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A Brief History of the Series I Land Rover

Photo: Roberto Hirth, Rio de Janeiro

Just after the end of the Second World War, Spencer Wilks was managing director of the Rover car company and his brother Maurice Wilks was chief designer. The Rover company had been making aircraft parts but now steel was scarce. An alternative revenue source was needed for the Rover company to stay in business.
Spencer Wilks ran an old Willys Jeep on his farm. It was forever breaking down and there was no alternative useful vehicle. Spencer and Maurice hit on the idea of designing a replacement vehicle for farmers, utilising the readily available aluminium and minimising the use of scarce steel.
The Rover company produced their first
prototype vehicle for the land - called the 'Land Rover' within only 6 months of the Land Rover concept being born. The first Series 1 Land Rover was shown to the public at the Amsterdam Motor Show in April 1948.
During the development stage, jeeps were trialled, their weeknesses found and these were taken into account at the design stage. No Jeep parts were used in the early Series 1's, parts were either specially designed, or existing Rover car parts were used.
The engine used in the Land Rover was the Rover 1.6 litre car engine.
The first prototype Series 1 Land Rovers had power take-offs and could be harnessed to a variety of machinery to help the farmer on the land.
The first Series 1 Land Rovers went on sale for 450 pounds sterling, with passenger seat cushions, doors, heater, sidescreens, spare tyre and starting handle as optional extras.
By October 1948 a hard-top version of the 80in Series 1 Land Rover was being produced with seating for 7 passengers. These were relatively expensive due to UK purchase tax and most were exported.
Early Series Land Rovers were continuously being pushed to their limits by owners wanting ever more work out of them. So in 1952 a larger engine was introduced; the 2 litre. Throughout the Series 1's development the emphasis was always upon how the work capabilities of the vehicle could be improved. There was never really any real commitment to improving driver or passenger comfort.
It was repeated customer demands for more load space that prompted the development of the 86in and then, in 1953, the 107in chassis. Then there came a strong demand for a diesel engined Land Rover and so one was developed, but it was found that it couldn't fit into the existing 86in and 107in chassis designs. So an extra 2in was added. This was puzzling to some customers at first because the, now familiar, 88in and 109in chassis design were released before the diesel engine was used in them.


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