red is a nice period colour.

    The Financial Director of my former employer had a Wolesley Landcrab in the early 70s. I drove it a couple of times, felt like driving a commercial vehicle with that bus driver angle steering wheel, but went OK and was roomy.

  4. I have fond memories as an apprentice mechanic working for Mothers Pride ( remember that?) working on an 1800’s’in the same Damask Red . It was the MD’s company car . Being the S model it could really move but , the extra power gave the Hydrolastic suspension a bit of a problem if you floored the accelerator from a standing start, tending to sit down at the rear until the car got rolling. A very good and comfortable car as I remember. Good times!

    • Since 1973 my father owns and runs an Austin 1800 S, these really are quite fast – and like all Landcrabs are very reliable and durable. The S engine is actually the highest state of tune from all factory delivered B-series, the head is unique to the S and the carburetor setup features twin HS6 instead of HS4 as on the MGB. The exhaust manifold design of the S is basically the same that can be bought as big-bore LCB for Minis. To me the S seems to be a direct fruit of the time when Downton was consultant for BMC.

      In terms of rust, the 1800 was certainly better than many 60s/70s contemporary cars.

      Here was my father’s car featured over 12 years ago: COTM May 2003

  5. My father had 3 of them last one being the 2200 model. They were all fleet cars and by the time the 2200 model was finally traded in it had starship mileage on as I remember. The only reason they replaced it was because he’d moved up to sales Director and was given an SD1 2600. The thing about that 2200 landcrab was although it was a manual, it was more like driving an automatic so torquey was the engine. It still pulled like the proverbial train when he’d finished with it.

    Like most BL designs it was well past its sell by date by the time the Princess came along, but not a single one of these cars had let him down despite being out there driving every day as a company sales rep’. Quite remarkable really when you hear all the horror stories regarding the reliability of British built cars at that time.

  6. @ Dave Dawson, I can’t remember Dick Scraggs, but I do remember that tiny dealership in Pica, now a motorcycle dealer, that sold Wartburgs, the infamous twin stroke East German cars.

    • If you’re wondering how I remember Dick Scraggs so well it’s because I knew his son. His wife used to give us lifts from school in a whole array of BMC, BLMC cars – A40s, early Minis, ADO16s, Maxis, the lot!

  7. I only owned one Landcrab, bought in a great hurry when the then Triumph 2000 had given up the ghost. Despite being ultra reliable and a great cruiser it had a problem – it turned left all by itself given the chance. Investigation revealed Mk 1 suspension on one side and Mk 2 on the other–and bits of broken glass under the front carpets. As the saying goes, buyer beware…………….

  8. The 1800 S endowed this car with 100 mph performance, very respectable for the time, and as it was more powerful than the sluggish single carb 1800, economy didn’t suffer. I often wonder, though if the Landcrab was fitted with a five speed gearbox when this was launched in the Maxi, if economy( always a weak point) and refinement( good for the time) would have seen an improvement and sales received a boost.

  9. I remember seeing one at the old zyon park museum fitted with a maxi power unit.

    These cars are so under rated and are a joy to drive.

    As a small boy we would go on family trips abroad,all six of us! in our atlantic blue

    mark two.

  10. The Wolseley Six offered an interesting alternative to a Rover 2000. It might have been slower and less economical, but it was just as luxurious inside, the six cylinder engine was smooth and effortless( the Rover 2000 could get noisy when pushed hard) and had more space. For those wanting an alternative executive car to the Rover and Triumph 2000, the Six fitted the bill.

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