Series I Land Rover, custom color and custom radiator muff
Happy 61rst to Land Rover [Rovers North News, November 2008]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
Sixty one years ago the Rover Company introduced its new Land-Rover at the Amsterdam Motor Show. This was a must-do for Rover; a company that did not even have an Export Department had to meet governmental demands to “export or die.”
British journalists mirrored the enthusiasm of overseas buyers. The Autocar noted “there is now something to be described which can either be a private car able to perform many most valuable duties other than sheer transport, or as a general purpose countryside worker which is also capable of providing comfortable and efficient transport. …If the world has to be strictly economical for years to come, is not this the sort of car that most of us need, one that is entirely practical and essentially usable? Its appearance is starkly practical; there is nothing of the luxury vehicle about its looks. Nevertheless, it is not ugly and has a distinctively attractive appearance all its own. So much has been said and written n the past about the so-called People’s Car, much of it nonsense, that the advent of a really practical British vehicle which goes far beyond that over-publicized proposal should be met with genuine acclamation.”
Motor complimented Rover for “displaying an enterprise which should be well rewarded, and there is no doubt that a big market, both at home and abroad, exists for a machine such as the Land Rover. Rover hoped to sell 5,000 of them in 1948; 8,000 orders poured in that first year. By 1951 Land-Rovers outsold Rover cars by a 2:1 margin; indeed, production would not meet sales orders until the 1970’s.
Land Rover not only created “the world’s most versatile vehicle” with its Series I-II-III models, it designed and created the first luxury SUV with the Range Rover in 1970 (Jeep Wagoneers, IH Scouts and Ford Broncos were really just modified trucks). If not always first with innovative automobiles, Land Rover got it right when it created the 90/110 and Defender models in 1985. The Discovery first appeared in 1989 and changed the playing field for the accessible SUV. When Land Rover proved so valuable that it split off from its parent, Rover, it still never forgot how to build a car when it created the Freelander in 1997. None of these models lost their cachet as a “go-anywhere, do-anything” vehicle.
Each Land Rover offered something special to owners, workers and enthusiasts. The retroactively-named Series I began with an 80” wheelbase and a 1595 cc engine – nimble, tough, and hugely capable off-road. While in production for 10 years, the length of the “regular” model grew to 86” and then 88”, while the long wheelbase models would grow from 107 to 109.” The engine would pick up some extra power when it grew to 1997 cc. Whether soft top or station wagon the starkly functional Series I quickly became England’s signature car outside of the UK.
A decade is an eternity in automobile production, so when Rover turned its attention to upgrading their Land Rover, the familiar barrel roll sides and rounded fender lines heralded the Series II. Within a short time, the first-ever diesel (2052 cc) appeared. With the advent of the Series II-A in 1961, the diesel would share its block with the 2286 (2.25L) engine that remained in production through 1985. Available in 88” and 109” wheelbases, it came as a pickup, a station wagon, a hardtop or a “convertible.” Two special versions of the 109” wheelbase would become Forward Control (II-A and II-B) models, cab-forward trucks that used the slightly larger 2600 cc Rover 6-cylinder engine. While fire tenders, mobile welders, farm implement carriers and tow truck versions had been in production for many years, the Dormobile [camper] now would take you anywhere in self-contained comfort. Land Rover also offered a 12-passenger version of its 109” station wagon, perfect for a dozen very close friends or family.
While establishing itself as the most capable vehicle on earth, Land Rover’s engineers – particularly Spen King, Tom Barton and Geof Miller- wanted to expand a Rover’s capabilities. In 1970, their answer took the form of the Range Rover. Using their newly-purchased and enhanced 3.5 liter V-8, long travel coil springs and a Louvre-award winning design, the Range Rover redefined the 4x4. Land Rover made the car more luxurious, more powerful and more refined over the next 26 years, but the essential qualities of the model remained intact. Yet the same initial powertrain had such strength that Land Rover could use it in the military-oriented FC 101, in production from1971-1978. From 1968-1983 Land Rover also made a military Lightweight model [Series II-A and III], narrower, lighter and easily dismantled for air transport to remote battle locations.
