A 1998 press release by the Rover Group.

Land Rover is not just a vehicle, it is an institution. Conceived as nothing more than a short-term stop-gap, it went on to break records worldwide and to become the definitive 4WD brand.

This 1946 prototype for a small car, the Rover Ml, might have been a very different alternative to the Land Rover project

At the end of the Second World War in 1945, the Rover company had established itself as a respected manufacturer of quality medium sized saloon cars which enjoyed a deserved following in the home market. However, with the greatly changed conditions of the postwar world, Rover had to change its outlook. From its original Coventry base, the company was moving into the former shadow factory at Solihull, with a potential capacity greatly in excess of the company's production hitherto. At this time, the British government was also encouraging the motor industry to manufacture products for export.

Rover, therefore, needed a new product a product which could be manufactured in substantial numbers and which would appeal to worldwide markets. Initially, some work was done on a "baby car", the 700cc two seater Ml, but contemporary opinion believed that there would be a greater market for medium sized or large cars overseas. As the Ml was abandoned and as work was intensified on Rover's proper postwar model the P4, launched in 1949 an odd set of circumstances led Rover to explore a totally different field.

This first prototype from 1947 featured this unusual centre steering layout

Rover's engineering director, Maurice Wilks, had a property and land in Anglese~ where he used a war surplus American Jeep. One day his brother Spencer, the company's managing director, asked him what he would do when the Jeep wore out. Maurice answered, "Buy another one, I suppose - there isn't any thing else". This remark led directly to a decision being made that Rover would design and manufacture a light four wheel drive utility vehicle, using many existing components from their cars but with a chassis and transmission inspired by the successful Jeep, and with simple bodywork, made from aluminium to get around the problem of steel rationing.

The first prototypes of what was quickly named the Land Rover were constructed in the summer of 1947, and by. September the Rover board agreed to go ahead with the manufacture of the new vehicle which was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in April 1948, with a pilot production run of 48 vehicles being built before series production proper began. As first introduced, the Land Rover was available only in one model, an open utility vehicle with a wheelbase of 80 inches and the 1.6 litre four cylinder petrol engine from the Rover P3 60 saloon. Permanent four wheel drive was featured, with a freewheel in the front driveline, and a high-low transfer gearbox in addition to the normal four speed gearbox. Power take-offs were fitted to enable the Land Rover to be used as a stationary power source. Intended as a "farmer's maid for all work", early publicity showed the Land Rover with a variety of farming implements attached, while fire engine and mobile welder versions were also developed. The original UK launch price was 450 although from October 1948 this was increased to 540, and the Land Rover was not subject to Purchase Tax.

As early as 1948 Land Rover offered this more comfortable station wagon

The first year's production was only 3048 vehicles but 8000 were made of the
1949 models which was again doubled to 16,000 of the 1950 models. After steady growth over the next few years, a figure of more than 30,000 was reached for the first time with the 1958 models, and ten years on from there annual production exceeded 50,000 for the first time in 1968-69. What had once been considered as a stop gap until Rover could introduce a new postwar car, ended up being produced in greater numbers than the Rover cars.

Land Rovers were adopted by the military and police forces around the world

An early attempt at building a more civilised Land Rover came along in 1 94-8 when the first seven seater station wagon, with a coachbuilt body, was introduced - this was however too expensive as it attracted Purchase Tax, and was withdrawn in 1951. In 1949, the British Army ordered its first Land Rovers, and a batch of experimental vehicles was supplied to the Army, fitted with a Rolls Royce engine as part of a rationalisation programme for military vehicles. While this project was abandoned, the British Armed Forces eventually adopted Land Rovers in many different forms as their standard light fourwheel drive vehicle.

In 1953 the first long wheelbase Land Rover appeared

In 1950, permanent four-wheel drive was replaced by a system whereby either two or four-wheel drive could be selected in the high range, with permanent four-wheel drive in the low range. Two years later the engine was enlarged to 2 litres, similar to that of the new 60 version of the P4 car range, and in 1953 the wheelbase was extended to 86 inches. Also in 1953, the first true long wheelbase model appeared, the 107 inch, which was available with a four door station wagon body'. On 1958 models. wheelbases were further extended to 88 and 109 inches respectively, and for the first time a diesel engine became available, with Rover's awn 2 litre unit.

