Travel: Sir Tinley Rides Again


Words & Images Roger Gaisford

2016 sees the end of Land Rover Defender production. The Land Rover Defender is the last of a line of very successful vehicles first produced in 1948. Although the Defender is much admired, early model Series Land Rovers, and especially Series 1s, are now much sought after.

Compared with the comfort, speed and ease of operation offered by the Defender, Series 1s are carts: uncomfortable, slow, noisy, and sometimes full of trouble… but this is part of their appeal. They are simple, basic machines and can be kept going with limited tools and skill, and Sir Tinley is just such a vehicle.

Sir Tinley was built in Birmingham in 1957 as a 107-inch wheelbase Station Wagon, now a rare vehicle. She was used by a farmer in the Natal Midlands; and later by an adventurous lawyer for
holiday transport to Lesotho and the Transkei Coast. She then became the mainstay of Conical Hat Expeditions, a safari company established by friends Peter Bassett, Louis Powell and Kevin
de Klerk of Pietermaritzburg, to explore Lesotho.

To cope with a life of trundling the tracks in the mountains of that wild and little-known country, which offered some of the toughest four-wheel driving in southern Africa, Sir Tinley had been
upgraded with Series 3 mechanical components. These included a 2.28-litre four-cylinder engine, fully synchromesh gearbox, Salisbury back axle and wider Series 3 front axle. An air compressor
driven by the gearbox power-take-off was fitted, then an extra 50-litre petrol tank mounted under the front passenger seat doubled the range, and a front-mounted capstan winch gave a feeling of security in times of trouble.

When Conical Hat Expeditions ceased operations, Sir Tinley stood virtually unused until Peter Bassett moved to Port Alfred on the Eastern Cape coast. There, lack of storage space saw her parked in the open: exposed to coastal weather and corrosion. So, Peter decided to sell her to someone who could look after her properly. Hearing that Sir Tinley was for sale, John Muirden, from Mansefield near Nottingham in England, concluded a deal with Mr Bassett.

John Muirden is besotted with Land Rovers. His father was once Government Health Inspector based in Mongu on the Zambezi River in western Zambia. His daily transport was a short-wheelbase
Series 1 Station Wagon. John has vivid memories of sitting between his parents as a six-year-old, watching the speedometer needle shaking around the 50mph mark for the four days that it took
to get from Montagu to Plettenberg Bay for their annual holiday on the Garden Route.

After some years, the Muirden family moved to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, where his father’s work vehicles were again Land Rovers. John was certainly raised in the Land Rover mould. John later moved to South Africa, and when working for Eskom, was based in Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal. In his work he used Land Cruisers. However, his association with Land Rover died hard, and he soon had a 1957 88-inch Series 1 Station Wagon which had been a mobile bank.

In 1997 or thereabouts, John and his family moved to live in England, settling in Nottingham. It was not long before he was again involved with Land Rovers, going into business as Unbeaten Tracks, selling South African outdoor clothing and camping equipment at Land Rover shows around England. As part of his business, he represented and promoted Conical Hat Expeditions.

It was in September 2013 that John Muirden visited South Africa to take part in an Old Trucks meeting held in the Tuli Block of Botswana. This so captivated him that he decided to visit South
Africa every year for Old Trucks, and to keep a suitable Land Rover there. A short while later, the sale of Sir Tinley was announced, and he was able to acquire her – and shortly after that, the
vehicle arrived in Eshowe in Zululand.

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