Meanwhile from 1971 – 1985, Rover upgraded the Series interior, provided an all-synchromesh transmission and kept abreast [barely] of safety, emissions, and consumer preferences through its Series III models. By then, the fractures within parent British Leyland and its successors and the strength of the pound sterling made the Land Rover a difficult sale in an international market. The answer was the coil sprung Land Rover 110 in 1983, followed two years later by the 90. In 1990 came a new diesel engine and a new name, Defender, and in 1994, 500 special models just for the North American market. From 1994 – 1998, we enjoyed the Defender 90 NAS, soft top, hardtop and station wagon; enthusiasts continue to repair, revive and restore any Defenders they can find.
Land Rover entered a new market for people carrier with its Discovery in 1989, an ideal transportation machine for families yet as capable off road as any Land Rover product. The first models came with 5-speed transmissions but quickly came to share engines and powertrains with the Range Rover and Defender. This was the first high-volume product for Land Rover; around 16,000 Discoverys entered the US in any year compared with 1,200 Defenders and 1,500 Range Rovers annually. In 1998, Land Rover stretched out the Discovery, upgraded the engine, transmission and suspension, and created the more lavish Discovery Series II.
In 2004, following changes in Range Rover chassis design, Land Rover introduced the awkwardly-named but significantly improved LR3 [still called the Discovery 3 in the UK]. The current LR3, with its 4.4 liter, 300 hp, 315 ft-lbs torque, also features a monocoque body and four wheel independent suspension - without compromising off road capability. Three rows of seats warrant three moonroofs, too, and significantly improved handling on pavement.
The Range Rover, albeit stretched and kitted out, could continue right through 1996 before a new model, called the P-38, entered the market in 1995. The new design brought the Range Rover up to contemporary standards of ride, handling and packaging for luxury SUV’s. A bit anonymous and bland compared to the original, it featured hidden assets such as ABS, ETC and EAS.
In 2001 [2002 in the US], Land Rover introduced the current Range Rover with a new shape, new engine, more opulent interior, unique headlamps, and a myriad of luxury features. When corporate parent Ford linked Land Rover and Jaguar, the latter’s saloon engine technology helped the former’s off road engine experience produce a magnificent new V8 petrol engine. In 2005, the Range Rover Sport, slightly smaller and definitely faster, hit the marketplace, joined soon after by a supercharged big brother. It used the chassis design of a shortened LR3 and more rounded bodywork to produced a 5-passenger vehicle that can overtake Porche Cayennes as well as rock-climbing at a walking pace.
Land Rover responded to the pressure to build smaller vehicles with the Freelander,its second-ever volume vehicle, in 1997. With a traverse engine, independent front and rear suspension, and high range only, the Freelander challenged the company’s engineers to make it off road capable. They introduced the HDC [hill descent control] to make up for the lack of a low range off road, and ETC to help the car navigate slippery situations. In 2007, the Freelander morphed into the LR2 [Freelander 2 in the UK]. It shares the Terrain Response system with its sibling and also features a gradient brake release to assist in uphill starts on slippery slopes.
In the North American market, we’ve experienced only some of Land Rover’s successes over the past 60 years; its extraordinary diesels, modern Defenders, and commercial models have been ineligible for the US market for decades. We’re also never quite certain just who will adopt Land Rover next: we’ve gone from BMW to Ford, and now Tata of India, in just the past decade. The fact that it remains such a powerful icon of automotive excellence, from just two factories in England [Solihull and now Halewood] is a testament to its engineers, designers, assembly line workers and management. As enthusiasts, Rovers North wishes Land Rover well for the next six decades.
Copyright 2008 Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers North
The Land Rover model lineup has expanded to include the Defender, Range Rover, Discovery and LR 3 models
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."