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Land Rover Cars

LAND ROVER: THE 50-YEAR OLD Stop Gap

 

April 30, 1998, marked the 50th anniversary of a  British institution: Land Rover is a name which has become synonymous with the  four-wheel-drive-vehicle, and its un-mistakeable shape is recognized around the globe. 


Post war Britain, economic conditions were  tough and  Rover, in common with other car manufacturers, had to seek permission from the government in order to re-start  car production.

The government controlled the car manufacturers by strictly limiting the supply of steel, without which, production would be untenable. In the hope that these restrictions would soon be lifted,  Rover engineers prepared a small car design. But  it became apparent that rationing would continue and supplies were  being allocated in proportion to the number of cars exported , it became obvious that a small car for the U.K. market could not be produced.

 

Rover now had a problem; the company  Solihull factory  was vast and the limited car production which Rover was  allowed , was far too small to sustain the large plant. Rover needed something urgently, at least on a temporary basis.

 

Two directors the  Wilks brothers - Spencer and Maurice - and they put their minds to the problem of coming up with a vehicle which would be simple in design, cheap to build, require minimal tooling and preferably  use as little sheet steel as possible. It was not long before the two brothers homed in on the idea of some sort of utilitarian vehicle to suit the  post-war climate. 

Maurice Wilks owned an  estate  on the island of Anglesey.  Its reputed that Maurice liked to get involved in the  farm as much as possible, and that he needed a vehicle which could double as both a light tractor and road transport. 

A Willys Jeep was brought into fulfil this role, legend says the  Rover  man  disliked having to depend upon a  vehicle of overseas origin and that despite  its offroad ability, the Jeep  the useful power take-offs that a farmer expected from his tractor. when asked by his brother what he would replace the Jeep with when it expired, Maurice  had no idea - there just wasn't anything else on the market. It was decided that they should design their own improved replacement.

 

Work on this began at Solihull, using the Jeep as the basic design parameters. Maurice Wilks saw the project as a "stop-gap" with which to keep Rover going, until the governments  quotas relaxed. Maurice coined the name "Land Rover for his new vehicle."

 

The shortage of steel meant that the bodywork was developed in "Birmabright" aluminum alloy  This brought certain advantages over steel aluminum, being softer than steel,  it was  easier to shape, keeping tooling requirements to a minimum.,  it was lightweight and more resistant to corrosion - an  advantage for any vehicle  but not a major factor in deciding in its use.  The biggest advantage of all was the relative ease of supply now that the aircraft industry no loger needed vast supplies of it.

 

Work on the prototype started in early  1947. 

The engine in the prototype was a  pre-war 1389 c.c. sidevalve Rover 10 four-cylinder, but  this engine was not powerful enough for the duties expected of the new Land Rover, The engine for the production Land Rover was a version of that developed for the  Rover  60 saloon a  1,595 c.c. four-cylinder  petrol engine with  inlet over exhaust valve arrangement, producing just 50 hp at a lowly 4,000 rpm. The  gearbox was also derived from 60 saloon,  modified to include low ratio transfer box for off road use. The Early cars also used a semi permanently engaged four-wheel-drive transmission with a free-wheel device between the transfer box and the front prop shaft.

The Land Rover was unveiled at the Amsterdam Motor Show of 1948  and the order books quickly filled far beyond Rovers expectations.

In 1950, the free-wheel was discontinued  in favour of a selectable four-wheel  or Two-wheel drive setup a method which would remain unchanged for over 30 year , and in 1952   the engine capacity was increased to 1,997 c.c. in an attempt to increase the rather lumbering road performance.

In 1957, a new 2,052 c.c. diesel engine was released, followed a year later by a new 2,286 c.c. petrol unit. 

The Military around the world recognized the Land Rover's versatility and ruggedness, and sales to the armed forces of most western nations became a major part of  Rovers business. Competition started to arrive  in the form of the Austin Gipsy, which was launched in 1958, keeping the Land Rover under development  for ten years but, but  in 1968, when both Austin and Land Rover were merged to form part of the Giant British Leyland Motor Corporation, it was the Land Rover  - with production  past a quarter of a million  - which survived at the expense of its  rival.

 

Land Rover expanded the range of its products  in the 1960s, offering  multiple wheelbases, a  forward control variant and increasing numbers of  special purpose vehicles, including a  Military light weight Land Rover  for air-freighting into battle.

 

The late 1960s saw a  growth in the  four-wheel drive market,  Land Rover held  a third of the world 4*4 market and Land Rover found itself at the forefront of a new market,  that of the sport utility vehicle.

Whether by luck or good judgment  this coincided  with a project for a  100-Inch Estate which was developed by Spen King. His at the time almost laughable  idea was to build something which combined the comfort and road performance of  normal Rover cars with the off-road capability of a Land Rover. 

 

The result of this exercise was  the Range Rover, launched on June 17, 1970 a product which would take the Land Rover into new and ever more exclusive markets.