Following the aftermath of World War II in 1947, the Land Rover was created by the Rover Company that (prior to the war) had produced luxury vehicles. Immediately following the war, luxury vehicles were no longer in demand, and raw materials were strictly rationed to companies building industrial equipment or construction materials, or products widely exported to earn essential foreign exchange for the country. The Series are broken down to I, II, and III to differentiate them from later models and were off-road cars influenced by the US-built Willy's Jeep.
All three models had the option of a rear power takeoff for accessories and could be started with a front hand crank. The Rover featured leaf-sprung suspension with selectable two or four-wheel drive and the Stage 1 featured permanent 4WD. The Rover company was forced to move into a large 'shadow factory' in Solihull, near Birmingham, England after their original factory in Coventry was bombed during the war. Originally built to construct aircraft, the factory was now empty but to begin car production there from scratch wouldn't be a financially viable option.
Plans were made to produce a small, economical concept called the M-Type and few prototypes were made, but it was found too expensive to produce. Land Rover's chief designer; Maurice Wilks, came up with a concept to produce a light agricultural and utility vehicle, with an emphasis on agricultural use, similar to the Willy's Jeep utilized in the war. Wilks' design added a power take-off (PTO) feature since there was an open gap between jeeps and tractors in the market. The original concept; a cross between a light truck and a tractor, was quite similar to the Unimog, which was developed in Germany at the same time.
The first Land Rover prototype was built on a Jeep chassis and used the gearbox and engine out of a Rover P3 saloon car. It had a very distinctive feature; the steering wheel was mounted into the middle of the car; so it became known as the 'centre steer'. To save on steel which was rationed at the time, the bodywork was hand-made out of an aluminum/magnesium called Birmabright. Since paint was also in short supply the first production vehicles were painted army surplus green paint. Led by engineer Arthur Goddard, the first pre-production Land Rovers were developed in late 1947.
Just like a tractor would drive farm machinery, the PTO drives from the front of the engine and from the gearbox to the center and rest of the vehicle. The vehicle was also tested plowing and performing other agricultural chores before the emphasis on tractor-like usage decreased and center steering proved impractical in use. At this point the bodywork was simplified to reduce production time and costs, the steering wheel was mounted off to the side like normal vehicles, and a larger engine was fitted, together with a specifically designed transfer gearbox to replace the jeep unit. All of these updates resulted in a vehicle that didn't utilize a single Jeep component, was shorter than its American inspiration, but heavier, wider, faster and still retained the PTO drives.
Originally the concept was designed to be in production a short 2 or 3 years to gain some export orders and cash flow for the Rover Company so it could restart up-market car production. Once production started though, it was greatly outsold by the off-road Land Rover, which developed into its own brand that today remains successful. A lot of the rugged design features that have made the Land Rover design such a success were a result of Rover's drive to simplify the tooling required for the vehicle and to use the minimum amount of rationed materials. The aluminum alloy bodywork has been retained throughout production despite it being more pricy than a conventional steel body, along with the distinctive flat body panels with only simple, constant-radius curves. Also remaining simple is the sturdy box-section ladder chassis, which on Series cars was made up from four strips of steel welded at each side to form a box, making a more conventional U or I-section frame.
Unveiled at the Amsterdam Motor Show, the Land Rover Series I began production in 1948 and continued for 10 years. Originally designed for farm and light industrial use, the Series 1 featured a steel box-section chassis and an aluminum body. Beginning as a single model offering, the Land Rover from 1948 until '51 used an 80 inch wheel base and a 1.6-liter petrol engine that produced around 50 bhp. The 4-speed gearbox from the Rover P3 was utilized with a brand new 2-speed transfer box. Much like several Rover cars of the time, the Series 1 incorporated an unusual 4-wheel drive system with a freewheel unit. Allowing a form of permanent 4WD this disengaged the front axle from the manual transmission on the overrun. The freewheel could be locked in place by a ring-pull mechanism in the driver's footwell to produce a more traditional 4WD. The Series 1 was a basic car, with tops for the doors and a roof of canvas or metal was an optional extra. The lights moved from a position behind the grill to protruding through the grille in 1950.
