HUGH’S ECO MAKOVER
As featured in Land Rover Monthly magazine.
Champion of ecological right mindedness, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall begins a restoration project with a difference.
Over the years LRM has been involved in quite a few Land Rover makeover projects. Usually the owner is hoping that his vehicle will come out of the process looking like a concourse winner – if not even better. So we were a little taken aback when it came to discussing our latest project vehicle with its owner, TV chef and food expert, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. With a passion for eco-sustainability, Hugh had a completely different set of criteria for his battered and, let’s face it, abused 90. He clearly loves his Land Rover and sees it as the ultimate recyclable vehicle – one that can be made to go on and on without consuming too much of the planet’s limited resources. But he also recognises that nothing lasts forever and sometimes a little remedial action is called for.
So it was that our recent conversation revolved around what was absolutely necessary to be done and what would be just unnecessary frippery. As we all stood around the vehicle outside Hugh’s River Cottage base in Devon, he pointed out all the things he likes about it – the dents, scratches, peeling dull paintwork and all round hardworking integrity. While all those things are entirely commendable, of course, the vehicle was a bit of a rat’s nest on the inside – really not suitable transport for Hugh’s wife and three children. So a safety check and mechanical overhaul, replacement seats in the front and new ones in the rear, a solid roll-over bar and a new canvas to replace the cruddy crew cab and Ifor Williams hard top, were first items on the menu. The chassis is in a poor state but will have to be dealt with after the next round of filming for Hugh’s TV programme. So, too, will the vehicle’s conversion to veg-oil, about which Hugh is particularly excited and which is likely to form part of a future River Cottage TV episode.
Though he has a reputation for being ‘a bit of a character’, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is utterly charming, polite and a gracious host. His passion, of course, is for cooking, food and the countryside, but his enthusiasm for Land Rovers is also very evident. “I’ve dabbled with various Land Rovers and always enjoyed them”, he says. He first had a Series II ‘in the beginning’ and then, before River Cottage, he kitted out a Series II 109 as the ‘Gastro-wagon’ for his A Cook on the Wild Side programme. “The rear of the Gastro-wagon folded out to make a complete kitchen and there was an upturned boat on the roof to sleep in,” recalls Hugh.
But what of his present 90? How did he come about that. “Well”, he chuckles, “we had a 90 before which we acquired from Tim Rudkin, our local Land Rover specialist. It went very well but I have to say that we didn’t look after it very well. “We took it to Scotland for the River Cottage road trip series and it conked out. There was a problem with the radiator, it ran out of water and it all went horribly wrong.” The filming needed to go on, of course, so they started looking around for a back up but without much luck. “A couple of days later we were filming in the lowlands, doing some lovely long shots, when we noticed a little red dot coming round the corner in the distance”. As the dot drew closer it became clear that it was a red Land Rover almost the spitting image of the one that they had blown up a few days earlier. “We’d managed to save the old canvas cover from our previous one,” says Hugh, “so we popped that over the hardtop – the only thing you could spot that was different was the number plate.” They went on filming in Scotland for the rest of that week and the Land Rover ‘went very well’. You can probably guess the rest of the story. “The kind person who had hired it out to us for the week agreed a deal and we bought it off him. So it came back south and it’s been my Land Rover ever since. That was about four years ago”. Hugh says he has ‘dabbled’ with various Land Rovers over the years. On the farm he’s towed a bailer and a harrow and generally used a Land Rover as a ‘mini tractor’. “It does all that kind of stuff for us.” he says. He doesn’t venture very far from home in it as, in its current condition, it’s not really a family vehicle. “It does work for us, though, it’s a real, genuine utility vehicle” Hugh says he’s “very excited about all aspects of this project but mostly, from my personal perspective, the veg oil conversion is fantastic”.
Very much a conservationist, Hugh is conscious of the fact that Land Rovers are not the most fuel efficient of vehicles. They drink a fair amount of fossil fuel and he’s firmly of the belief that if he can reduce his own personal dependency on diesel, then that would be a good thing. With a supply of suitable vegetable oil-based fuel readily available close by, Hugh plans to purchase 200 litres at a time and use it when he needs it. “It’s a nice enterprise that we’re doing with you”, he says, “because we’re recycling the whole machine [his 90] into another phase where we’ll feel good about keeping it for another five years or so. Then we might have another go at it.” He says he wants it to ‘work harder’ as a family vehicle so that he can do things like collect the kids from school. Obviously, he says, he’ll feel much better about doing that in a Land Rover that is properly prepared with a protective cage and forward facing rear seats with safety belts. in the countryside
I wondered what Hugh’s views are about 4x4s in the countryside, about which he was non-commital. “I’ve never got involved with the politics of what type of vehicles should or shouldn’t go into which parts of the country. I’m not going to start picking quarrels with people who drive 4x4s in town or off-road in the country.” The anxiety he does express, however, is with the vehicle’s lack of fuel efficiency. “A Land Rover’s not that bad, but it’s not that fuel efficient,” he says. “Until now I’ve been burning fossil fuels – as I have in every other car I’ve ever had. My wife has just bought a Toyota Prius hybrid and we’ve had vehicles on LPG – but to go to a fully renewable fuel, vegetable oil, that’s great. “Of course there’s another whole argument about veg oil if it’s based on crops, but if it’s based on recycled cooking oils, that’s fine”. He would, he says, really encourage diesel Land Rover owners to think about a veg oil conversion. “I think it’s a very exciting option if you want to feel that you are a green driver. If you want to offset some of the anxiety about having relatively poor fuel efficiency you can do that by going for a recycled fuel”.
Though a high profile person, Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall is very much a down to earth individual. He has often had a substantial impact on our way of thinking – not least his recent highly commendable campaign to improve the lives and conditions of intensively raised chickens on British farms. Like many well known media people, his reputation is somewhat larger than life. In reality he’s a person with his priorities very much set on what he regards as most important – things like sustainability and quality of life. Other things tend to matter a little less. Like the condition of his Land Rover. Hugh handed over the keys. “That is the door key.” he said. “The front end’s broken off in the lock, but you just put the remainder of the key in and turn it”. We’ve all been there…READ PART TWO