Land Rover: Britain’s Post-War Darling

The Land Rover Series I, II, and III (commonly referred to as Series Land Rovers to distinguish them from later models), or simply Land-Rover, has been produced by the Rover Company since 1948, and later by British Leyland. Inspired by the World War II jeep, the Land Rover became the first mass-produced civilian four-wheel drive car with doors and an available hard roof. Contrary to conventional car and truck chassis, it used a sturdier box-welded frame. With the post-war steel shortage and a surplus of aluminum, Land Rover built these with non-rusting aluminum alloy bodies, contributing to their longevity. In 1992, Land Rover claimed that 70% of all the vehicles they had built were still in use.

Most series models feature leaf-spring suspension with either two or four-wheel drive. However, Series I's produced between 1948 and mid-1951 had constant 4WD via a freewheel mechanism, and the early V8 version of the Series III featured permanent 4WD. All three models could be started with a front hand crank and had the option of front & rear power takeoffs for accessories.

The Rover Company conceived the Land Rover in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II. As post-war demand for Rover’s luxury cars waned and raw materials became strictly rationed, the company recognized a need to shift focus. Rover's original factory in Coventry had been bombed during the war, forcing the company to move into a factory formerly used to construct Bristol Hercules aircraft engines in Solihull near Birmingham. While starting car production there from the ground up was not financially viable, plans for a small, economical car known as the M Type were drawn up, and a few prototypes made; however, they proved to be too costly to produce.

Maurice Wilks, Rover's chief designer came up with a plan to produce a light agricultural and utility vehicle, similar to the Willys Jeep used in the war. His design added a power take-off (PTO) feature to cover a gap in the market between jeeps and tractors (which offered the feature but were less flexible as transport). The original Land Rover concept was born as a cross between a light truck and a tractor, similar to the Unimog developed in Germany during this period.

The first prototype had a distinctive feature — a middle-mounted steering wheel which came to be known as the "centre steer" and was built on a Jeep chassis. The bodywork was handmade out of an aluminum/magnesium alloy called Birmabright. Early vehicles came in various shades of light green dictated by military surplus supplies of aircraft cockpit paint. The first pre-production Land Rovers were developed in late 1947 by a team led by engineer Arthur Goddard.

As the vehicle moved from prototype toward production, the emphasis on tractor-like usage decreased and the center steering proved impractical. The steering wheel moved to a side mount, the bodywork was simplified and it was given a larger engine, together with a specially designed transfer gearbox to replace the Jeep unit. The resulting vehicle no longer used Jeep components yet still retained the PTO drives.

The Land Rover was only meant be in production for two to three years to build cash flow and export orders for the Rover Company so it could restart luxury car production. However, the off-road Land Rover greatly outsold the luxury cars once production restarted. Many of the defining and successful features of the Land Rover design resulted frmo Rover's drive to simplify the tooling required for the vehicle and to use minimal rationed materials. The aluminum alloy bodywork (which has been retained throughout production due to its ideal properties of light weight and corrosion resistance despite it now being more expensive than a conventional steel body) as well as the distinctive flat body panels with only simple, constant-radius curves and the sturdy box-section ladder chassis distinguish the Land Rover brand.

Series I

Series I Land Rover entered production in 1948 and was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Originally the Land Rover was a single model offering, which from 1948 until 1951 used an 80-inch (2.03 m) wheelbase and a 1.6-litre petrol engine producing around 50 bhp (37 kW; 51 PS). It incorporated the four-speed gearbox from the Rover P3 with a new two-speed transfer box. This model featured an unusual four-wheel-drive system, with a freewheel unit (used on several Rover cars of the time). This disengaged the front axle from the manual transmission on the overrun, allowing permanent 4WD. A ring-pull mechanism in the driver's footwell allowed the freewheel to be locked to provide more traditional 4WD. Tops for the doors and a roof (canvas or metal) were optional extras. In 1950, the lights moved from a position behind the grill to protruding through the grill.

Early on, Land Rover recognized buyer demand for a vehicle with Land Rover’s functionality and a more comfortable interior, prompting the company to launch a second body option called the "Station Wagon" in 1949. Fitted with a body built by Tickford, a coachbuilder known for their work with Rolls-Royce and Lagonda, the bodywork was wooden-framed and had seating for seven people. Tickford’s higher end features compared with the standard Land Rover – leather seats, a heater, a one-piece laminated windscreen, a tin-plate spare wheel cover, some interior trim and other options. – provided the styling upgrades Land Rover sought. Tickford’s wooden construction made them expensive to build, however, and because they were taxed as a private car, unlike the original Land Rover, fewer than 700 Tickfords were sold, and all but 50 were exported.