More than 200,000 Land Rovers of the original Series I models had been made when the tenth anniversary was marked in 1958 by the introduction of much revised Series II models, immediately recognisable from their forebears by virtue of the slightly re-styled body with side skirts and rounded shoulders in the side panels. The petrol engine was enlarged to 2.3 litres but the diesel engine had to wait until 1961 before also being enlarged to this size. At the same time, the Land Rovers were re-designated as Series IIA. In the following year, Land Rover offered a forward control version of its long wheelbase model, with considerably increased payload, but this model was not a great commercial success. However, in 1966 a revised forward control model, the Series IIB with a 110 inch wheelbase, became the first Land Rover to be fitted with a six cylinder engine, the 2.6 litre petrol unit also used in many Rover cars. The half millionth Land Rover was made in April 1966.

The Series IIA continued throughout the 1960's

Further versions continued to be added to the range, including a six cylinder bonneted control model, also available as a high capacity I ton pick-up, and the first of the special lightweight or ton models developed to meet military requirements for an air-portable Land Rover. One of the last changes to the long lived Series IIA came in 1968-69 when to meet legal requirements in many markets, headlamps were moved from their original position in the radiator grille to the front wings. In 1970-71, the highest annual production figure for Land Rover was reached with 56,663 vehicles. By then the still utilitarian Land Rover had been joined by a new product. As early as the 1950s Rover had planned to introduce a station wagon type vehicle to bridge the gap between cars and Land Rovers several prototypes were built of this Road Rover which featured rear wheel drive only.

One of the early 2 door Range Rovers

By the mid 1960s a similar idea was taken up in response to new American competitors but this time the so called 100 inch station wagon would have permanent four wheel drive. Launched in June 1970 as the Range Rover, it was fitted with Rover's 3.5 litre VS petrol engine, and long-travel coil springs in place of the Land Rover's conventional leaf springs. While being just as rugged and capable off road as its sister, the Range Rover also offered comfortable, high performance on road motoring. It quickly established a following and became the undisputed king of the four-wheel drive market, setting a trend towards more luxurious vehicles in this market sector.


Series III with new radiator grille and headlamps

Accompanying the Range Rover from 1971 was the new Series III Land
Rover, with a moulded plastic grille as an identification point, and a fully
synchronised gearbox for the first time. In 1976 another milestone was reached when the millionth Land Rover was built. Meanwhile, the Rover company had become a member of the British Levland conglomerate which in 1975 was effectively nationalised. As part of a restructuring of BL, in 1978 Land Rover Limited was established as a separate autonomous subsidiary which in 1982 would completely take over the Solihull site, with Rover car production being moved to Cowlev in Oxford. Between 1975 and 1978, an additional model was the 101 inch forward control, built exclusively for military applications and fitted with the 3.5 litreV8 engine. In 1979, for the first time this engine found an application in a civilian Land Rover, with the introduction of a bonnet control model with this engine, recognisable by its new flat front, and due to replace the six cylinder model.

Range Rover 4 door turbo diesel from 1986

Both Land Rover and Range Rover underwent further development. Thus in
1980, new four cylinder petrol and diesel engines for the Land Rover featured five bearing crankshafts. A small number of Range Rovers were converted to four door bodywork by the Swiss Monteverdi company, with the company's own four door following in 1981. In 1982 an automatic gearbox became an option on the Range Rover, and the first luxurious In Vogue limited edition appeared, later to be followed by regular production Vogue models. A five speed gearbox became standard in 1 983. The Land Rover range was enhanced with the better equipped County station wagons in 1982, together with new 109 inch high capacity pick-up.

More radical changes came to the Land Rovers in 1 983 with the adoption of long travel coil spring suspension. The first such new model was the 110 launched in March 1983, close to the 35th anniversary of the brand. Its distinctive flat front followed the design of the original 1979 V8 but had a new grille. A year later it was followed by the short wheelbase 90 (its actual wheelbase was nearer to 93 inches), and both models were fitted with a 2.5 litre diesel engine in addition to the established petrol engines, the 3.5 litre V8 and the four cylinder which in 1985 was also increased to 2.5 litres. Four cylinder coil spring models had a five speed gearbox from the start, fitted to V8s in 1985. Alongside the 90/110 series, the leaf spring Series III remained in limited production until discontinued in 1985.

