In the grim environment of post-war Britain, raw steel had been rationed by the government. The biggest supplies went to manufacturers who could turn it into exportable goods. Brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks, who controlled Rover, found a way around this.
Maurice had bought a war-surplus Willys Jeep to use on his farm, which gave him an idea: take the Jeep’s outstanding off-road qualities and use them in a dual-role, 4×4 vehicle farmers would really value.
The first “Land Rover” prototype was a pick-up/tractor hybrid with its single, central seat, and stark functionality. It had Willys proportions because it actually used a Jeep body frame and axles. The Rover board gave cautious approval in September 1947 and, within a year, pilot production began. The Land Rover’s bodywork was made from aluminum—cheap, plentiful, and, critically, unaffected by government restrictions. It was also light, giving great nimbleness on off-road terrain. Rover car components were used. The 80in (2m) wheelbase was retained, although later extended by 4in (10cm).
Early Land Rovers had a four-wheel drive system with no central differential and a freewheel in the front drive to reduce tire scrub. This was not so good for coming down hills, where the wheels turned at different speeds. In 1950, a dogleg clutch was added to give the driver two- or four-wheel drive.
Rover envisaged selling 50 a week as a sideline. Yet, within a year, Land Rovers were outselling Rover cars.
“It must be along the lines of the Willys Jeep, but much more versatile, more useful as a power source, be able to do everything.”
Maurice Wilks, originator of the land rover
Video model car Land Rover Series I
Specification model car Land Rover Series I
YEAR REVEALED: 1948
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Solihull, Warwickshire, UK
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 97ci (1,595cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 50bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving all four wheels
BODYWORK: two- or four-door seven- or nine-seater utility and station wagon
TOP SPEED: 56mph (90kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 201,872