THE REBUILD STORY OF
THE HERBERT LOMAS AMBULANCE
by Paul Lund
I have always wanted a different model of LandRover. I have rebuilt and showed GISMO my 1963 SWB for about six years and wanted something different to take to shows. I have looked at fire engines and would have loved a Dixon-bate artic Landrover but these are out of my range.
Then along comes Kev Lewis a fellow member from Doncaster. He had an ambulance for sale. I had driven ambulances in the forces for years including the Falklands, so a military ambulance was not my idea of something different. But I went along to have a look. To my delight it was not a military one at all but a civilian design built by Herbert Lomas. I had only seen these in books and didn’t think there was any left.
We came to a nice price and I adopted her (yes adopted as you don’t buy ambulances) I even got the papers. (Just one of Kev’s jokes). Kev was very happy to see it going to a good home, would love to see it when I finished.
The trip home was fun as I borrowed my brother-in-law’s Range rover and a heavy trailer. With two ton of high-sided Ambulance we did look a site going thought Doncaster and could only get 40mph on the A1 as she started to fish tail. We got her home in on piece.
Now where to build her? I am very lucky as in the school I work is a disused old garage with pit, which is only a store area. With the kind permission of the Headmaster and six hours removing the rubbish, I could use the shed for the rebuild only. So with the wheels removed and rims only she just went in and the strip down started.
When I got her from Kev she had no rear glass and some timber missing. The engine was a runner but no brakes Kev had done work on her like new springs and rear door repair plus some side wood renewal before he lost storage, so I just thought that it would be an easy rebuild. HOW WRONG WAS I. we all do this, we start then it gets bigger and bigger, then we wish we had not started.
The chassis looked like it only needed an outrigger or two. The body is supported by steel welded across the ends of the outriggers. This was bodge city and had been repaired at some time with dexen shelving steel. That had to go. The problems started when I cut off the old outriggers, there was nothing to weld too. It was just getting worse as I went along. The welder man let me down and my brother came in to do it instead. But the metal was too far gone in places so would mean a body off to weld. Now on a LandRover you would think “no problem some bolts and off”. This body is a one-piece wooden frame with the bulkhead covered in wood and aluminium. So I took the best route and ordered a new Chassis from Richard Chassis’s of Doncaster (back there again). Richard was most helpful and rebuilt me a complete chassis with the extra support pieces galvanised for the same price as a standard LWB chassis, he even gave me the bottom foot of the bulkhead as these fell off when I removed the body.
Removing the body was a bit of a challenge as well. The bolts holding the body on were under the wooden floor so all this had to be removed to allow access to cut off the bolts. I put a beam though the door opening at the front and lifted it by means of a block and tackle from the garage roof. Then lifted the back with an engine hoist. This allowed me to push the chassis with engine out from underneath. The bulkhead went with the body and one-piece windscreen. I then lowered the whole body down onto old tyres and got on with the rebuild until the chassis was ready.
The rebuild of engine and brakes etc, is as most of you have done so I will not bore you with the facts, other than it was normal with only some problems with the gearbox, which I will mention later.
The chassis came back so now my spirits were high and all go for the rebuild.
We put all the parts back onto the chassis including new brakes and wire loom, then rolled the chassis back under the body. The mating was perfect the entire holes matched and the extra pieces for supporting the body lined up. A credit to Richard spot on. The only thing I had to do was cut the axle strap plates down as the wood on the body came down past the chassis rail and was resting on the plates.
Now the bulkhead needed a new passenger foot well. This did cause some problems as the area is timber around it which extends the bulkhead about six inches each side. So you can guess the fun of welding next to wood. I cut back as much as I could (lucky I did three years as a joiner). Then my brother Mick welded in the new footwell (thanks Mick). I then rebuilt the timber frame out of ash. Hopefully you can’t tell.
The wire loom went in next. I got this from Auto sparks for a 1967 LWB with extra wire for blue lights and horn etc. It would not fit as there were too many wires. I rang Auto sparks and there were very helpful. They had sent the right loom for a 1967 but when I told him the layout of mine he replied “that’s for a per 1967 (bell ringing)”. Anyway he described the difference and we got it working fine.
The body was all woodwork so it was not too bad to do for me. The doors were fun as with most rebuilds the doors are the hardest to line up, well mine are wood so out with the planer until it fitted. I replaced any wood frame and sealed it all with wood preserver. The walls I covered with white-faced hardboard. Then laid the new floor with green lino tiles. The glass I needed was called “shadow glass” and is nearly as dark as welding lens. I went to Leeds glass to price up two large and two small panels. This would have been over £200, just too much. The man said, “Wait a minute” and disappeared. He came back with a long box blowing the dust off it. “This was a job we did of a customer who wanted dark windows on his car” it was stick on shading but you bake it in the oven. I asked the price and was told £50. I told him I couldn’t afford £50 for each window. Ho no the lot and we will fit the film to the glass. And I must say the end result is very good just a different colour from inside.
Down to the M.O.T station and yes she passed so off to the spray shop. This was where I was let down badly. I gave her to the spray shop and he had her for three months. When I did get her back the paint job was rubbish. So I’ve learnt my lesson I’ll do it myself next time.