In 1952 and 1953, a larger 2.0-litre petrol engine was fitted. This engine has Siamese bores, meaning that there are no water passages for cooling between the cylinders. In 1950, the unusual semi-permanent 4WD system was replaced with a more conventional system, with drive to the front axle being taken through a simple dog clutch. Around this time the Land Rover' changed classification from a commercial vehicle, (meaning it was free from purchase tax) to a "multi-purpose vehicle" which was only to be classed as a commercial vehicle if used for commercial purposes.

The Station Wagon

After adding a long wheelbase model in 1954, Land Rover also offered the world's first four-five door, 4WD off-road station wagon in 1956. Series Land Rovers and Defenders offered up to seven seats in the SWB, and up to ten seats in the LWB models, exceeding the capacity of most minivans, when comparing vehicles of the same length. The 1954 model year also brought a 107-inch (2.72 m) wheelbase "pick up" version. The extra wheelbase was added behind the cab area to provide additional load space.

The first five-door model was introduced in September 1955 on the 107-inch chassis known as the "station wagon" with seating for up to ten people. The 86-inch station wagon was a three-door, seven-seater. The new station wagons were built with simple metal panels and bolt-together construction instead of the complex wooden structure of the previous Tickford model. Intended for both commercial use and passenger transport, the station wagons became the first expansion of the Land Rover range. Station wagons were fitted with a "Safari Roof" which consisted of a second roof skin fitted on top of the vehicle. This kept the interior cool in hot weather and reduced condensation in cold weather. Vents fitted in the roof allowed added ventilation to the interior. While they were based on the same chassis and drivetrains as the standard vehicles, station wagons carried different chassis numbers, special badging, and were advertised separately. Unlike the original station wagon, the new in-house versions were highly popular.

In mid-1956 the wheelbases were extended to 88 inches (2.24 m) and 109 inches (2.77 m), and the front chassis cross-member was moved an inch forward, to accommodate the new diesel engine, an option that came the following year. This change was made to all models with the exception of the 107 station wagon, which would never be fitted with a diesel engine, and would eventually be the last Series I in production. These dimensions stayed consistent on all Land Rovers for the next 25 years.

In 1957 a new 2.0-litre diesel engine was introduced. Petrol engines of the time used the inlet-over-exhaust valve arrangement; the diesel used the more modern overhead valve layout. This diesel engine was one of the first high-speed diesels developed for road use, producing 52 hp (39 kW) at 4,000 rpm.

Series II

The Series II had a production run from 1958 to 1961. It came in 88 in. (2.24 m) and 109 in. (2.77 m) wheelbases (referred to as the 'SWB' and 'LWB'). Chief Stylist David Bache produced the familiar 'barrel side' body style, with a 5 in. (12.7 cm) greater width to cover the vehicle's wider tracks, introducing the curved side windows and rounded roof still used on current Land Rovers. The series II was the first vehicle to use the 2.25-litre petrol engine, although the first 1,500 or so short wheelbase (SWB) models retained the 52 hp (39 kW) 2.0-litre petrol engine from the Series I. This larger petrol engine produced 72 hp (54 kW) and was closely related to the 2.0-litre diesel unit still in use. This engine became the standard Land Rover unit until the mid-1980s when diesel engines became more popular.

The 109-inch (2.77 m) Series II station wagon introduced a twelve-seater option in addition to the standard ten-seater model. This allowed the vehicle to be classed as a bus and therefore exempt from UK Purchase Tax and Special Vehicle Tax, making the twelve-seater not only cheaper to buy than the 10-seater version, but also cheaper than the seven-seater 88-inch (2.24 m) Station Wagon. The twelve-seater layout remained a highly popular body style and was retained on the later series and Defender variants until 2002. The unusual bus-class status of the twelve-seater remained until the end.

The Series IIA is perhaps the most recognizable of the Land Rover models from its many appearances in popular films and television documentaries set in Africa throughout the 1960s. In its twentieth year in February 1968, just a few months after the Rover Company incorporated with the Leyland Motor Corporation under government pressure, the Land Rover reached a total production just shy of 600,000, of which more than 70% had been exported. Sales of utility Land Rovers reached their peak in 1969–70, when sales of over 60,000 Land Rovers a year were recorded. (For comparison, the sales of the Defender have been around the 25,000 level since the 1990s.) As well as record sales, the Land Rover dominated many world markets – in Australia in the 1960’s, Land Rover held 90% of the 4×4 market. This figure was repeated in many countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Series III

Little changed cosmetically from the IIA to the Series III, the most common series vehicle with 440,000 of the type built from 1971 to 1985. The headlights were moved to the wings on late production IIA models from 1968/9 onward to comply with Australian, American and Dutch lighting regulations and remained in this position for the Series III. A plastic grill replaced the traditional metal grill. The 2.25-litre engine had its compression raised from 7:1 to 8:1, increasing the power slightly (the high compression engine had been an optional fit on the IIa model for several years). The Series III had a production run from 1971 until 1985, and the 1,000,000th Land Rover rolled off the production line in 1976.

