Land Rovers are so popular and commonplace that we rarely even notice them when they appear on television. Set in North Yorkshire in the late Sixties, the Yorkshire Television series Heartbeat ran for 372 episodes from April 1992 until September 2010; regularly used to feature Land Rovers, just as any good show set in the countryside should.
Period realism was a key factor underlining this TV series’ success and for classic vehicle enthusiasts, Heartbeat was an opportunity to wallow in nostalgia as they tried to spot the cars of their youth.
Set, as it was in a rural landscape, a number of Series Land Rovers were to be seen over the years. Heartbeat’s first district nurse, Nurse Maggie Bolton, played by Kazia Pelka from 1995-2001, drove a Series One, registration MXG 404.
Series 2 Land Rover
And a Land Rover was also chosen for Maggie Bolton’s replacement, Nurse Carol Cassidy, played by Lisa Kay from 2006-2010, notably this short-wheel base Series IIA that still carries its authentic, original 1967 issued registration – KDN 651E.
Strictly speaking, it’s likely that district nurses would have been given a Morris 1000 to conduct their country rounds in the sixties; any thought of the National Health Service shelling out more than twice as much for a Land Rover, as opposed to a cheaper ‘Moggy’ being most unlikely!
However, this divergence from strict historical accuracy didn’t upset admiring Land Rover fans such as Andy Caple, who went a step further by buying the Land Rover Nurse Cassidy once drove.
“I’d owned a Discovery before, although I never really considered this was a proper Land Rover, he says. “I’d wanted a Series model since I was a teenager, and in view of this one being featured on the Heartbeat television series, it had that extra factor making its ownership a lot more interesting for shows and events.”.
As a further incentive, Andy was taken by how well the vehicle had been restored by Peter May Classic Land Rovers of Harrogate. The vehicle was registered to Peter’s mother, Diane May from June 1994 to April 2006, and then again from September 2009 to January 2011. In the intervening period it was owned by a firm called Classic Action Vehicles who hired it out for filming Heartbeat. According to Andy’s research KDN 651E had a starring role in at least 71 episodes.
The original restoration by Peter May involved fitting a galvanised chassis, an engine rebuild, a new Zenith carburettor, a new petrol tank and wiring loom, together with many suspension parts, overdrive, and the repairs or replacement of a number of body panels and sections of the floor.
When Andy spotted KDN 651E on a Yorkshire classic car dealer’s internet site in October 2012, its TV history prompted him to make a snap decision to buy it sight-unseen.
His only subsequent reservation was that the previous owner had replaced the canvas top with a tropical insulated roof, and the tailgate had been changed for a rear door.
The lack of the canvas top was a serious drawback, as the vehicle was often seen on television with the sides raised and tightly rolled up to roof height whenever filming took place on sunny occasions. Luckily, the canvas top and sticks came as part of the deal, also the missing tailgate to replace the non-original rear door.
In view of his previous involvement with the vehicle, Andy contacted Peter May and the Land Rover was delivered to Peter’s workshop in North Yorkshire for any faults to be rectified, plus a few improvements to be carried out.
“When I spoke to Peter, he said he was going on holiday, so his father, Brian, took the job on,” Andy recalled. “He rebuilt the steering box and carried out quite a few other jobs.
“After collecting the Land Rover, I took KDN to Goathland, location of ‘Aidensfield’ in the TV series, where Phil Hopkinson had organised the annual classic vehicle show which is based around Heartbeat vehicles.
“But KDN suffered fuel starvation due to a blocked fuel pipe, so Brian immediately offered to solve the problem, even though this involved a long drive, the repair was done out on the village green in Goathland, for which he refused to accept any payment.”
Andy’s Land Rover doesn’t appear to have suffered any bodily damage during filming apart from a few scratches on the tailgate where a camera had been mounted so that other vehicles could be filmed as they travelled along behind.
In addition to playing a working role as a camera car, KDN was used for towing a trailer carrying film equipment and scenery props.
After refitting the original canvas top, Andy was concerned the material was now getting beyond its best, so he asked Exmoor Trim if he could buy a replacement canvas in the original shade of blue. He found out this colour was no longer in stock, however, Exmoor Trim’s managing director eventually phoned to say production had been resumed to meet growing customer demand, and as KDN was in such fine condition, a replacement canvas could be provided at cost if Andy was prepared to photograph his Land Rover with the new canvas installed.
This duly took place on the shores of Windermere and KDN now graces Exmoor Trim’s catalogue and adverts. The old canvas has been preserved for posterity.
Future improvements are to include a new battery box, and maybe some attention to the rear springs, as a bit of play has been detected on the leaf-spring shackles.
In the latest Heartbeat DVD Andy’s acquired, KDN is depicted in a scene where it is seen plunging through an open farm gateway at full pelt, with all four wheels clearly off the ground! Andy is looking forward to the release of the last two Heartbeat DVDs in expectation of viewing more of his Land Rover’s adventurous exploits!