After this I had the signage made up for the sides and back, which I am very happy with and it takes your eye away from the paintwork. It is also raised slightly so the next spray job will make it flush.
KITTING HER OUT
This is where the real fun starts, you have a LandRover Ambulance, now what do you do? A camper or back to the 1960’s ambulance? Well there was no doubt what I was going to do from day one. I would look for all the 1960’s ambulance equipment to fill her.
Kev Lewis and Jon Horseman gave me loads to start with like the Frances light, yellow top light, air horns and bits of equipment they had spare. The local St Johns were very helpful and gave to me a Herbert Lomas stretcher and a minute man for fish and chips twice, (good deal hey?). I found a wink worth bell at a car boot for £10 but later bought a bigger and in working order chrome bell.
Ripon ambulance station invited me along to view stuff they where dumping. I got a breathing bag and a full uniform (can’t get in it but looks good). Other items have just turned up from people at shows and now are complete. I am still looking for another Herbert Lomas stretcher in green to match other one plus small folding wheel chair in green for back of door. All the equipment is not for use but does look great in the back at shows. On ebay I found a Westminster Pye radio, which sits in the front along with North riding maps to finish off the scene. There is even an old bedpan and urinal bottle, which I use to collect money for the air ambulance (they’re clean) and raised £45 last year at shows.
The first show I went to was the Driffield LRO show in May 2004. They were all over her and it made me so proud that the work was done and she can turn heads. They were so impressed with her that they wanted to do a write up for the mag. which most of you know they did. With some great photos. I was messed about a bit so just watch it if they ask you to do a photo shoot. I was still very proud that my time and effort has paid off with a seven-page section in the august issue.
I was at the Harewood show when the LRM mag asks me if I could be in their mag. this was in the America issue as it was at the same time as the LRO issue. They were very helpful and even set a copy for me to keep.
The real fame came when the crew for Heartbeat and the Royal asked if they could use my Ambulance in the next Royal. You can guess the answer and they pay you for the hire. This went down very well with the bosses on set that she has now been on three times with more next year. She appeared in the one with the girl, who fell down the cliff. The one where the canoeist got stuck under the branch, and the last Royal where the woman got trapped under the tractor. She’s got a big head now and a nightmare to get in the garage.
It makes it all worthwhile when the end result is used for filming and draws crowds at shows. I won’t let it get to my head and will be back on the show circuit next year.
I also had a laugh the other day because I took my wife who is a nurse to work in her. I turned up at the A&E doors and out come three porters I open the doors and out pop's the wife. One of the guys said “ I’ve heard there’s cutbacks but it must be bad if they are using old ambulances. Now if I go I can park in the Ambulance only bays and all the staff love to have a look inside. They say that the equipment is in better nick than the ones they are using now.
Don’t get me wrong it was not plain sailing and I had some problems and at times the petrol can and matches came out.
The gearbox played up and kept sticking in gear so fitted a series three box (sorry). Then the brakes kept locking on. After changing most parts it was the master cylinder, which was pressuring the system with a blocked hole. I fitted a Lucas part from LandRover which fingers crossed has solved the problem.
The biggest problem was the head gasket. This started to leak so needed to be changed. Two days before the national. I decided to fit an unleaded head as well so duly bought one from Turners. This I fitted on the Thursday. I made the all time boo boo; I did not check the gap between the head and water pump top. Yes you guessed it the water came out and I had to start all over again, after I had ground the top flange off the pump. Midnight on the Thursday, before the national, on the Friday. We did it with the help of Neil my work mate.
I have found out that she was built earlier than 1967. She was built in 1965 and was the show vehicle for the Herbert Lomas factory for two years before she went to Minehead to work on the Exmoor area. She has three rear steps to get in the back, where normally they would only fit two. This was another clue to her being a show model. An old worker from the factory got in touch and informed me that the extra step was fitted because the nurse with tight skirts were unable to climb in so an extra step was fitted. Also when I was doing the rebuild I removed a top cover panel and found the words “Landrover Demo” painted on the inside.
When she was at Exmoor duty she was in fact painted blue, the Somerset council colours. She was painted county cream when she when to Highbridge ambulance station. One of her drivers from the Highbridge days has been in touch and has sent an old photo of my ambulance outside the station in the early 70’s. She ended her service at Highbridge and went onto the Red Cross. This is where Kev got her hence now me.
I just wonder if mine is the same one used on the post cards you can get?
The family love her and the kids love to ride in her all the time. It’s a great vehicle for picking the kids up from school because they all want a ride in her. I will do more shows in 2005 and hopefully more television work. But I enjoy driving her even when you sit so straight that you can’t get out at the other end. I will use her to collect money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance and just enjoy it. She now has a shiny new stainless exhaust and I may repaint her the next winter. But for now it’s the show season
Please say hello if you see her and come and have a look. I hope to see you at the shows thank you for reading this and hope you have enjoyed it and maybe it will inspire you to build your own Landrover.
I am indebted to Paul for allowing me to publish the above text and photos and duly acknowledge his contribution.
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