Richard Shackleton’s ultra-rare, 1960 Volkswagen T2 pick-up appears little changed from when it was found after almost 40 years in a barn. But all’s not what it seems, as Nick Larkin discovers.
‘It is finished!’ That message is proudly displayed on a bumper sticker adorning Richard Shackleton’s extraordinary, show-winning, 1960 Volkswagen T2 pick-up. But many a person has, most likely to their later embarrassment, responded with the words, ‘really?’. Or even, ‘honestly?’. Hate to say this, but you can’t help but think of comedy legend, Victor Meldrew, uttering an enormous: ’I don’t belieeeevvve it!’
All this is understandable. The VW’s bumper isn’t gleaming white but well, to be blunt, it’s rusty. The paintwork is – where it’s not missing – duller than an illustrated history of shoelaces. The signwriting appears worn away in places and, overall, observers may be forgiven for wrongly thinking there’s an air of neglect about this vehicle.
But, hang on. Look closely and you might well get suspicious about all this. Though the cab displays 1960s overspray on the door trims, it’s suspiciously clean, and boasts new seat squabs and an immaculately painted dashboard. Then, hoping you will get up again, drop to your knees and peer under this VW, you’ll find everything gleaming like new, without a spot of rust.
So, what’s going on? Is the VW’s owner a cad and a bounder, pulling the wool over our eyes? We should be told! But not until we’ve heard about the vehicle’s somewhat amazing history.
Pick-up put away
A lot happened in 1969. There was the moon landing, Concorde flew for the first time, Ford launched the Capri and British Leyland launched the Austin Maxi. Oh, and at, 64,000 miles, the clutch went on a black and red Volkswagen pick-up, registration 2113 HX, belonging to a farmer based near High Wycombe, Bucks.
The nine-year-old vehicle was shoved in a barn in disgust, and would remain there for the next few decades. Research has revealed that the pick-up had been new to Volkswagen distributors, European Cars Ltd, of 554 London Road, Ashford in Middlesex; hence the HX registration.
European Cars also had a base at Old Brompton Road, London SW7. As well as selling vehicles, this concern also marketed the EC Slumberwagen; a VW van conversion with elevated roof, a 6ft 4in double bed, bunks for two children, full-length wardrobe, two-burner gas cooker and even cutlery. In 1966, the firm opened a Reading branch where, apparently, the pick-up was based, before its sale to Mr High Wycombe Area Farmer.
Prime ministers and, indeed, a Millennium, came and went, but the pick-up simply stood, remaining unmoved even when the roof of the barn partly collapsed, largely exposing it to the elements.
Eventually, the farm was sold to a coal merchant and reports of the vehicle’s presence reached the ears of local Volkswagen enthusiast, Tony Chamberlain in about 2006. Tony was refuelling his split-screen VW camper at a garage, when the farm’s new owner came over and said: ‘I’ve got one of those!’
Amazed that the elusive pick-up was in a building he’d driven past thousands of times, Tony went to see the VW, surrounded by old farm machinery and nestling beneath a broken, corrugated roof. That was in 2008, and the owner didn’t want to sell. But in 2013, Tony’s patience was rewarded, a deal agreed, and the pick-up was unearthed, before being taken to the VolksWorld show in ‘as found’ condition.
In August 2013, present owner Richard, enters the story. He’d called at Tony’s ‘treasure trove’ to borrow an engine, after his (still owned today) immaculately-restored, 1966 Volkswagen Camper, Devon conversion, failed on a trip to France. “We always liked camping and, being Volkswagen fans, it seemed inevitable that we’d end up with a classic camper,” Richard explained.
Seeing the pick-up, Richard asked if Tony wanted to sell it. “I won’t mention the reply,” Richard, who runs a building company, recalled. Tony and Amanda took the pick-up with them when they and their collection moved to Northern Ireland but, in 2018, decided to sell their vehicles.
Finally, it’s mine!
“We exchanged messages, and spoke on the phone, then the deal was done. All I had to do was fetch it from County Fermanagh!” recalls Richard. Once he’d got the pick-up back in the Midlands, the strip-down began. “I’d spoken to several restorers, and settled on Dave Haywood at Haywood Classic and Custom and, on July 7th, we took it over to Kenilworth,” Richard told me.
“I wanted as little metal as possible to be removed, but the structural rot had to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the lower floor, and all chassis items, were toast.” Richard decided that he wanted to take the pick-up to the legendary Ninove Freddy Files VW Show, in Belgium, during March 2019. “Haywood Classic and Custom worked like troopers early that year, getting it back to me on the February 24th, which left me two-and-a-half weeks to finish it. That was a major task!”
Although extensive panel repairs were needed, a massive effort was made to retain the VW’s barn-find feel, and to blend in the new paint. The deck and its supporting panel, plus the cab rear panel and some of the dropside, all needed painting. During the restoration, part of the original signwriting for European Cars was found and replicated.
However, the original front panel was not only rotten, but had been replaced in the vehicle’s service days, with a later unit incorporating bullet indicators, so it was replaced, too. During this process, a 1969 tax disc was found, together with an Embassy cigarette packet and some Mobil tokens. A new windscreen and rubbers were also fitted.
Mechanically, the original, 1,192cc engine was found to be seized, so was put aside for possible restoration. I was replaced ‘for now’ with a 1,600cc unit. The gearbox and running gear were dismantled, degreased and repainted, all by Richard. New master and slave cylinders were also fitted, together with a replacement wiring loom. Finally, the pick-up was finished. “It made it to Ninove and back, with only a minor issue with the lights, so it was happy days,’ Richard said.
Next the pick-up was taken to the Split Screen Van Club’s (SSVC) AGM and rally, where it won the Van of the Year accolade. The vehicle also appeared on the SSVC stand at the 2019 Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show, at the NEC. “Loads of people came over to talk about the pick-up, including someone who used to live around the corner from European Cars in Reading, and remembered that the company had two VW vans as well as the pick-up.”
Sadly, nobody could help with further information needed to enable Richard to reunite 2113 HX with its original registration number, and this issue remains unresolved. Despite a couple of appeals, the DVLA has refused to reallocate, despite the discovery of the original tax disc, and VW’s build sheet, which shows that the vehicle was built on February 10th, 1960, and exported to Britain on the 18th.
The vehicle was originally registered in Middlesex and, although we know the ‘HX’ suffix was used in February 1960, the original Middlesex County Council licensing records have – along with all others that passed to the Greater London Council – been destroyed.
Whatever it may look like from the outside, Richard’s VW certainly drives extremely well. The driving position is excellent and performance is significant, thanks to the 1,600cc engine. The clutch is relatively light, the steering free from significant wander and the ride is exemplary. The whole vehicle has a quality of finish, and it’s no wonder that these Volkswagens were so popular across the world.
Unsurprisingly, Richard intends to leave his vehicle exactly as it is, with all the visible signs of its history and use. “I do get people asking when it’ll be finished, but I want to retain the look of a barn find that has just been given a quick clean. I hope people like it like that!”
CAN YOU HELP?
Owner Richard Shackleton would welcome any information enabling the Volkswagen to be reunited with its original number.
He asks if anyone remembers any of the European Cars Ltd sites in Old Brompton Road (now a Ferrari dealer), London Road in Ashford, Middlesex, (now occupied by McDonalds), or the Reading branch at 1-11 St George’s Road, which is now operated by DLC Cars. Please email Richard at: email@example.com if you can help.
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