Land Rover chassis number 860001 was believed lost but has made a surprise appearance at the Royal Automobile Club. Next up, a challenging but sympathetic restoration...

Land Rover chassis number 1, the long-lost JUE 477, has resurfaced at the Royal Automobile Club in London, UK, having been seen last during Land Rover’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1998.

Following a brief appearance at the Shugborough Hall 50th anniversary show two decades ago, chassis 860001, the first ever production Land Rover, fell out of public view. However, it was far from well-publicised before the half century celebrations. In fact, JUE had been residing in a field without so much as a cover near Kendal, Cumbria, owned by farmer David Fairless.

Land Rover chassis number one returns!

The first inkling of what lay undisturbed on the exposed grassland fed into the forums back in 2009. Two friends, one of them using the forum name RBM, went hiking with the knowledge that a special Series I was lurking in a boggy field, and finally found the dilapidated JUE surrounded by rusting tractors and split-screen Morris Minors.

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‘This was JUE and the significance was the chassis number. Lots of zeros followed by a single number. And that number was one.’

Further explained in RBM’s visit was the information that JUE’s custodian, a supportive Land Rover enthusiast, knew exactly what he had and that the Land Rover was not for sale. What they left with was the knowledge that JUE seemed well beyond saving. Although mostly complete, the Series I was in a critical condition.

The flaking, structurally compromised chassis was beginning to collapse, a front hub and swivel was missing, the paintwork was faded and scored right through to the aluminium, the outer passenger-side wing had been ripped off, there were no doors nor a windscreen and entire slabs of the rear tub had gone.

Land Rover chassis number one returns!

The front bumper was bent back to the front of the perished tyres and within the engine bay lived a variety of insects and debris. It appeared to be a sad end for a hugely significant Land Rover.

However, the decision was taken in 2017 to find a new owner and guarantee chassis 1's long-term future. It was sold to an industrialist with a known passion for Land Rovers.

JUE's history is fascinating. It was officially dispatched in July 1948 before being signed over to the Land Rover development programme. As such, it remained within the Solihull factory grounds, and wasn’t registered for tarmac use until the turn of 1950.

It was later sold to a professor lecturing at Newcastle University, then changed hands once more before being bought by David Fairless and put to work on a farm in Northumberland.

Originally after a tractor, Mr Fairless opted to purchase the Land Rover instead. Years later, when he displayed JUE at Shugborough Hall, many of the current legends of the Land Rover scene flocked to see it. It had already been thought lost by that time, and there had been much speculation on the vehicle's whereabouts and condition.

Land Rover chassis number one returns!
Land Rover chassis number one returns!
Land Rover chassis number one returns!

‘We could not stop going back for another look,' Tom Pickford of WWSpares told the Series One Owners’ Club forum. 'My dad and I are always looking back at when it [JUE] was driven in behind an old estate car. I wish that it had gone to Gaydon [British Car Museum] and was left there. The way that it was found, it would be very hard to restore what’s left!’

Now, though, this very special Land Rover actually is to undergo carefully considered restoration with sympathetic techniques to ensure the unique history is retained. With its extreme patina and unique details still showing, this could well become the biggest Land Rover attraction to date as the marque's 70th anniversary festivities take hold for 2018.

Could JUE 477 make an appearance at the new Bicester Heritage Land Rover Legends show? We'll have to wait and see...

But what about HUE 166?

Although HUE 166 is often referred to as the ‘first’ Land Rover, really that title goes to the centre-steer prototype of 1947. Although many Land Rover aficionados refuse to accept it, this original vehicle – based on a Willys Jeep – was probably scrapped before full-scale production began, with some of its body panels and materials re-used to create the first batch of Land Rovers.

Land Rover chassis number one returns!
Land Rover chassis number one returns!
Land Rover chassis number one returns!

HUE 166 is actually the first of a batch of 48 prototypes. 'Huey' has a chassis number of LR1, but is still a test vehicle (not the first production Land Rover as popularly claimed), rolling out of the factory on March 11, 1948.

Former Land Rover engineer Roger Crathorne – nicknamed 'Mr Land Rover' – claims the company documents detail, highlight and outline the whole story. If anyone knew the real story, Land Rover’s longest serving employee, having started with the company in 1963, is the man to know.

HUE 166 may be the oldest surviving Land Rover, but is not chassis number one. JUE 477 is chassis number 860001. Therefore, it's undoubtedly the oldest production Land Rover.

AutoClassics will report on the Series I’s progress throughout the year.

Land Rover chassis number one returns!

Royal Automobile Club pictures by Martyn Goddard. As-found picture of JUE 477 courtesy of The Series One Club Forum. Special thanks to the Royal Automobile Club

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Gallery: Land Rover chassis number one returns!