Land Rovers are favourites with the armed forces, this is a Series III model with the British Army

During this period, Land Rover production slipped under increasing pressure from worldwide competition, Thus 1986 saw the lowest annual figure for more than 30 years of only 19,195 Land Rovers. Range Rover production on the other hand was now increasing, aided by a diesel version with the Italian VM engine introduced in 1986. For the first time in 1987, more than 20,000 Range Rovers were made in a year.

The British Government, anxious to complete privatisation of the BL company, in 1986 proposed to sell Land Rover, together with Leyland Vehicles, to the American GM group. This had to be abandoned in the face of public and parliamentary protests. BL, now under Graham Day's management, was renamed Rover Group with Land Rover as a closely integrated part, and in 1988 the company was finally sold to British Aerospace.

Land Rover Discovery ES

Throughout the 1980s, a long term strategy for Land Rover was being developed. Substantial investment was aimed at improving production facilities at Solihull, and several smaller satellite factories were closed down. The Land Rover was steadily improved, and the Range Rover was being developed as more of a luxury vehicle. In 1 987 Land Rover returned to the US market for the first time since 1 974 with specially adapted versions of the Range Rover, followed in 1992 by Land Rovers, including a special soft-top VS engined 90 model in 1994.

The gap that was developing between Land Rover and Range Rover was plugged in 1989 with the new Discovery, a mid-priced 4x4 station wagon aimed at the growing family/leisure market, and which borrowed much from the Range Rover. Originally available only in three door form it was joined by a five door in 1990. Engines were the faithful 3.5 litreV8 and Land Rover's new turbocharged direct injection 2.5 litre Tdi diesel engine. The Discovery proved to be enormously successful, in home and export markets. Also in 1989, the Range RoverV8 engine was increased in size to 3.9 litres.

Land Rover Defender 90 County station wagon

To match the Discovery and Range Rover models, in 1990 the basic Land Rover 90/110 models were given the model name Defender and were now also equipped with the Tdi diesel engine. Although most Range Rovers (except for some export models) were now four doors, in 1990 a limited edition CSK model - named after Charles Spencer King, the Range Rover's original designer - went on sale in the UK with the two door body style. The very last two door Range Rovers were built for export in January 1994.

Range Rover Limited Edition


In 1992, a long wheelbase Range Rover was introduced, offering substantially more leg room in the rear. This new model was fitted with a 4.2 litre V8 engine and also had electronically controlled air suspension in place of the coil springs. In the same year, the Tdi engine finally replaced the VM engine in Diesel Range Rovers.

The year 1994 saw the sale of Rover Group to the German car maker BMW. A few months later, the new second generation Range Rover was launched, with the elegantly re-styled body, the 108 inch wheelbase standard, and a choice of 4.0 or 4.6 litreV8 engines, or the BMW 2.5 litre six cylinder diesel.

The new model positioned Range Rover firmly as the world's leading - if not only - luxury off road vehicle. The old style Range Rover stayed in production as the Range Rover Classic but finally bowed out in 1996, after a total production of 317,615 units. The Defender range had celebrated another milestone when the 1.5 millionth vehicle since 1948 was built in July 1993, and annual production of these models had stabilised at around 25,000 per year in the mid 1990s.

Land Rover supplied vehicles for the film 'Judge Dredd'

In 1995, for the first time total Land Rover production reached more than 100,000 vehicles in one year. The best seller was now the Discovery and a version fitted with the 2 litre four cylinder petrol engine from Rover's car range was added, while this model was now also fitted with the 3.9 litre V8. By contrast, the V8 petrol Defender models were phased out in the home market (but remained available for export, notably in North America).As the Land Rover brand neared its 50th anniversary, a new model, code named CB4O, was under development, with preliminary details announced in the spring of 1997 when it was revealed that it would be called Freelander. This was a completely new concept for Land Rover, with unitary bodywork, independent suspension, and transverse engines shared with Rover cars - although of course still with four-wheel drive. A five door Station Wagon was supplemented by a three door model with a folding softback. As the fourth Land Rover model, the Freelander gave the brand an entry into the small/medium 4WD leisure sector and served to complete a unique range of world leading four-wheel drive vehicles. Serving in many different capacities in almost all countries of the world, the Land Rover models have truly earned the description of "The World's Most Versatile Vehicles".

Freelander