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Land Rover celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and to commemorate its journey, the company plan to restore the original Land Rover. It will be a year-long mission before the historical prototype is fully restored and ready to be driven again.
Simply known as ‘Land Rover’, the very first model to ever take to UK roads was first shown at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, 63 years ago.
The Land Rover story began in 1948 and has led to more than 67 years of continuous production of iconic Series I to Defender vehicles at Solihull. To commemorate the birth of Land Rover, we’ve put together a brief history of this iconic vehicle from its birth right up to modern day.
1947/48 The birth of the Land Rover
The Land Rover derived its name from its original owner, the Rover Company, to devise the Land Rover Series which launched in 1948. Rover’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks and a team of associates created a prototype in 1947 using a chassis taken from the Jeep and an engine taken from the Rover car. On the 30th April 1948, the original Land Rover was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show and it achieved instant success. Such was the popularity of the new vehicle, by the end of the year Land Rover was being exported to nearly 70 countries.
After a highly successful decade, it was clear changes needed to be made to ensure Land Rover sales continued to flourish. In 1958 the Land Rover Series II was launched and sported a larger 2.25 litre petrol engine, based on power input of the recently introduced diesel engine. A new gearbox was brought in which was similar to that of the original Land Rover but with synchromesh on the 3rd and 4th gear. New styling remained conservative but added rounded corners and sills to the design. The Series II sold well, with sales of 28,000 units in the first year and 34,000 the year after.
Following the company’s merge with Leyland Motors Ltd in 1969, the birth of the Range Rover came about the following year in 1970. Launched to critical acclaim in Cornwall in 1970, the first generation Range Rover known as the Classic, and originally only available as a two-door vehicle, was launched. The first generation Range Rover featured a lightweight V8 engine, four-wheel drive and all-round disc brakes. Numerous variations and upgrades were introduced during its 25 year lifespan including the introduction of a four-door model in 1981, an automatic gearbox in 1982 and the first diesel engine in 1986. In 1986, it became the world’s first 4×4 to feature anti-lock brakes. It also became the first vehicle to complete at 18,000-mile Trans-America expedition and a 7,500 mile trek across the Sahara Desert in 100 days!
In 1971, the Land Rover Series IIA was replaced by the Series III. Research at the time revealed that customers were happy with the existing model and were not looking for radical changes, which is why the Series III was closely designed on the Series IIA. The biggest change to the new vehicle was the introduction of a completely new gearbox, a new clutch design was also incorporated which resulted in smoother and quieter gear changes. Brakes were also improved. Despite little changes to the outside of the car, internally the Series III looked very different with a redesigned dash, upholstered door interiors and an integrated heater all adding to the brands aim to produce a luxury vehicle – there were even provisions for an integrated radio!
1983: The Land Rover 110 (renamed Defender in 1990) introduced
The new Land Rover One Ten used the coil spring suspension of the Range Rover in a new stronger chassis frame. Additional features included a five-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, a one-piece windscreen and optional power steering. Annual production of the Land Rover now exceeded 12 000 vehicles.
Following the privatisation of the Rover Group in 1988 to become part of British Aerospace, the company was now known simply as Rover, and in 1989 the new Discovery was born. Launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1989, the Discovery moved the Land Rover away from its traditional markets and into the burgeoning leisure sector. Based on the Range Rover, the Discovery offered an interior distinctive in style and an exterior featuring a distinctive stepped roof. Debuting with a new 200 TDi direct-injection diesel engine and a 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine, and backed by a massive marketing campaign, the Discovery was now the vehicle everyone wanted. The following year, in support of the new Land Rover brand strategy, a new model sporting the 200TDi diesel engine was released named the ‘Defender’.
1997: Introduction of Freelander
Following the acquisition of the Rover Group by BMW in 1994, the Land Rover Freelander was launched just 3 years later. Powered by a four cylinder petrol or diesel engine, the Freelander came in two distinct body styles – a five door estate and an exciting three-door version. The Freelander offered a new standard off off-roading for its owners, reinforced by its new innovative Hill Descent Control (HDC) system, and it proved highly popular at the time.
Following the Stormer concept car which Land Rover originally released in 2004, which showcased the future design direction of the Range Rover, in 2005 the Range Rover Sport went into production. The introduction of the first sports SUV in the Range Rover family showed Land Rover’s commitment to performance. Engine options included a Supercharged 4.2 litre petrol engine. The Range Rover Sport also offered cross-linked air suspension, giving drivers optional ride height and 4×4 driving.
2011: The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque introduced
Range Rover Evoque made a splash as soon as it was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. Land Rover were successful in creating a car that married Land Rover’s best-of-breed 4 wheel drive practicality with dramatic styling to produce a car that is now one of the most sought-after cars on the road. Using lightweight composites and regenerative brakes, the car now offered a fuel efficiency that was light years away from the original Range Rover. The new Range Rove Evoquer have showed that British cars can remain unique, distinctive and massively appealing in an ever more competitive and fractured market place.
A new addition to the Range Rover family is revealed, which promises to deliver an SUV with the same capability, luxury and refinement of previous vehicles. Referred to as ‘mid-sized’ by Land Rover and voiding the gap between the compact Evoque and the Larger Range Rover, the Velar is the fourth addition to the Range Rover line up. Naturally, four-wheel drive and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system are both standard, even at the base of the line-up – but so, too, are four-cylinder engines, coil suspension. On the market for around £15,000 less than the Range Rover Sport in entry-level trim, Land Rover are expecting the Velar to attract as much interest as the Evoque did, but only time will tell if this is the case.