Further Development of the Land Rover

By Kevin Phillips

At first there was only one type of Land Rover. This had an 80-inch wheelbase and a stubby load-carrying area with the option of a canvas roof covering. It was powered by a P3 based inlet over exhaust four cylinder engine of 1595cc. In this form it attracted big orders but before long there was pressure to modify and improve the original design of the vehicle, and within months the variants began to appear.

At the first post-war motor show at Earls Court in 1948 Rover showed a station wagon version of the Land Rover. Mechanically it was unchanged but the bodywork was largely new. The doors had winding windows and there were four inward facing seats at the rear. Paneling was in Birmabright Alloy and weather protection was complete. The first station wagon suffered badly because it was subjected to purchase tax in Britain, selling for 959 pounds, more than twice that of the basic vehicle. Because of this its sales were too low for Rover to sustain profitable production and it was withdrawn in 1951.

The station wagon was replaced with an optional 'van' body, which was the first of the closed versions, and this soon expanded to include vans with windows, proper station wagon type of windows and access, and the provision of a Land Rover with a truck type of cab.

Customers were beginning to demand more and more from their Land Rovers, the main wishes being that the vehicle should become stronger and faster. Very soon the Freewheel disappeared in favour of an optional four-wheel drive feature, and the headlamps were brought out into the open from behind the protective mesh of the grille. At the same time the original and very modest facia was replaced by a panel with bolder instruments.

From the beginning of 1952 the engine was bored out to 1997cc. The following year this engine was modified and adopted for the P4 60 saloon but incorporated differently spaced cylinder bores, a light alloy head and SU carburation. In 1955 the P4 engine was adopted for the Land Rover but used a cast iron cylinder head.

In 1954 the original wheelbase was extended by six inches and a new long wheelbase 107 inch chassis was offered. Sales continued to increase with more than 20,000 Land Rovers being built in the 1953/54-model year, and the 100,000th vehicle was built towards the end of 1954. In 1956 the wheelbase of both models was stretched by two inches to 88 and 109 inches respectively, the reason for this becoming clear eight months later when the new diesel engine version was announced. This four-cylinder engine was of the conventional overhead valve design, displacing 2052cc. A new overhead valve petrol engine was designed which had a great deal in common with the diesel engine. This new engine was to replace the P4 60 IOE 2 litre engine when the revised Series 2 Land Rover was launched, but the new engine wasn't ready and the first Series 2 models were fitted with the proven and reliable IOE unit.

Sales continued to rise with the quarter millionth Land Rover being built in November 1959, by which time production was running at more than 800 units per week. Several production lines were running in parallel and although the company was looking towards expansion, government policy dictated that it was more economical to acquire several local premises rather than develop factories out in the wilderness many miles from the Midlands. By the mid 1970's there were eight Rover factories in Birmingham and the small plant at Clay Lane in Coventry which supplied special bodywork items.

In 1961 the Series 2 became the Series 2A with the major change being further commonisation of the diesel and petrol engines, the diesel now being enlarged to match the 2,286cc of the petrol engine.

When production of the P4 models ceased in 1964 their production lines were given over to Land Rover and with the exception of one P5 3 Litre line, Land Rover production had completely taken over the original 'Shadow Factory' buildings. Production could now be increased yet again and in 1963/64 sales exceeded 40,000 units. Land Rovers were now being built for the world's military and security organisations - and Rover were later to claim that they had supplied machines to every country in the world except for Albania and North Vietnam.

The 500,000th Land Rover was built in April 1966, and 1967 saw the power option of a 2.6 Litre six cylinder de-tuned P4 IOE engine on the 109-inch wheelbase models. This engine lasted to 1980, with the 3.5 Litre V8 engine and revised frontal styling becoming available in 1979.

The Series 3 was launched in October 1971 just after total sales had passed the three quarter million mark. These vehicles could be recognised by the new front grille and full width facia styling, and were supplied with well upholstered front seats, padded door frames and provision for a radio to be fitted. In 1968 the headlamps had been moved out from the centre panel to the front of the wings to satisfy legislative requirements in certain countries, and had been standardised for all models.

In June 1976 the millionth Land Rover was officially driven off of the production line at Solihull. This was a momentous Occasion attended by the media and civic dignitaries of Solihull, Birmingham and Cardiff where parts were all made.