Since not all consumers would want a Land Rover with the most minimalistic of interiors so Land Rover launched a second body option in 1949 dubbed the 'Station Wagon'. The Wagon was fitted with a body built by Tickford; a coachbuilder known for their work with Rolls-Royce and Lagonda. With seating for up to seven people, the bodywork was wooden-framed and in comparison to standard Land Rover's, the Tickford featured leather seats, a one-piece laminated windscreen, a heater, interior trim, a tin-plate spare wheel cover and other options. Unfortunately the wooden construction made them pricy to produce and tax laws made them even worse since the Tickford was taxed as a private car and attracted high levels of Purchase Tax. Because of this, less than 700 Tickfords were sold and all but 50 were exported. Today these early Station Wagons are highly collectible.
The petrol engine in the Series 1 was replaced with a larger 2.0-liter I4 unit in 1952 with a 'Siamese bore' which meant that were no water passages between the pistons. The uncommon semi-permanent 4WD system was replaced during 1950 with a more conventional setup, with drive to the front axle being taken through a simple dog clutch. The legal status of the Land Rover was clarified around this time as well, meaning it was exempt from purchase tax.
Unfortunately this also meant that the vehicle with limited to a speed of 30 mph on British roads. Following a charge with exceeding this limit by a Land Rover owner, and an appeal to the Law Lords, the Land Rover's classification was changed to a 'multi-purpose vehicle' which was only to be classed as a commercial vehicle if used for commercial purposes. Today this classification continues to apply today with Land Rovers registered as commercial vehicles being restricted to a max speed of 60 mph (compared to the maximum 70mph for normal cars) in Britain, though this rule is rarely upheld.
Big changes came to the model in 1954 with the 80 inch wheelbase model replaced by an 86 inch wheelbase model and 107 inch 'Pick Up' version introduced. The additional wheelbase was added behind the cab area to provide extra load space.
The following year the first five-door model 'Station Wagon' was introduced on the 107 inch chassis and featured seating for up to ten people. The 86 inch model was a three-door vehicle with room for up to seven people. Very different from previous Tickford models, these new station wagons were being built with simple metal panels and bolt-together construction instead of the complicated wooded structure of the older Station Wagon. Dual purposed, the Station Wagons could be used as commercial vehicles as people-carries and also by private users. Much like the Tickford version, the wagons came with basic interior trim and equipment such as roof vents and interior lights.
The first expansion of the Land Rover range began with the Station Wagons. They were fitted with a 'Safari Roof' which consisted of a second roof skin fitted on top of the car. The roof kept the inside cool in hot temperatures and reduced condensation in cold weather. Vents fitted into the roof added ventilation to the interior. Station wagons were based on the same chassis and drive-trains as the standard vehicles, they carried different chassis numbers, unique badging and were advertised in separate brochures. Unlike the original Wagon, the new in-house versions were very popular.
To make room for the new diesel engine, the wheelbase was extended by 2 inches to 88 inches and 109 inches to accommodate the new diesel engine, which was an option the following year. With the exception of the 107 Station Wagon, which would never be fitted with a diesel, this change was made to all models and would eventually be the final series I in production.
For 1957 the 'spread bore' petrol engine was debuted, followed closely by a brand new 2.0 liter Diesel engine, that even though it had similar capacity, it wasn't related to the petrol engines used. The petrol engines at the time used the old-fashioned inlet-over-exhaust valve arrangement, while the diesel utilized the more modern overhead layout. This engine was one of the first high-speed diesels developed for road use, producing 52 hp at 4,000 rpm. The wheelbase was increased from 86 to 88 inches for the short-wheelbase models, and from 107 to 109 inches on the long-wheelbase, since the engine was slightly longer than the original chassis allowed. These extra two inches were in front of the bulkhead to accommodate the new diesel engine. For the next 25 years these dimensions were used on all Land Rovers.
In 1958 the Series II Land Rover was debuted and continued its production run until '61. It came in 88 inch and 109 inch wheelbases. The first Land Rover to receive consideration from Rover's styling department; Chief Stylist David Bache produced the well-known 'barrel side' waistline to cover the car's wider track and improved design of the truck cab variant, introducing the curved side windows and rounded roof still used today on current Land Rovers. The first car to utilize the famous 2.25-liter petrol engine, though the first 1,500 short wheelbase models kept the 52 hp 2.0 liter petrol engine from the Series 1. The larger petrol engine produced 72 hp and was closely related to the 2.0 liter diesel unit still in use today. Until the mid-1980s this engine became the standard Land Rover unit when diesel engines became more popular.
