HOODED & CAGED

As featured in Land Rover Monthly magazine.

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall doesn’t approve of creatures in cages, but he’s happy with the new ones on his 90.

ONE OF the most fascinating aspects of the vehicle makeovers that we run in LRM is that it allows us to see behind the scenes at a whole bunch of Land Rover specialists. We all see the products at shows, on the internet, in magazines or on other people’s vehicles, but it’s not always obvious how much work and knowledge goes into their creation. Our current ‘celebrity’ makeover is a classic example of that. It’s attention to detail that turns an ordinary product into a great one, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s 300 Tdi 90 was on the receiving end of some market-leading products as part of it’s transformation from tired farm hack to an eco-friendly, family-friendly all-rounder.

First the 90 was collected from Hugh’s River Cottage HQ in Devon for a journey further west into Cornwall for a Qt cage fitting. After that the journey headed east again to the north Somerset home of Exmoor Trim for a new hood and seats. Both companies are renowned for the quality of their products and, when you see how their manufacturing facilities operate,it’s easy to understand why.

Certified
Dave, whose long and illustrious competitive off-road career began with the ALRC, still competes with his Wildcat team both in speed events and trials. The Wildcats are subject to ALRC and RACMSA rules under which safety is the number one requirement. Protective cages are vital to that and have to meet the most stringent specifications. “We have the steel tube drawn specifically for us and it comes with its own manufacturing certification,” says Dave. They order five or six thousand metres of cold drawn seamless (CDS) tube at a time which they work and shape using a six-metre mandrel pipe bender. “It allows us to maintain control and standards,” says Dave. Which is a philosophy that Exmoor Trim would agree with. They too, use the right equipment for the job – like the massive computer controlled machines that precision cut batches of material into panels for, seats hoods and trim in one smooth and efficient operation. Costly this kind of machinery may be but ultimately, if it eliminates inconsistencies and saves time, then it’s a worthwhile expense. Something that both companies share is their refusal to manufacture down to a cost – as Julian puts it: “if someone demands a product cheaper, then I ask them which part of it they don’t want”. While companies whose products don’t meet customers’ demands through the use of low grade materials and poor manufacturing techniques tend to eventually go out of business, it’s good to learn that both Exmoor and Qt are busy with healthy order books.

What recession?
While Julian admits that Exmoor Trim’s move to trade only was pretty scary for a while, and Dave concedes that Qt had a quiet time during the autumn of 2008 when the financial crisis first bit, both stuck to their beliefs and it’s paid off. “We’ve been very busy making both Wildcats and Qt bits,” says Dave. “We now employ ten people on three different sites – the Wildcats are made in Plymouth and we had to open new offices and stores because we just ran out of space.”

A new unit
It’s the same story at Exmoor Trim where they have just moved their hood making operation to a new unit specially fitted out for the task. Heavy duty sewing machines and giant table tops allow the hoods to be stitched and constructed in the best possible environment. For Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s 90 they fitted a sand coloured Mohair full hood to what had been a standard truck cab. The cab roof and centre bulkhead had been removed at Qt, so a galvanised hood stick set including the windscreen clamp and door top fitting were first installed by Exmoor – that’s the beauty of a Land Rover, the ultimate customisable vehicle. The Qt cage needed to fit within the hood sticks and allow for a set of Exmoor Trim’s Lock and Fold forward facing rear seats. The cage, which includes seat belt mounting points, is mounted to the rear crossmember to allow space for the seats and to maximise available load space. Exmoor’s Lock and Fold seats are, the company are the first to admit, not cheap. Built on a massively strong frame, when fitted in conjunction with the Qt cage, they offer rear passengers about as much protection as it’s possible to achieve in a soft top Land Rover.

Modular solution
With back seat passengers safe and secure, Hugh and his two front seat passengers are now equally comfortable sitting on Exmoor Trim’s modular seats. They are fished in Outlast fabric, a very tough thermal material, ideal for Hugh’s casual approach to vehicle tidiness. Dave Marsh describes the fitting of his cage to Hugh’s vehicle as “fairly routine; it’s the kind of thing we do regularly”. Qt cages can be supplied for DIY fitting or the job can be done either at their Cornwall premises, or through agents Cheviot 4×4 in the north and Challenger 4×4 in the south. “There were no special problems, other than that the chassis was in a rather poor condition,” says Dave. First they removed the truck cab and Ifor Williams hardtop then bolted the pre-fabricated cage onto brackets welded onto the chassis. A receiving bracket is formed onto the outer legs of the rear crossmember inner face and the cage’s rear legs pass through the loadbay floor to be bolted in place. The front legs each end in a spreader plate which is bolted through the floor onto further brackets welded onto the chassis rails, just behind the centre bulkhead. A simple and very effective solution and one, it has to be said, that gives a visually very pleasing result that fits the vehicle’s appearance completely.

The roll hoop sits comfortably within the profile of the hood and, with the canvas in place there’s nothing at all to show on the outside that there’s an internal …making for a snug fit and quicker removal and fitting of the hood. cage fitted. Which makes fitting the hood a simple matter. Once again, Exmoor’s standardisation and close manufacturing tolerances make for a clean, neat and tidy finished job. First task, of course, is to fit the hood sticks which Exmoor Trim supply in a fully galvanised kit. Firstly the hoops themselves are bolted to the tub cappings and the horizontal bars attached. Next come the door drain channels and the over door channels which are aligned and then tightened down.

Nuts and bolts
The trickiest bit is to carefully fit the windscreen channel. It holds the leading edge of the hood in place at its most vulnerable spot. Four holes need to be drilled then the channel, into which a seal is fitted, is bolted using rocker clamps, spring and Nyloc nut onto the top of the windscreen frame. Hugh chose Exmoor Trim’s Mohair hood which has a fixing arrangement utilising popper studs along the lower edge. These again require the bodywork to be drilled out and studs fitted – a simple enough job and one that makes for a far more stylish and user-friendly hood than the old rope-tie kind. Add to that the heavy duty plastic zippers that allow the back and sides to be rolled up and you have a thoroughly desirable piece of kit. As Hugh’s 90 is to be fitted with rear seats, a side window hood was the obvious way to go. The plastic windows make a huge difference for rear seat passengers and seem to fit the 90 profile perfectly.

READ PART THREE