Land Rover has led the way in automotive design since its inception in 1948. This year sees Land Rover celebrate its 70th Anniversary with a series of events and projects which look back at the momentous vehicles that have embodied those past 70 years.
From the rugged post-war Series I, the luxury of Range Rover to the capability of Discovery, read a brief history of the vehicles that have made major contributions to the Land Rover story:
Land Rover Series I
Shortly after World War Two had ended, Rover Managing Director Spencer Wilks had a plan to revive the company’s flagging sales in the post-war market. He tasked his brother Maurice - who was Rover chief designer at the time - to create a vehicle designed primarily for agricultural use which would help bring in much needed income until the luxury car market picked up again.
This led to a moment engrained in Land Rover history when the Wilks brothers sketched an outline for their vision of the Series I, in the sands of Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey.
A replica of the sand drawing at Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey, created in 2015 for ‘Year of the Defender’.
In 1947, Maurice and engineer Arthur Goddard created the first prototype of what would ultimately become ‘The Land Rover’. The prototype featured a central steering position, common in Jeeps at the time, with the chassis made from an aluminium alloy called Birmabright - saving on the use of steel that had been rationed during the war. Making use of military surplus cockpit paint, light green became the colour of choice for both the prototype and the production.
A year later, ‘The Land Rover’ was revealed to the world at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show. Its boxy 3-door design featured a 50bhp 1.6 litre engine, an 80-inch wheelbase, canvas roof and included permanent all-wheel drive, ensuring it met their design brief for agricultural use. The price? £450. Production on the later-named ‘Series I’ began in the same year and by 1949, 8,000 units of the Series I had been sold.
A restored 1948 pre-production Series I.
Deemed by many at the time as the vehicle of choice of the agricultural industry, the Series I would remain largely unchanged in its design until 1954 when the wheelbase was increased from 80 to 86 inches with a further 107-inch ‘pick-up’ style model released. Then for the first time, a 5-door model was launched in 1955 with the introduction of the 107-inch wheelbase ‘Station Wagon’.
The Series I enjoyed continued success until it was succeeded in 1958 by the launch of the Series II.
A restored 1948 pre-production Series I.
For more on the Land Rover Series I, click here.
As part of our 70th Anniversary celebrations, a very special restoration project is being undertaken by Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works. At the 1948 Amsterdam Motor show, three pre-production vehicles were displayed during the Series I launch, the whereabouts of one unknown until recently. Missing since the 1960s, it spent the best part of 20 years abandoned in a Welsh field, subsequently bought as a restoration project. It again lay languishing and unfinished, this time in a garden just miles from where it was built in Solihull.
Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works will expertly restore this original Series I.
The JLR Classic team will now follow a painstakingly dedicated process to restore this launch vehicle back to its former glory over the course of this year, a fitting way to mark 70 years since its introduction to the world.
Click here to find out more information on Land Rover Reborn and the restoration process.
First researched in the early 1950s, Rover were looking to create a vehicle larger than the already-existing Series I. Projects such as the ‘Road Rover’ began but ultimately fell by the wayside before Charles Spencer King and Gordon Bashford set about creating their first prototypes in 1967. The design evolution of these prototypes eventually led to 26 development vehicles being produced from 1969 to 1970 under the name ‘Velar’. The Velar name came from the Latin word ‘velare’ meaning ‘veiled’, which goes some way to explaining the lengths they went to in order to keep the design under wraps.
A ‘Velar’ on the road prior to launch in 1970.
The vehicle was finally unveiled in 1970, this time with its ever-recognisable name – ‘Range Rover’. Available for £1,998 it was powered by a 130bhp V8 engine and came with permanent four-wheel drive to complement an elegant 3-door design. Style with substance.
The British press showered the new vehicle with praise for combining the now-famous Land Rover capability with a level of on-road refinement that was rare at the time. As is still the case today, Range Rover was built around interior luxury that up until that point, Land Rover had not offered in the Series I and subsequently the Series II and III.
An original Range Rover launched in 1970.
It was 11 years before Range Rover was available in a 4-door design following the release of the ‘Range Rover Classic’ before the first generation was then replaced by the second in 1994. The second generation added even more of a luxurious feel as well as introducing more features and technology than previously seen. An example of this was satellite navigation being offered as an option for the first time, cutting edge at the time.
Fast forwarding through the years and Range Rover continues to lead the way in both luxury, design and technology. In September 2017, it was announced that Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) technology would be added to a Land Rover vehicle for the first time, debuting in both the New Range Rover and New Range Rover Sport for 2018.
New Range Rover Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).
Land Rover Discovery
In the mid-1980s, Land Rover tasked themselves with developing a new utilitarian vehicle they hoped would bridge the gap between the classic Range Rover and the Ninety/One Ten, later to be named Defender. This led to the origins of ‘Project Jay’.
‘Project Jay’ was crucial for the future of Land Rover. The assignment for the design team was to create a vehicle which would provide the rugged capability of the Ninety/One Ten, with interior comfort to compete with newer, smaller competitors to the Range Rover.
In 1989, Discovery made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Its now iconic name ‘Discovery’ was chosen ahead of other options including ‘Highlander’ and the ‘Prairie Rover’. The design included its now instantly recognisable stepped roof, reverse C-pillars and clamshell bonnet. To ensure it did not detract from the Range Rover, Discovery was initially launched only as a 3-door model rather than 5-door. The interior offered comfort with features suitable for everyday family life, receiving critical acclaim, including a British Design Award in 1989. There was seating for five, with the option to add an additional two jump seats in the rear.
Another key feature of Discovery’s versatility was its towing capability. As Discovery progressed over the years, towing remained a pillar of its capability, which would eventually become a multi award-winning feature in later editions. Emphasising the qualities which often lead to it being described as a ‘workhorse’ vehicle.
Discovery has often been the Land Rover flagship when it comes to showcasing on and off-road technologies and driving aids. The highly-acclaimed Terrain Response system considerably enhanced Discovery’s off-road capability when introduced to Discovery 3 and has subsequently been rolled out onto all Land Rover vehicles since. Allowing the driver to select the terrain that will be driven on, Terrain Response electronically configures the vehicle’s systems including engine management, gear selection, differential control and ride height selection to suit the surface selected. Other now widely-used systems such as Traction Control, Electronic Brake Distribution and Hill Descent Control have all made their debut in Discovery.
The Packington Estate in Warwickshire has long been the setting of many historic events in Land Rover’s history, dating back to the 1940s where it provided the testing grounds for the Series I prototypes. In September 2016, it became the scene of Discovery’s biggest makeover to date, with the launch of the fifth generation. Discovery’s design is now sleeker than its predecessors, however it retains features synonymous with the original Discovery such as the reverse C-pillars, iconic stepped roof and clamshell bonnet – and of course, that ‘workhorse’ attitude.
The Discovery launch at Packington Hall, 2016.
These three vehicles helped to shape the first 41 years of Land Rover History - In part two, we’ll explore the impact of an off-road legend, along with the world’s first compact luxury SUV and a vehicle with our most revolutionary design to date.