JLR: Land Rover’s Heritage

The history of the Land Rover and Range Rover


“There’s something about the purposeful, functional Land Rover that makes an irresistible appeal to the young and young in heart.”

So Jeep was made in 1940 (yes, yes, I know this is a post about Land Rover). A plucky, robust machine, a military vehicle and convenient civilian automobile. So, what would anyone do in a situation faced with blistering cold English winters and horses? Take one look at Willys Jeep and think: “I need one of those.” Well, sort of.

A video (links below) on the Land Rovers website gives an insight into the brands heritage. Maurice Wilks’ son tells the tale of a brutal winter, and how his father couldn’t move the blown down trees from his driveway using a commercial standard Rover car. Attempting the use of a Brent Gun Carrier, Wilks (Chief designer at the Rover company) saw its limitations and opted for his neighbours Willys Jeep. Success. And the Land Rover, “ingeniously designed and engineered for extreme capability and strength”, to master all terrains in all weather was born, 1947 on a farm in Newborough, Anglesey. This story is according to his son; according to Wikipedia “it was said to be inspired by an American World War II Jeep (true) that he used one summer at his holiday home in Wales”… I’ll let you decide.

Production began in 1948 in Solihull, West Midlands, the first model was powered by a 159cc petrol engine that drove the 4WD transmissions with low ratio gears to increase its hallmark talent; its off-road capabilities.

By the mid 1970’s Birmingham had 8 Rover factories and even Coventry can lay claim to a small plant in Clay Lane, which was responsible for supplying special bodywork items.

The name ‘Land Rover’ was coined for its off-road capabilities and the company it was born from, and so the first Landie was used on April 30, 1948. Behold the British 4 x 4 that was to revolutionise farming! Forget the horses and your carts, you can have a machine built with an 80 inch wheel base, 52 hp, 4 cylinders, 2 litres, permanent 4 WD, all with a top speed of 60mph! Built of aluminium (as this was in plentiful supply, cheap and corrosion resistant, and later seen in 2012 on a ‘new’ aluminium Range Rover) and covered in the classic sage green paint acquired by a nearby fighter plane factory.

So a quick history lesson to be had:

Land Rover series I: launched in 1948 (Series II launched later in 1958)

Range Rover: Launched in 1970

Discovery: launched in 1988

Defender (Original ‘Landie’ just new): launched in 1990

Freelander: Launched in 1997

Between 1997 and the launch of Land Rover LRX Concept a lot happens in the shape of reforming and rebranding pre-existing models into newer, swankier, more sporty models.

In 2008, in Detroit, Land Rover unveiled the LRX concept, which looks very familiar as the Evoque (which was introduced in 2011) because it basically is. From the helpful design hands of none of other than; Victoria Beckham.

More than 70 years on and the Land Rover / Range Rover (debut June 1970) and it is said that two-thirds of all vehicles are still trudging on today, (hopefully my first and only TopGear reference, BUT, Clarkson proved well beyond a doubt that Land Rovers are hardy beasts of machinery and could be put through their paces and still come out tops at the end). Many of the still-living vehicles have been through “some of the most extreme conditions and inhospitable places on earth,” (Land Rover Heritage, landrover.com)

As the Land Rover evolved, it became more reliable, safer, and people came to depend on it for scientific expeditions and adventure. Organisations; National Geographic, the Royal Geographical Society, Born Free Foundation and the Earth Watch Institute, all rely on Land Rover and Range Rover to take them above and beyond.

But the Range Rover can’t be overlooked, its creation based on mere fact that off-roading is uncomfortable. The sister vehicle (conception in 1960s) born out of love for adventure took off-roading technologies from Landie but combined it saloon car performance, handling and comfort to fashion more luxurious 4 x 4.

Both models in all their forms have gone on to win countless “4 x 4 of the Year” awards, and knocked Jeep from its standing place on the Camel Trophy Off-Road Competitions. Over the 20 years of competition, every range of off-roading Rover in existence was used, that was until the Camel Trophy changed the format and the company took it upon themselves to create their own global challenge; Ladfolks and Gentleladies, we have the G4 Challenge; “the Ultimate Global Challenge!”

Ranulph Fiennes has even took up the “Lost City Expedition” in the 1960’s to find the Lost City still bearing Frankincense within its grounds. It took him until 1990 to find it, but he found it, and with the help of a Land Rover.

The North American Launch was celebrated in 1989 with the ‘Great Divide’ Expedition using 8 Range Rovers in the first off-pavement North South crossing of continental divide in Colorado with the use of motor vehicle. Some feat eh?

Range Rovers and Land Rovers are “the ideal frame for conversions of every kind; from rail vehicles to specialist safari cars and military transportation and emergency.” Land Rover have risen to very demand.

Here is a link to the Land Rover’s interactive heritage. I included this because it allows you to literally drive through the ages, and each stopping point shows videos that have accumulated since the birth of Land Rover.


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