From the original Series I models to the brand new Range Rover, LR2 and LR4 models, the Land Rover brand has always had a certain superior air about it. Not only is it one of the few SUV/off-road-focused brands still intact, the brand can also boast that a large quantity of its vintage and classic models are still in use today. What started this all? Well, in celebration of Land Rover’s recent birthday, we’re looking into just that for this Vintage Monday.
The original Land Rover can trace its beginnings back to the Rover Car Company and the tough post-war year of 1947. Following the war, luxury cars (which was Rover’s main stock at the time) were not in demand and in order to remain in business, the company had to come up with another way to do business.
A small car known as the M Type was thought up, with the hopes that it would be the answer. Unfortunately, Rover didn’t have the means to mass-produce the vehicle. But then, Rover’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks came up with an idea.
Inspired by his own war-surplus Willys farm vehicle, Wilks came to the conclusion that Rover should build light utility vehicles with an emphasis on agricultural use, something that would bridge the gap between the tractor and the Willys.
The first prototype featured a Jeep chassis, engine and transmission out of a Rover P3 saloon car, power take-off (PTO) feature and a handmade Birmabright (aluminum/magnesium mix) body covered in Army surplus green paint. The vehicle’s most distinguishing feature was its steering wheel mounted in the center of the passenger compartment.
Moving forward in the pre-production of the vehicle, the Land Rover was ultimately changed to have a simpler body, bigger engine, and a specially-designed transfer case. The Willys chassis was done away with for a steel box-section chassis and the steering wheel was moved to proper driving position.
On April 30th, 1948, Rover Car Company debuted the first-ever Land Rover at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Though it was only meant to be in production until Rover could start making luxury cars again, its debut struck a cord with buyers and went on to outsell Rover’s future car models, justifying its own product line until 1977, and then its own brand that still exists today.
Early Land Rovers came in three different series, distinguished in name only by the addition of a roman numeral each time the series changed.
Series I Land Rovers were produced from 1948 through 1958 and started out with an 80-inch wheelbase, 4-wheel drive, 4-speed Rover P3 gearbox and a 2-speed transfer case. Powering the agricultural vehicle was a 1.6L petrol engine good for about 50hp.
In 1949, a station wagon design was added to the line-up, giving buyers the option of a less barren interior. This option came with a wooden Tickford body that sat seven, leather seats, interior trim and even a heater. Because of their added expense to produce, less than 1,000 were ever built.
In 1950, the Land Rover’s 4-wheel-drive system was upgraded, followed by a 2.0L inline-4 engine replacing the 1.6L in 1952 and the wheelbase being extended to 86 inches in 1954. In 1954, a pickup version of the Series I Land Rovers was introduced with a 107-inch wheelbase. In the years that followed, the Series I models saw the introduction of a new 5-door station wagon, the birth of the Safari Roof (on wagons only at the time), an elongated base wheelbase (extended to 88 inches) and two new engine options; the 2.0L “spread bore” engine and the 52hp 2.0L diesel engine.
Series II Land Rovers replaced the Series I models in 1958. Along with a design upgrade, these new models featured 88in and 109in wheelbases and a choice of either the 2.0L diesel engine used in the previous generation models or a new 72hp 2.25L inline-4 engine. Variants from a 7-seater to a 12-seater “mini bus” station wagon were also offered in the Series II generation.
In 1961, the Series IIA models took over, bringing even more cosmetic changes. A new 2.25L diesel engine was introduced as well as a 2.6L inline-6, available on long wheelbase models starting in 1967. Also offered in the Series II models was the IIA FC (Forward Control) and the IIB FC. These specialty vehicles were equipped with bigger axles, a revised cab and a truck bed for working purposes.
During Series II, Land Rover accounted for the majority of sales in the 4-whee-drive market.
In 1970, the Land Rover Range Rover model was introduced, adding a sibling to the Land Rover lineup.
In 1971, Land Rovers switched over to Series III, bringing out a whole new slew of cosmetic changes both inside and out. As the series went on, Land Rovers got progressively more of a facelift to stay competitive.
Series III models also saw the introduction of the 91hp 3.6L engine on top of many upgrades to the still existing 2.5L inline-4 and diesel engines, as well as the 2.6L engine.
A selectable 4-wheel-drive system was also implemented for the first time.
Other upgrades to the Land Rover throughout the third generation include beefing up the transmission, axles and wheel hubs, introducing a new plastic dashboard and bringing in different trim options.
In 1985, the Land Rover Series vehicles were discontinued, outlived by the original Range Rover that remained in production until 1996.