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65 Years of Land Rover

6 May 2013

We recently had an opportunity to attend Land Rover’s 65th anniversary celebrations at Packington Hall in the UK. A phenomenal number of Land Rovers were on display (check out this gallery to see some of them), but a handful of them were particularly eye-catching and fascinating.

1. The Original 80-Inch Land Rover (1951)

The first Land Rovers had a permanent four-wheel drive system with a freewheel in the driveline to prevent axle wind-up. This freewheel was borrowed from Rover cars, where it permitted the car to coast at speed but gave instant take-up of the drive when the engine revs were raised again. Its disadvantage in Land Rovers was that it could jam if the driver reversed quickly over a long distance. So from 1950 all Land Rovers had a foolproof selectable four-wheel drive system where drive to the front axle could be disconnected for road use. This system remained in use for more than 30 years, giving way to a permanent four-wheel drive system with centre differential in 1983.

2. The 107-Inch (1954)

The demand for Land Rovers with more load-carrying ability persuaded Rover to develop a larger model, which was announced in September 1953 at the same time as the 86-inch replacement for the original 80-inch. The new model had a wheelbase of 107 inches, but the same mechanical specification as the smaller types. It was designed primarily for the pick-up market – early models were sold with road tyres – and for most countries came as standard with a metal “truck cab”. This was a bolt-on component originally designed as an extra for the 80-inch and still available as an extra for the 86- inch. The new 107-inch Land Rover had started out as a 104-inch model, with two feet added to the original 80-inch size. However, the decision to make the load bed a full six feet long demanded a 107- inch wheelbase. The first year’s production had two new colour schemes: grey with blue wheels and chassis, or blue with grey wheels and chassis. This example has the optional De Luxe cab, with additional padded trim.

3. The Tickford Station Wagon (1949)

Rover’s Chief Engineer Maurice Wilks saw very early on that there would be customers for a passenger-carrying version of the Land Rover, and in particular he imagined it would be useful for traditional country activities such as grouse shooting. He had a pre- production chassis bodied by the coachbuilders Salmons-Tickford of Newport Pagnell, who had built drophead bodywork for Rover cars, and by October 1948 the model was ready for production, being exhibited at the Commercial Motor Show that month. The Tickford body was constructed in traditional coachbuilder’s fashion, with aluminium panels tacked over a wooden frame. The body was both wider and longer than the standard Land Rover pick-up type, and overhung the chassis noticeably. However, the Tickford Station Wagon was a slow seller. While the concept of a seven-seater was right, its status as a passenger- carrying vehicle incurred Purchase Tax in the UK, and this discouraged buyers. Overseas, there were some misgivings about the durability of its wooden construction. So the model was discontinued in 1951, after 650 had been built. Rover would return to the Station Wagon market in 1953.

4. Overland Expedition Replica (1957)

Land Rovers became the archetypal expedition vehicle in the first half of the 1950s, taking explorers and adventurers to places where only pack animals had previously been able to venture. Among the most notable expeditions was one mounted by six students from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with a pair of 86-inch Station Wagons lent to them by the Rover Company.The 1957 Station Wagon displayed had been kitted out in the style of those pioneering expedition vehicles. In 2011, it accompanied the Millionth Discovery on a journey across Europe without mishap.

5. Series IIB Forward Control (1966)

Still trying to get more load capacity for the Land Rover, Solihull’s engineers began looking at yet larger models towards the end of the 1950s. The design that made it to production in 1962 was a Forward Control version of the 109, with the cab moved forwards and above the engine, supported on a short extension of the chassis. The body was raised on its own sub-frame, mounted above the chassis behind the cab, which shared many panels with the “normal-control” Land Rovers. The original Forward Control was a Series IIA 109-inch type, available with 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol and, from 1963, 2.6-litre six-cylinder petrol engines. A minor redesign turned it into a Series IIB with 110- inch wheelbase in 1966 – and made it the only Land Rover to carry the Series IIB designation. Bowing to customer demand, Land Rover also made the Series IIB available with a 2.25-litre diesel engine, and this is the very first production example. Forward Controls were capable of carrying a 30cwt (3360 lb/1524kg) payload for road use. They were built in relatively small numbers until 1972.

