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Emrys Kirby: My Life With Land Rovers

Emrys Kirby: My Life With Land Rovers

Emrys Kirby: My Life With Land Rovers

As we get more immersed in the Land Rover lifestyle and community, we discover people equally as passionate about their 4x4s as many of us at Heritage have ever been about flat fours or even flat sixes. It has been a pleasure to sit down and chat with Emrys Kirby, an author, restorer and lifelong enthusiast of the marque, to discover what makes him tick. 

From 2 years old... 

Emrys was born in 1974 in Inverness, Scotland. His father was a Forest Manager, so naturally, he had a Land Rover for work, and both of his parents had a bold sense of adventure. Aged just 2, the Kirby family packed up their Series 2 Land Rover and set their sights on the relatively 'tourist-free' Iceland, spending a month camping and exploring as much as they could, away from the roads. It’s fair to say this trip has had quite an impact as earlier this year, Emrys and his wife recreated the same trip again in an almost identical vehicle. 

Growing up in a rural area, Emrys had plenty of opportunities to 'have a go' and by the age of 11, he was pretty proficient behind the wheel. His older brother drove a Land Rover and was most encouraging of his early enthusiasm, frequently handing over the keys on private driveways and farming fields to help hone his brother's skills. 

Old photo of Emrys and brother sat on series 2 Land Rover Old photo of Emrys and brother sat on series 2 Land Rover

The first restoration 

Back in the early 90's Emrys was living in the highlands with his parents, and his neighbours had a ratty old Land Rover they were restoring. He jumped at the opportunity to get involved, seeing it as was in his words "the ultimate in Meccano engineering." A few years later, the neighbours sold the vehicle to Emrys's family, and the car still belongs to him today, living on the same farm in Scotland, albeit it has been subject to a full and thorough restoration to far more exacting standards the second time around. 

Emrys aged 20 with his first Land RoverEmrys aged 20 with his first Land Rover

The write stuff!

10 years ago, Emrys joined the ranks as a Classic Land Rover magazine staff writer. Having previously been a contributor to the Land Rover Series 1 club magazine, he was invited by the club's then-magazine editor, John Carroll to join the team at his new magazine.

Whilst he didn't know it at the time, this was another step up the writing ladder, which eventually led him to publish a book. Although the book wasn't a job he applied for in the conventional sense, Emrys reveals "My name was put forward" comically adding "If anyone ever asks you to write a book, run a mile!"

Whilst it's a piece of work Emrys is rightly very proud of, it took 18 months to complete, including 120,000 words and over 1,000 images, which doesn't just instruct on how to buy and build a Land Rover Series 2, 2A and 3 as Emrys points out "Land Rovers are often a collection of parts, and there is a broad range of interchangeability between models. Things aren't always as simple as the workshop manual makes them out to be!"

Emrys Kirby book - Land Rover Series II, IIA and III Restoration manual.Emrys Kirby book - Land Rover Series II, IIA and III Restoration manual.
Land Rover Series III Restoration Land Rover Series III Restoration

Personal interest

Despite his mechanical aptitude for restoring anything with a Land Rover badge, it is Emrys' interest in Stage 1 V8 Prototypes that really gets him excited. In fact, he owns two of the eleven ever made and the only examples with the Station Wagon bodywork. The blue example has been sympathetically restored whilst the green one is awaiting recommissioning after only recently joining the fold. 

As the name suggests, these vehicles were created as the forerunner to the V8-powered Series and Defender models, and they tell a great tale of a time when Land Rover was maybe at their most creative, albeit the finances weren't there to back it up.

Emrys Kirby Stage 1 V8 Land Rover Station WagonEmrys Kirby Stage 1 V8 Land Rover Station Wagon
Emrys Kirby Land Rover Stage 1 V8 Prototype Stationwagon Green Emrys Kirby Land Rover Stage 1 V8 Prototype Stationwagon Green

Cracking collection 

As you would expect from someone so fanatical about the 4x4, Emrys has ammased quite the collection of vehicles over the past few decades. He was kind enough to talk me through what he's got lurking in the barn!

Working chronologically, the list starts with a pair of 1950 Series 1, and a 1957 Series 1 that belongs to his wife. There's a grey 1968 Series 2a, which is the vehicle they have just brought back from a trip to Iceland, and the closest he could find the the example he went in as a toddler. 

Then, still up in Scotland on the family farm is the 1972 Series 3 that he restored as a teenager with his neighbour, then the afforementioned pair of Stage 1 V8 prototypes. 

A 1980 Series 3 6 cylinder is the next on the list. Emrys reveales it's lived on the same farm for 40 years, and it just so happens that is the same farm that he has a workshop, and so whilst the keys now hang in a different house, the Landy remains a resident at the same rural address!

His first proper rebuild was a 1984 Series 3 which he bought when he was 20, which is also in his garage, along with a 1985 '90 which he's owned for 22 years.

Emrys Kirby Land Rover Series 1 RedEmrys Kirby Land Rover Series 1 Red
Emrys Kirby Blue Land Rover DefenderEmrys Kirby Blue Land Rover Defender
Emrys Kirby with blue V8 Stage 1 Land Rover at GoodwoodEmrys Kirby with blue V8 Stage 1 Land Rover at Goodwood
Emrys Kirby Blue Land Rover Series 3 Emrys Kirby Blue Land Rover Series 3

Working for others

Already a keen amateur, Emrys started working for a local Land Rover restorer in 2018 and explains. "This meant I could develop my skills further and I discovered an attention to detail and an enthusiasm beyond just building run-of-the-mill cars. I was also able to capture hundreds of 'how to' photos which became essential later on when writing my restoration manual."

In 2022, thanks to a change in personal circumstances, Emrys was able to turn his enthusiasm into starting his own hobby business which allows him to restore vehicles of interest for himself, but also for selected friends and contacts. He proudly reels off a few recent projects to give me a taster. "There's been a restoration on a beautiful original Series III, a patina restoration of a Series IIA 1-ton, a resto mod Series III as well as restoring the chassis and bulkhead on a rare development Land Rover."

Impressed by that list, I'm intrigued with what might come next, to which I'm informed: "Future projects will include an early Discovery, a Ministry of Supply Series 1 and an ex-Southern Electricity Board Series IIA."  With Emrys letting on that "building someone else's dream vehicle is where my enthusiasm lies these days." 

The dream build?

It's only natural when chatting to someone so enthused by these vehicles, that you question what their dream build might be. You may not be surprised to hear that it is another development vehicle and one that never made it all the way to production. 

Emrys explains more. "The SD5 was a new Land Rover concept, that was instigated in 1974, destined to take over from the Series 3. It was a modular build vehicle with a new suspension set-up. It was a bold-looking design, although it never got further than a chassis with a wooden mockup body on top." When quizzed if he has the skills to pull it off, Emyrs answered confidently "I do a lot of fabrication work, so I could create the SD5 body quite easily." 

For the British Leyland nerds amongst us, that's the same 'SD' Specialist Division that worked on the Rover SD1 and the Triumph SD2. However, there seems to be no record of the SD3 or SD4 that we can find! 

So, there you have it... If you see one at a Land Rover show in a few years' time, and wonder what it is, then we managed to persuade Emrys it would be a good idea to build!

Our thanks to Emrys for spending some time chatting with us, and also sending over so many great photos of his vehicles. 


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