The Series III saw many changes in latter years as Land Rover updated the design to meet increased competition. In keeping with trends in automotive interior design of the early 1970’s both in safety and use of more advanced materials, the simple metal dashboard of earlier models was redesigned as a new molded plastic dash. The instrument panel, which was previously centrally located, was moved to the driver's side.

In 1980, the 2.25-litre petrol and diesel engines received five main bearing crankshafts to increase rigidity and the transmission, axles and wheel hubs were strengthened. This culminated a series of transmission updates that had been made since the 1960s to combat the problem of the rear axle half-shafts breaking in heavy usage. This problem was partly due to the design of the shafts themselves where the fully floating design of the rear wheel hubs allowed the half shafts to be removed quickly without having to jack the vehicle off the ground. The tendency for commercial operators to overload their vehicles exacerbated this flaw which altered the perception of the series Land Rovers in many of their export markets and established a reputation that continues in many markets today. This is despite the 1982 re-design (mainly the increase of driving-splines from 10 to 24 to reduce stress) that all but solved the problem.

These changes culminated in April 1982 with the introduction of the "County" spec. Station Wagon Land Rovers, available in both 88-inch (2,200 mm) and 109-inch (2,800 mm) types. These had all-new cloth seats from the Leyland T-45 Lorry, soundproofing kits, tinted glass and other "soft" options designed to appeal to the leisure owner/user.

A High Capacity Pick-up with 109-inch (2,800 mm) chassis offered 25% more cubic capacity than the standard pick-up style. The HCPU came with heavy-duty suspension and was popular with public utility companies and building contractors.

One Ton 109

The One Ton 109 inch was produced from 1968 to 1977, covering late IIA and series III Models. It was basically a series-IIB forward control built with a standard 109 in body, featuring 2.6-litre petrol engine, lower ratio gearbox, ENV front and rear axles, (Salisbury front and rear on later series IIIs) though some late IIAs were fitted with ENV axles in front and Salisbury on the rear. Later series III’s had a Rover type front axle with uprated differential. The chassis frame was unique to the model and featured drop-shackle suspension similar to the military series Land Rovers. 900 x 16 tires were a standard feature and these vehicles were commonly used by utility and towing companies. Only 170 IIA and 238 series IIIs (1 Ton) were built for the home market. Export markets had even fewer examples, making this one of the rarest types of Land-Rover ever built.

Santana Land Rover 88 Series

Land Rover began partnering with Santana Motor S.A., a Spanish car manufacturer based in Linares, in 1956. When the company, founded as "Metalúrgica de Santa Ana, SA," decided to expand beyond its original agricultural equipment product line, it entered into talks with the Rover car company to obtain a licensing agreement to build Land Rover series models in their factory, similarly to the Minerva company in Belgium, Tempo in Germany and Morattab company in Iran. Production began in 1958 of Land Rover models under license in CKD form (Complete Knocked Down kits shipped from the Land Rover factory in Solihull). From 1968, Santana began developing its own versions of the Land Rover series models, developing new engines and new models and this close relationship with Land Rover led the company to change its name to "Land Rover Santana, SA".

In 1962 the company became responsible for promoting the Santana and Land Rover brands in Central and South American Markets as well as Africa. CKD kits were also supplied to the Moroccan and Costa Rican markets by the company. Because of the harsh working lives vehicles endured in these environments, customer feedback on the range meant that Santana were often far more aware of each model's failings than the Land Rover company itself was. Because of the tight financial position in this period of British Leyland (which owned Land Rover), Santana was often better placed than Land Rover to deal with these failings. This meant that Santana began to engineer its own solutions to common problems into the models it produced and thus Santana's models diverged from Land Rover's original products. Up to the late 1980s the Santana models – supposed to be quickly and cheaply built versions of Land Rover's original product - often ended up being quite different to Land Rover's own vehicles. For instance Santana models featured anatomical seats, disc-brakes, turbo diesel engines, taper-leaf springs, coil springs, and civilian-specification Forward Control versions before the Land Rover equivalents and there was even a civilian version of the Land Rover Lightweight called the "Ligero" which was never released by Land Rover.

The Santana Motor Company ended its agreement with Land Rover in 1983 but continued to develop its own range of vehicles which remained visually similar to Land Rover's series and Defender range until the company went out of business in 2011.

Rig illustration reference credit: @tyler.mattson.90 via @jeth_rover