Dorothy Peters treasured this photograph of her posing with Land Rover number 16 for 70 years – and then a chance encounter saw her and the 4×4 reunited
As a 15-year-old girl in post-war Britain Dorothy Peters joined newly-formed Land Rover to work on the very first off-roaders to be built.
She had joined the service department in 1946, at the firm’s factory, in Solihull, near Birmingham, as the original Series 1 Land Rover was being produced.
The Land Rover had its world debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948 and one of those brand new 4X4s held a special place in Dorothy’s heart – the 16th off the line, which she was photographed with before they even went on sale.
For seven decades she had that photograph, always wondering what it would have been like to have been driven in it.
And then, aged 87, a chance encounter this year meant she was not only reunited with the very same off-roader that she worked on all those decades ago – but also fulfilled her life-long ambition of taking a spin in it.
The road to an emotional reunion, which left her in tears, began in June this year, when Dorothy attended Land Rover’s 70th celebration festival event at the Lode Lane factory, in Solihull, the town in which she was born.
She took with her a photograph album of her time working at the plant, which during the war had served as a secret and camouflaged ‘shadow factory’, to avoid being bombed by the Luftwaffe targeting industrial sites in nearby Birmingham and Coventry.
Little did she suspect that particular black and white post war Britain picture would trigger events that would reunite her with her very special Series 1 Land Rover – number 16 off the production line.
The current owner of Land Rover number 16 is Mike Bishop, who works for the firm’s classic division. Dorothy showed him her photograph at a Land Rover celebration and he arranged for her to be reunited with the car
Dorothy said: ‘I just showed him this photograph and could not believe the reaction’
Mike Bishop, Land Rover Classic’s Reborn division engineering specialist and heritage expert spotted the fading photograph of Dorothy posing jauntily next to the very car he now owned – registration HNX 331.
He decided to celebrate in a way he hoped she would never forget –including a drive around the factory’s testing off-road route called The Jungle Track.
Over the course of the following weeks the Land Rover team at Solihull worked with Dorothy’s daughter and granddaughters to create a day full of surprises.
Then they brought her back to Solihull and the car she posed next to 70 years earlier.
Dorothy with her friends at Land Rover – then still Rover – in the late 1940s
Dorothy’s identity card from her days building the first Land Rovers in Solihull, from July 1946
Shedding a tear and a sharing an emotional hug as Mike Bishop reunited her with her cherished Land Rover, Dorothy said: ‘I couldn’t believe the reaction to my pictures. I had no idea this one conversation would take me on a journey down memory lane and on the wonderful off-road track at Solihull.’
‘I just showed him this photograph and could not believe the reaction. And it’s green. My photographs are black and white. I could not remember the colour.’
Dorothy Peters with owner of Land Rover 16, Mike Bishop, at the emotional reunion
Mike took Dorothy for a drive around the off-road route know as the Jungle Track
As the classic Land Rover took Dorothy through mud, steep inclines, and water, she held her head in her hands excitedly and said: ’Am I dreaming? Oh my goodness, it is amazing this vehicle can cope.
‘This is wonderful. I’ve never driven a Land Rover before. Ever. What a splendid idea to do this. I’ll tell everyone.’
‘I’m so grateful. I’m going to go all emotional.’
She added: ‘The opportunity to share this day with my daughter and granddaughters was a wonderful surprise. And to see how different the factory is today was very special. It all felt like a dream and I won’t ever forget it.’
Dorothy aged 15, with her mother in 1946, the year she sought a job at Rover, which then built the Land Rover at Solihull
Reflecting on her time at the factory, for which she had her original identity card from July 1946, she said: ’Of course it was called Rover then. We’d not heard of Land Rover.
‘My mother came with me to the factory to see what jobs were there. I was 15. I had little white ankle socks on, and sandles.’
The roof was so high that birds would lay eggs in nests in the rafter, she noted.
Dorothy said of when she met Mike Bishop: ‘I had no idea this conversation would take me on a journey down memory lane’
Owner of Land Rover number 16, Mr Bishop said of their chance encounter: ‘I was approached by a very charming lady with some pictures of her time at Solihull. But I had no idea we would share a special connection to number 16.
I knew instantly we needed to reunite them
‘I said: “Well you know who owns this Land Rover?… I do.”
‘Her enthusiasm for the company and this vehicle in particular was wonderful – as was her surprise when she discovered I now owned the car. I knew instantly we needed to reunite them.’
Land Rover captured the emotional reunion on film and Dorothy and her friends were given a preview in a special screening at Dorothy’s retirement home.