6. “Forest Rover” Roadless 109 Conversion (1964)

When the Forestry Commission wanted a big-wheeled vehicle that could clamber over fallen tree-trunks, they looked at converting a Land Rover. Working with specialists Roadless Traction, whose main business was converting tractors to four-wheel drive, they fitted a 109-inch model with tractor tyres and wheels mounted on modified Studebaker truck axles. Roadless took on the design and obtained Land Rover approval for it (which meant that Solihull would honour its standard vehicle warranty). However, the market proved to be very limited. Examples went to electricity boards and the BBC, and one went to a farm on the Falkland Islands where it is still in use today. Only about eight were built, all in the early 1960s. The one exhibited was originally owned by the Central Electricity Generating Board, and spent most of its life at the Rheidol Dam in Wales.

7. Tracked Expedition Defender (1996)

One of seven vehicles that were specially prepared for the 1997-1998 Global Expedition that was to be led by the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. They were based on Defender XD models, the special heavy-duty military derivative that had been developed for a British MoD contract. The expedition was planned to cover 23,000 miles, leaving London and travelling through Russia and Alaska to finish in New York, but was cancelled at the last minute. For the crossing of the normally frozen Bering Straits, the vehicles were prepared with special track conversions at each wheel station. These followed the principle of a 1960s conversion but were more modern in design and were supplied by the US company, Mattracks. The vehicles also carried custom-made paddle-wheel catamarans made of Kevlar and driven from hydraulic pumps on their PTOs.

8. The Queen’s 110 Station Wagon (1983)

Land Rover is extremely proud of its relationship with the Royal Family, which began in 1948 when the 100th Land Rover was presented to King George VI. Since then, the Royal Family has used large numbers of Land Rovers, some as parade vehicles for State occasions, some for personal transport, and some as transport on the Royal estates. When the workhorse Land Rover switched from leaf springs to coil springs in 1983, becoming the new One Ten model, an example was specially prepared for the Royal Household. This One Ten Station Wagon was painted in all-over dark green (standard models still had galvanised body cappings and bumpers), and was fitted with grab handles on the sides, so that the ghillies (assistants at a pheasant shoot or fishing expedition) could ride on the outside of the vehicle, standing on the fold- down steps. It spent most of its time at Balmoral Castle.

9. First Production Range Rover (1969)

Rover engineer Spen King ran the company’s New Vehicle Projects division, and he became convinced he could design a more comfortable Land Rover after driving one of the company’s coil-sprung Rover 2000 saloons across a ploughed field near the factory. Together with chassis designer Gordon Bashford, he came up with the basic idea for a Land Rover 100-inch Station Wagon, which would use coil springs, all-disc brakes and the company’s latest 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine. Prototype development in the mid-1960s revealed the benefits of a permanent four-wheel-drive system, which did away with the need for a heavy-duty axle to take all the torque of the V8 engine; instead, two lighter axles could be used, to improve the ride quality. Meanwhile, the Rover Company had become part of British Leyland, and that company’s Donald Stokes had the launch of the new model brought forward to 1970, sure that it would be a success. In that, he was absolutely right.

10. Range Rover Drivable Chassis (1971)

When the Range Rover was brand new, a driveable demonstration chassis was built to show off the new technology that was invisible when the body was in place. The chassis was painted so that its components stood out from the black frame and axles; the propshafts, for example, had blue and white stripes so that they could more easily be seen rotating. The Sales Department had two more driveable demonstrators built from 1971-specification production chassis, and these performed a variety of dealer duties for the rest of the 1970s. This is one of them, which later spent some time with the Wiltshire Police at No6 Regional Driving School, and later became a tachograph test rig. Like the other two chassis, its metal “body” parts were painted in Amazon Green – a colour suggested for production Range Rovers but only used on prototypes.