Before we go any further, I must say that I am a long way from being an authority. My interest in the SXF vehicles lies purely in my wife's SXF870 (called ‘Fido’, because ‘Rover’ was a silly name!). Looking into its history led to the compilation of a database based on the Series 1 Club's published records. This showed that SXF is numerically the largest group of ex-Home Office vehicles (which have proved ideal restoration projects because of their very low mileage before civilian release). Other registration letters are FUV and RGC, but neither approaches the 90 Land-Rovers that I now have on record (as well as a few other vehicles like Bedford RL ‘Green Goddess’ Fire Tenders and Austin K9 Control Vans). I think it's fair to say that there can't be another British registration letter combination that has so many preserved examples at this sort of age.
As the full list shows, the numbers were issued in batches, but not in any overall numerical order. Although the chassis and engine numbers aren't included in the database, quick research seems to suggest that there was no direct correlation between chassis and registration order (although probably each registration batch was composed of vehicles produced within a short time of each other). Neither was any one batch destined for any particular service, with Civil Defence and Auxiliary Fire Service vehicles, and soft-tops and hard-tops mixed together. However, I don't place complete faith in the descriptions or details of original ownership as given in the Club Register, as the Land-Rover is an obvious candidate for later body modification, and unless one has the original brown log book from the 50s it's not easy to be sure just which service was issued with the vehicle from new.
Fido's log book shows 15/2/57 as the original registration date, and the Secretary of State at the Home Office as the first owner. It's interesting that the SXF with the highest number on my records should be from the first batch registered! In October 1957 she was re-registered to the Town Clerk of Manchester Corporation (and clearly did her Civil Defence Reconnaissance duties in that city). In October 68 she returned to the Home Office, and then (probably after a couple of years in store) was registered in June 70 to Peter Ward (he of Haflinger fame), who used her as the general breakdown tender for his garage business in Lealholm near Whitby.
In October 71 he sold her to a smallholder in Westerdale, from whom Anthea bought her in June 1974. Seeing her advertised in the Whitby Gazette, I approached Peter for his advice on what to look out for when purchasing a Land-Rover – we had become good friends in 72 (after he'd sold her), but I had no idea that he knew the vehicle so intimately. He naturally gave her the strongest recommendation, and she's done us proud ever since. Peter says there was only something like 12,000 miles on the clock when he bought her (at 13 years old!), and she still has to achieve the 100,000 at 37. The 650 mile round trip to the 45th Anniversary Rally at Billing was probably her longest trip since leaving Manchester.
We're very lucky still to have the old brown log book. When the new computerised V5 system came in, and everyone had to return old log books for inclusion in the records, it was said that it was quite in order to request the old book back if wanted. Although I did so, when the North Riding County Council sent the new V5, the old book wasn't with it. I immediately rang County Hall in Northallerton, and they said that all the most recent batch of books were in a paper sack outside the back door, ready for waste collection. I stressed how important the old book was to us, and they brought the sack in and rummaged through it. They found the book (unfortunately minus one cover page) and sent it to us – a few minutes later and it might have been shredded and pulped!
My wife's 88" Hard Top ‘Fido’ (SXF870, and so called because ‘Rover’ would be a silly name!) is the highest-numbered SXF on my record, although from the earliest batch registered on 15/2/57. She's essentially a working vehicle, and I've not tried slavishly to preserve originality. I fitted a new bulkhead; she's had a respray (in Ford Diamond White cellulose, to replace the Dulux Brilliant White house paint that a previous owner used!), and the gearbox has been overhauled. Before we went to Billing for the 45th Anniversary Rally, I dropped the sump because I was worried about what sounded like big end knock. I found that she was perfectly OK, and being in a field with 200 others showed that they all sound like that! Unfortunately I should have left well alone, because now I've got a persistent oil leak from the back end of the sump (where the thick rubber gasket is supposed to seal against the front of the clutch housing), and I can't stop it! Any ideas, anyone?
