FEATURE: Love of a challenge drives Russell the restoration man
Russell Lydford says his wife Sue is very understanding. She describes him as mad as a box of frogs.
But you feel she wouldn’t want it any other way – even when missing kitchen equipment turns up customised as a replacement part for a classic car.
Not much is safe in the Lydford household when Russell, an almost-fanatical doer-up of anything “old and knackered”, needs to improvise.
“If you put anything down he will nick it to make something,” says Sue, who is customer support manager at Taylor Wimpey in Bury.
“He has even taken my Tupperware.”
Ah yes, the Tupperware. “I cut it up to make a light lens for a number plate,” he confesses.
Russell, a plumber and heating engineer, is passionate about restoring classic vehicles and spends every possible moment in his garage/workshop.
The 1946 Chevrolet pick-up on his drive – gleaming cream and black with pristine wood-panelled cargo bed – shows how seriously he takes it.
But you could never accuse him of being precious about the results of his countless hours of labour.
The keen golfer puts his clubs in the back of the Chevvy when he’s off to play at Newton Green, but they are not the only thing he transports.
“I also chuck stuff in to take to the tip,” he says. “It’s fine.
“My only worry is that other drivers might scrape it or bash it with a carelessly-opened door.
“But it’s really tough. You can drive through floods, and I don’t have to worry about Suffolk’s potholes because it will just bounce.”
Sometimes he and Sue take it on a weekend break towing his 1971 caravan ... something else he saved from the knacker’s yard.
His next project is in the workshop. Just a shell, but it is destined to become the most eye-catching works van in Suffolk.
“I’ve got a VW at the moment, but I was looking to replace it,” says Russell.
“I’d looked at VWs, Transits and Renaults but nothing was right, so I thought the only way to get what I want is to build it myself.”
Which explains why before long Russell hopes to be turning up for jobs in a 1954 Chevrolet panel truck.
“My new year’s resolution that year had been no more projects,” he says. “But by January 18 I had paid for this.
“It cost around £6,000. It was a wreck. I’m taking everything off and starting again, It will be the only one in the country to be used as a works van.”
The finished truck will have features never dreamed on when it rolled off the production line in the USA more than 60 years ago.
“This one’s getting a modern twist,” says Russell. “But it will still look authentic.
“I’m keeping the original chassis, axles and important parts – I’m not butchering it just updating it slightly, with a more sensible, reliable engine.
“It will also have power steering, electric windows and heated seats.
“I will probably cry the first time I scratch it ... but it’s a works van, it will get scratched.”
Russell’s parents moved to Suffolk from London when he was 17.
He and Sue now live in Sudbury in a house that, true to form, was somewhat the worse for wear when he bought it 10 years ago.
“I can’t see me ever buying a new house. I like to do it up my own way,” he says.
He is irresistably drawn to a challenge – “if it’s easy it’s boring” – and there have been some big ones along the way.
Russell, who also plays bass with rockabilly covers band the Kopy Katz, did up his first vehicle when he was 22.
“I pulled an old Mark II Ford Consul out of someone’s garden. “I didn’t know anything about anything but got it going with a lot of help from other people.
“Then kids came along and I didn’t do anything for a while, until I bought a 1963 Consul Capri off eBay.
“The ad said it needed TLC. When I saw it it looked more as if it needed a funeral, and I very nearly scrapped it.
“Then I thought no, bought a welder and some metal, repaired it and got it going because I didn’t like to be beaten. In the end it was lovely.”
Various others have come and gone over the years including a 1952 Chevvy pick-up he christened Doris.
“That one I left rusty, and drove everywhere and used as a mobile skip,
“There was also a 1934 Sunbeam which was basically a chassis and four wheels.
“I put a V8 engine in there, played with it, and turned it into a hot rod.
“But I never raced it because it scared me too much. It was an 80 year old car with a V8 engine in it, need I say more?”
He also has a 1952 Sunbeam motorbike which he gave to his ex-policeman dad Charlie, former owner of the Cock at Brent Eleigh, to do up.
“Dad has always loved old cars and bikes and his mechanical knowledge is far better than mine, he says.
Russell still denies he is an expert. If something stumps him he calls on friends like Tom Newman, a specialist in American autos who lives in Acton, for help and advice.
“I’m learning all the time and am willing to give pretty much anything a go.”
Lack of storage space means he cannot keep too many vehicles at once.
When the next challenge comes along the beautiful shiny pick-up will probably be sold.
But that does not worry him. Doing it is what counts.
And it’s a hobby he would recommend to anybody who feels a surge of longing when they see an classic vehicle.
“Anyone can write a cheque and buy one. It’s much more satisfying to restore it yourself.
“Remember there are no ‘big’ jobs, just lots of small ones.”
But he would not want to work as a restorer. “If you have to earn a living from it, I think the fun would go,” he says.
Just occasionally, rather than spiriting away domestic items for his hobby, things work the other way around.
The house once boasted a kitchen lampshade made from a steering wheel, and a car seat used as a garden bench.