The 109-inch Series II Wagon introduced a 12-seater option on top of the standard 10-seater layout. This model was constructed basically to take advantage of UK tax laws, by which a car with 12 seats or more was classed as a bus, and was exempt from Purchase Tax and Special Vehicle Tax. This made the 12-seater Series II model less expensive than the 10-seater version, and also cheaper than the 7-seater 88 inch Station Wagon. For decades the 12-seater layout remained a popular favorite, being retained on the later Series and Defender variants until 2002, when it was dropped. The abnormal status of the 12-seater continued until the end, and these vehicles were classed as minibuses and could use bus lanes and could be exempt from the London Congestion Charge.
There was a slight bit of over-lap between Series I and Series II production. Early Series II 88 inch vehicles were fitted with the old 2-liter petrol engine to use up existing stock from production of the Series I 107-inch Station Wagon continued until late 1959. This was due to continued demand from export markets and to allow the production of Series II components to reach the highest level.
The Series IIA Land Rover was introduced in 1961 and continued in production until 1971 and was quite difficult to distinguish from the SII. Slight cosmetic changes were made from the previous series, but most of the big changes were made under the hood with the addition of the new 2.25-liter Diesel engine. The factory offered body configurations ranging from short-wheelbase soft-top to the first-class five-door station wagon. The 2.6 liter straight-six petrol engine was introduced in 1967 for use in the long-wheelbase models, the larger engine complemented by standard-fit servo-assisted brakes. 811 of these models were NADA (North American Dollar Area) truck, which were the only long-wheelbase models produced for the American and Canadian markets. From February 1969 the headlamps moved into the wings on all models and the sill panes were redesigned to be shallower a few months later.
Considered to be the most stalwart Series model ever constructed, the Series IIA is also the type of classic Land Rover that featured strongly in the general public's opinion of the Land Rover as it appeared in popular films and TV documentaries set in Africa throughout the 1960's. One of these examples was 'Born Free'.
Land Rover celebrated its 20th Birthday in February 1968, just a few months after its manufacturer had been subsumed, under government pressure, into the Leyland Motor Corporation, with total production to date just shy of 600,000, of which more than 70% had been exported. Sales of utility Land Rovers arrived at their peak in 1969-1970 during the Series IIA production run, when sales of over 60,000 Land Rovers a year were recorded. The Land Rover took over numerous world markets, as well as record sales, in Australia in the 1960's, the Land rover held 90% of the 4X4 market.
1963 brought about the Series IIA FC Land Rover, which was based on the Series IIA 2.25 liter petrol engine and 109 inch chassis, with the cab positioned over the engine to allow more load space. Export vehicles were the first Land Rovers to receive the 2.6 liter petrol engine. Most models had an ENV rear axle while a matching front axle came later. To provide additional flotation for this heavy car were large 900x16 tires on deep-dish wheel rims. Slightly underpowered for the increased load capacity, most of these vehicles had a hard-working life. Less than 2,500 models were constructed, and most had a utility body. Surviving examples often have custom bodywork, and with an upgraded power-train, they can be used as a small motor-home.
Produced from 1966 the Series IIB FC was similar to the Series IIA Forward Control but added the 2.25-liter diesel engine as an option. The standard engine for this model was the 2.6-liter engine, and the 2.25-liter engine was only available for export. Designed by ENV, heavy duty wide-track axles were fitted to improve vehicle stability, along with a front anti-roll bar and updated rear springs which were mounted above the axle instead of below it. During this process the wheelbase was increased to 110 inches. In 1974 production of the IIB FC was ended when Land-Rover reorganized its vehicle range. Many of the components from this line were also used on the '1 Ton' 109 inch vehicle.
The Land Rover Series III line was introduced in 1971 and ran until 1985 it had the same body and engine options as the previous IIA, including station wagons and the 1 Ton versions. Only minor changes were made from the IIA to the Series III. The Series III is the most common Series car, with 440,000 of the type built from 1971 to 1985. From 1968 onward, the headlights were moved to the wings on late production IIA models and remained in this position for the Series III. The traditional grille from the Series I, II and IIA was replaced with a plastic one for the Series III model.
Compressions were raised from 7:1 to 8:1 on the 2.25-liter engine, increasing the power slightly. During the production run for the III, the 1,000,000th Land Rover rolled off the production line in 1976. Numerous changes were made during the Series III production run in the later part of its life as Land Rover updated their design to meet the increasing design competition. The Series III was the initial model to feature synchromesh on all four gears though some late H-suffix SIIA models had used the all-synchro box.