A few things to look out for on the SXFs are the brass Ministry service record plates riveted on the inside of the N/S front wing, near the exhaust pipe (or perhaps near the radiator). Interestingly Fido doesn't appear to have had one (there's no holes to show where one might have been), although all the other SXFs at Billing had them. Some vehicles will also have a selection of small holes drilled in the leading edge of the bonnet, through which was bolted an oval metal box containing two amber lights – I believe that these were used for convoy leading duties. Again, Fido doesn't have them. Owners are also often puzzled by a couple of holes (one above the other, and about 3" apart) at each end of the lower sides of the hardtop, just above the waistline. Sometimes (as in Fido's case) their original use is made clear by pieces of wood bolted through them on the outside of the vehicle – the front one having a chromed turnbuckle, and the back one a metal plate on its outside edge. These were to hold a piece of wood which was lettered with the vehicle's home depot, and could be easily replaced if it moved elsewhere. The garage owner who bought Fido from the Ministry repainted the board with his own business details. On soft-top vehicles there was clearly no equivalent position, so the board was placed lower down in the body sides, where the piece of wood actually ran across the top of the open wheel arch! The presence (or absence) of these holes can often confirm whether or not the vehicle was originally a soft-top.
Radio vehicles had extra large-gauge cables running directly from the battery, under the cab floor and up behind the front seats to supply a couple of multi-way sockets at the top of the bulkhead, into which the radio equipment plugged. I suspect that there were two grades of radio fitment, as Fido had these cables and sockets, with evidence of the radio being installed in place of the centre seat (with the passenger seat moved 2" to the left). She has 12-volt electrics, and conventional ignition screening. A conversation with someone at Billing suggested that there were also 24-volt FFR versions (akin to military radio trucks), but I have no first-hand experience of this. It could be that as Fido was ‘Reconnaissance’ rather than ‘Radio’, her equipment was less sophisticated and power-hungry. Other points to look out for on vehicles which carried radios are a black rubber aerial base (above the driver's head on Fido, and removed before the respray as it was perishing, and leaving black streaks down the roof every time it rained!), and a long, thin open tray with ‘Aerials’ stencilled on it, inside the back of the hardtop above the join between the roof and the side panels, and secured by the bolts that hold the panels together. (See Newsletters 72 and 73 for details of FFR Series Ones.)
A possibly interesting point about the windows in the hardtop version was that I think they were of a configuration which wouldn't be generally available in the UK, where side windows behind the driver would attract purchase tax (now VAT), unless the vehicle could carry 12 passengers. 107 and 109 Station Wagons of all series would do this, of course (although export versions can have the more comfortable 10-seat designation), but the 7-seater SWB station wagon was always at a price premium because of the extra tax. Generally there would be no side windows in either hard or soft tops for the UK market. However, vehicles operated by the Crown were exempt from this tax (compare the hardtops operated in recent years by the Government's Property Services Agency), and so the Civil Defence Land-Rovers could be fitted with side windows. However, the rear door was still of the split tailgate variety, without the little extra windows either side of the upper half that would be fitted to the pukka Station Wagons.
I've been asked about recreating the Civil Defence livery – I'm afraid that I can't offer any advice, as bodywork and paintwork isn't my forté! I'm afraid that Fido has lost her original livery completely – in the right light you could see it was still under the Dulux (along with the word ‘Reconnaissance’ on the panel under the windows on the top half of the doors), but there was no hope of rescuing it at the respray, and we let the sand-blasting take it all off. Steve Myers of Northampton brought SXF582 to Billing in 1993 in a splendidly restored condition, and justifiably won the ‘Best 88"’ Trophy. I understand he did some painstaking work removing paint from around (and on top of!) the old Civil Defence crest transferred onto the front doors, and got a signwriter to recreate the other lettering – it looked great. If there's anyone else with practical experience of rescuing original liveries, then I'm sure the Newsletter Editor would be delighted to hear from you.