Reconstruction at Solihull has allowed more 4X4's to be built and expansion has continued. By the end of 1980 more than 1,500 Land Rovers and up to 450 Range Rovers could be built every week. The record yearly output stood at 56,663 units during the 1970/71-production year, with industrial and other stoppages, often at parts supplier's factories accounting for the shortfall for many years afterwards.

During the early sixties Spen King and Gordon Bashford experimented with several lightweight 4X4's, one being the military 'half-ton' 88 inch wheelbase machine. Mechanically it was almost entirely standard, but a rapidly de-mountable body meant that it could be stripped right down for transport underneath a Sea King helicopter, or inside a Hercules transport plane. This strange and stark version became the 'standard' 88 inch short wheelbase Land Rover until the late 1980's.

Another development was the 'forward control' Land Rover with its greater ground clearance and big 25 cwt payload. The first version used the existing 109 inch chassis frame with a much modified cab, raised and placed well forward on a new chassis sub-frame. This vehicle was a great deal heavier than the normal control machines and was somewhat underpowered, especially with the diesel engine installed. In 1966 this version was substantially re-engineered and offered with the P4 six cylinder engine. The front axle had to be moved forward to accommodate this engine, while at the same time the payload was increased to 30 cwt.

In the meantime one of the most specialised Land Rovers ever designed was under wraps. Built purely for the British Army to tow their secret 105 mm gun, it was a most intriguing mixture of Land Rover and the future Range Rover thinking. The chassis was all new having a wheelbase of 101 inches and a forward control driving position. Under wraps was a military adaptation of the future Range Rover's 3,528 cc V8 engine, and a massive four wheel drive central transmission which includes a centre differential. Unique to the 101 inch Land Rover is the permanently specified power take-off at the rear of the vehicle. This is tailored to convert into a universally jointed drive shaft, which links up to a powered trailer or gun carriage. The vehicle/trailer hook connection combines towing, steering, articulating and a driving function, and because of this was very expensive and pernickety to build. Rover prepared a special film demonstrating the abilities of the Land Rover / trailer combination acting as a phenomenally tractable 6X6, in which the mud and the hill climbing abilities border on the miraculous if not impossible.

By the mid 1970's the Land Rover assembly lines were becoming overcrowded with the whole area virtually bursting at the seams. No further expansion was possible until new production lines could be built. This began to happen in the late 1970's when the massive new assembly hall for SD1 assembly was finished. When P6B production ended in 1976 the North Block, which had been set up for originally for P6 assembly in the early 1960's, was hurriedly cleared to allow for further Land Rover and Range Rover assembly. A big re-shuffle in 1978/79 led to a new V8 Land Rover production line being laid in the 'shadow factory' building.

By 1979 the entire original Rover plant at Solihull including the new North Block developed for the P6, was completely given over to Land Rover assembly, such was the demand for these remarkable vehicles. The new SD1 assembly hall was immense and would look after assembly of several other British Leyland models, including the very last P6 2200 cars in 1977.

When the one millionth Land Rover was built British Leyland issued a press release stating that three-quarters of the Land Rovers built had been exported, and that it had taken 17 years to build the first half million, but only another 11 to double that figure. Petrol engined models accounted for four in every five sales, with long wheelbase models accounting for two in every three sales. Iran, Iraq and the United Arab States figured strongly among the exporting top ten, not bad for a vehicle that was originally designed only as a stopgap measure.

Since that time the Land Rover has continued to leap ahead and has grown once more, becoming the 90 inch and 110 inch wheelbase models during the 1980's. The original Land Rover is now known as the 'Defender' and has now been developed into a whole family of similar vehicles including the Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and Freelander, all of which are part of Land Rover's continuing success story.

With the split from Rover cars and its sale to Ford earlier this year, the survival and continuing dominance of Land Rover is guaranteed. Right from the beginning it was a success and has ensured the survival of the Rover marque. The big question now is 'can Rover survive without Land Rover'? If it does not the blame can be laid fairly and squarely with BMW for splitting up and destroying an historic British institution.

The Land Rover's strength and abilities can best be summed up by the following. For many years Britain's Motor Industry Research Association kept one that they used for crashing into other car manufacturers new models for destruction testing. The Land Rover never lost a battle.