The simple metal dashboard of earlier models was redesigned to accept a new molded plastic dash, in keeping with early 1970s trends in automotive interior design, both in safety and use of more state-of-the-art materials. The instrument cluster was moved from its centrally located position over to the driver's side. Long-wheelbase Series III cars had the Salisbury rear axle as standard, though some late SIIA 109-inch cars had them too.
For the 1980 model year, the 4-cylinder 2.25 liter engines were updated with five-bearing crankshafts to increase strength in heavy duty work. At the same time the axles, transmission and wheel hubs were redesigned for increased strength. This was the result of a series of updates to the transmission that had been made since the 1960's to deal with the common problem of the rear axle half-shafts breaking in heavy usage. Part of this problem was due to the design of the shafts themselves. The half shafts can be removed quickly and efficiently without even having to jack the vehicle off the ground due to the fully floating design of the rear wheel hubs. Unfortunately the tendency for commercial operators to overload their cars heightened this flaw which tainted the Series Land Rovers in numerous export markets and established a negative reputation even to today. This is despite the '82 redesign which all but solved the problem.
Numerous trim options were also introduced this year to make the interior of the car more comfortable. An all new 'County' spec Station Wagon Land Rover was introduced in both 88-inch and 109-inch types. These models featured all-new cloth seats from the Leyland T-45 Lorry, tinted glass, soundproofing kits and other 'soft' options designed to appeal to the luxury driver.
Also new this year was the High Capacity Pick -Up to the 109 inch chassis, with a load bay that offered 25% more cubic capacity than the standard pick-up style. Popular with public utility companies and building contractors, the HCPU came with heavy-duty suspension.
From 1979 until 1985 the Stage 1; which refers to the first stage of investment by the British Government in the company to improve Land Rover and Range Rover productions, was built utilizing some of the same components as the Range Rover and 101 Forward Control, such as LT95 gearbox and 3.5-liter Rover V8 petrol engine. The engine was detuned to 91 hp from the 135BHP that the Range Rover of the time featured. The Stage 1 was available in a 109-inch and 88-in wheelbase. The use of the Range Rover engine and drive train made it the only Series car that had permanent four-wheel drive.
Produced from 1968 until 1977, the 1 Ton 109 inch was basically a Series IIB Forward Control built with a standard 109 inch body, featuring a 2.6 liter petrol engine, ENV front and rear axles and a lower ratio gearbox, though some late IIAs were fitted with ENV axles in front and Salisbury on the rear. Later series IIIs had a Rover type front axle with up-rated differential. Unique to the model, the chassis frame featured drop-shackle suspension very similar to the military series Land Rovers. Standard feature was 900x16 tires and these machines were typically used by utility companies and breakdown/towing firms. Only 170 IIA and 238 Series IIIs were constructed for the home marked. Even fewer examples were on the export markets, making this model the rarest type of Land-Rover ever constructed.
The Australian market has always been a big fan for Land Rovers of all types, but especially the utility models. In the late 1940s 80-inch Series I models were sold to the Australian government for work on civil engineering projects such as road construction and dams, which brought the car back to the buying public's attention. Very large sales followed in the Australian market and in the 1950's Land Rover began to establish factories in Australia to build CKD kits shipped from the Solihull, UK factory. Through the 1960s the Land Rover continued to sell strongly in Series II guise, commanding around 90% of the off-road market. Nearly every farm had at least one Land Rover.
In the early 1970s the Series III continued successfully, but halfway through the decade the sales began to decline. Partly due to a large export deal to Japan relied on the subsequent import of Japanese vehicles and others, along with the increasingly poor quality of the components shipped from UK. Land Rover's once high dominance slipped. An Australian issue was the always-limited supply of new Land Rovers. The Leyland factory never had the capacity to meet possible demand and supply and the manufacturing process was restricted by having to import almost the entire vehicle in kit form from Britain.
This long process led to a long waiting list developing for the Leyland product while commercial operators could receive Japanese vehicles very quickly. Other Land Rover issues were the same throughout its export markets comparing it to Japanese competition; the Land Rover was under-powered, unreliable and inferior with a poor ride quality, though the off-road ability was superior. Japanese vehicles were also less likely to rust and didn't feature the low-quality steel in comparison to the Land Rover. This turned off buyers, and by 1983 with the introduction of the One Ten, the Toyota Land Cruiser became the best-selling 4X4 in Australia.
