Today is Land Rover’s 60th birthday. On this day in 1948, a Land Rover was first shown to the public.
As the story goes, the owners of the British Rover car company retreated to their family farm after World War II. They used US Army Jeeps left in England for agricultural work, but spare parts soon disappeared. They decided to build a Rover version of the Jeep for personal farm use. The first prototype was even built on a Jeep platform. As requests from friends for similar vehicles mounted, the owners decided to put their Land Rover into full production.
Rover’s cars had long been considered the “poor-man’s Rolls Royce,” due mostly to high-quality engineering. Similarly, its first Land Rovers released at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show gained almost immediate notoriety for bulletproof construction. The Series I featured a box section steel chassis, and due to shortages of steel, rustproof all-aluminum bodywork. Under the hood was a four-cylinder, overhead valve gas engine that drove all four wheels.
Land Rover’s popularity also ignited due to its versatility. The Land Rover became available in wagon and pick-up forms with short and long wheelbases. A diesel engine also emerged. Other optional equipment could be added based on need, from dual-plane roof panels to aid cabin heating and cooling, to snow plows. Some vehicles were equipped with periscope carburetor air-intake snorkels to allow vehicles to cross rivers almost completely submerged. In the field, a Land Rover could even operate multiple transmission-driven winches, welders or generators
Safety and emissions legislation caused Land Rover to abandon the American market in the 1970s. Those sold in the states prior to the retreat became instantly coveted for their rugged nature. One of my Land Rover-owning high school friends used to cruise the hills of Seattle during big snow storms looking for stuck cars and lesser SUVs to winch to safety. Great weight distribution and skinny tires meant even the most insane snow-covered hills weren’t safe from the LR’s prowess.
When Land Rover returned in the late 1980s, its vehicles reflected the softer needs of a more upscale clientele. The company was purchased by BMW, which helped increase the luxurious nature of the product line, but did absolutely nothing to improve reliability – a nagging problem of the Rover group (and the entire British car industry since the horrible days of British Leyland.)
Even after Ford purchased the company from BMW in 2000, Land Rover’s products were perennial basement players with the likes of Fiat and VW in global quality studies. Still, from the LR3 to the luxurious Range Rover, the brand’s models have remained among the most competent off road vehicles.
Now going into the hands of India’s Tata (along with Jaguar), a new chapter of Land Rover’s history is in the making.
While many of us long for the tough-as-nails, works even when broken nature of the Land Rovers of old, they are still the rides to have when you absolutely need to cross the craziest terrain. As Land Rover owners say: they’re the best 4X4XFar.