Land Rover Australia went through some updates in the early 1980s in an attempt to combat this sales decline. Land Rover fit the V8 petrol engine in the 1979 'Stage One', Australia also received the same car with the option of a 3.9-liter 89 hp 4-cylinder Isuzu diesel engine. This update made a valiant effort to slow the sales decline, but unfortunately all of the other Land Rover shortcomings overwhelmed the vehicle. The One Ten was also available with this engine along with a turbocharged version producing in excess of 100 hp powered the military 6X6.
The Series Land Rovers were used in vast number by the British Army, and today continued to use the modern Defender versions. Nearly as soon as it was launched in 1948 the British Army tested the 80-inch Series I Land Rover. At the time, the Army was more concerned with developing a specially designed military utility 4X4 (the Austin Champ). Unfortunately the Champ proved too complicated, heavy and unreliable in battlefield conditions.
So the Army looked in the Land Rover direction and in the late 1940's the Ministry of Defense was interested in the standardization of its vehicles and equipment. He wanted to fit Rolls-Royce petrol engines to all its vehicles. A variety of Series I Land Rovers were fitted with Rolls-Royce B40 4-cylinder engine, with a modified 81 inch wheelbase. Unfortunately the engine was too heavy and had little power, the slow revving stunted the performance and produced torque that the Rover gearbox could only just cope with. Rover convinced the MOD that the standard 1.6-liter engine would be enough since they were only ordering a small amount. From late 1949 the MOD began ordering Land Rovers in batches, starting at 50 vehicles, but increasing this amount to 200 each batch by the mid 1950s.
Deployed to the Korean War and the Suez Crisis, the Land Rover became standard light military vehicles throughout the Commonwealth.
Throughout the 1960s though, more and more specialized versions were developed. Along with the standard 'GS' (General Service) vehicles, a common variant was the 'FFR' (Fitted For Radio) was introduced which had 24-volt electrics and a large engine-powered generator to power on-board radios. Ambulances were also introduced on the 109-inch Series II chassis. The 'Pink Panther' was a well-known version dubbed the LRDPV (Long-Range Desert Patrol Vehicle), it was painted a distinctive light pink sand camouflage. These 109-inch Series IIs were stripped of windscreens and doors and fitted with grenade launchers, a machine gun mounting ring, and long-range fuel tanks and water tanks. These models were used by the SAS for desert patrolling and special operations.
The British Army had acquired around 9,000 Series III models by the late 1970s, which were basically a special 'Heavy Duty' version of the 109-inch Soft Top. These vehicles had improved suspension components and a different chassis cross-member design. These were produced in 12-volt 'GS' models and 24-volt 'FFR' versions. A very small number were 88-inch GS and FFR models, but mostly the Army used the Air-Portable ½ ton, 88-inch 'Lightweight' version. The Lightweight was in use by numerous armies worldwide. In Europe even the Danish Army and the Dutch Landmacht utilized the Land-Rover Lightweight. Rather than the petrol engine, the Dutch and Danish had diesel engine and rather than the canvas top the Dutch ones had PVS tops like the modern Land Rover Wolf.
In Addition, there was also 101-inch Forward Control models; 109-inch FV18067 ambulances constructed by Marshall Aerospace of Cambridge. Both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force also acquired and maintained smaller Land Rover fleets during the 1960's through 1970s. The RAFs used 88-inch models for liaison, communications, airfield tractor duties and personnel transports. The Royal Navy's fleet was small and consisted mainly of GS-spec and Station Wagon versions for cargo transport and personnel. All British military Land Rovers utilized the 2.25-liter 4-cylinder petrol engine, though various overseas customers specified the 2.25-liter diesel unit instead.
Minerva of Belgium produced a car dubbed a Standard Vanguard, which was produced in Belgium under license of the Standard Motor Company. In the spring of 1951 the head of Minerva, Monsieur van Roggen contacted the Rover Company when Belgium's army was in need of a lightweight 4X4 vehicle. In 1952 the Minerva-Land Rover was produced.
The Rover Company allowed Minerva to produce Land Rovers under license to Rober and supplied technical support for Minerva. Rover Assistant Chief Engineer and head of Land Rover development; Arthur Goddard, was in charge of approving the updates Minerva wanted to make to the Rover, in addition to setting the factory up to assemble the vehicles.
Land Rover has claimed that in 1992, nearly 70% of all the vehicles they had constructed were still in use today.By Jessica Donaldson