LAND ROVER: 1948 - PRESENT
The Land Rover Series I, II, and III (commonly referred to as "Series" Land Rovers, to distinguish them from later models) are off-road vehicles produced by the British manufacturer Land Rover that were inspired by the US-built Willys Jeep.
Land Rover says that 70% of these vehicles ever made are still in use today—a claim first made in the 1992 brochure and repeated many times since.
Series models feature leaf-sprung suspension with selectable two or four-wheel drive, the Stage 1 featured permanent 4WD.
SIXTY YEARS OF LAND ROVER
There was a time when if you watched black and white TV one might have thought that the only vehicle in use worldwide – other than the high street in Swindon - was the Land Rover! Films in those days – military and daring do – always involved the use of this very British and ubiquitous 4 X 4. Elsa the lioness and Born Free, films about the Suez crisis, farmers in Rhodesia - and an odd one I noticed the other day - Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman on safari in Africa, in the film The Bucket List.
The story was that they were photographing the African landscape during the few remaining weeks and days they had to look forward to; prior to their ultimate and untimely demise. What was remarkable was to experience all this Hollywood pathos, plus the added bonus of a sturdy Series IIa Land Rover 109 still gamely running through the African Veldt; and 50 years on too! What a strange and generally unnoticed dichotomy this must have made for the Land Rover buff!
Created as the UK answer to the Willis Jeep, the Land Rover concept grew out of the austere aftermath of the Second World War, and the genuine appreciation of the iconic American 4 X 4. Since the Jeep had been a mainstay of the poor farmer in the USA, so it was decided that the Land Rover might also be used as a utility vehicle; on the road, or off the road, and on the farm. Designed with an auxiliary drive, it could be used on the farm for many useful purposes. The brainchild of Maurice Wilks, it turned out to be the savior of the Rover car company, which had previously been a luxury car manufacturer before the war. Intended as a manufacturing austerity stopgap, it has outlasted the Rover Group itself, which - now in the capable hands of the Indian Tata Group – the Land Rover continues to be manufactured in the UK. Constructed from aluminum panels on a steel chassis, it was a relatively light vehicle as 4 x 4’s go, due mainly to the post war shortage of steel, and the surplice of aluminum used mainly for aircraft production during the war. The basic design and components would not change for many years, and the Defender of today, looks much like the original Series in most respects.
There have been three marques up until 1980, starting with the shed like Series I. Introduced at the Amsterdam Auto Show in 1948 which had a wheelbase of 80 inches plus a 1.6 Liter petrol engine, borrowed from a Rover motorcar. It was well received and sales increased at a brisk pace, which is more than can be said for the evolution of the vehicle itself, although the Short Wheel Base (SWB) land Rover would increase to 88 inches and also 109 inches, for the Long Wheel Base (LWB). The petrol engine grew to 2.0 Liters in 1953 and to 2.25 Liters in 1958 almost until the end of production of the III Series. A diesel option appeared in 1957, but production of the Series I ended the following year.
The Series I model, II and its IIa successor are all recognizable however, mainly by their headlights, which are inset within the central grill of the Land Rover, and were only repositioned in the wings, at the latter end of IIa production, prior to Series III which also had integrated wing headlights.
The Series II (1958–1961) was not significantly different to its predecessor although by the time of the IIa (1961-1971) there was a 2.25 Liter petrol engine, and then a 2.25 Liter diesel engine, which closely paralleled its petrol counterpart, having much the same components. Then come to the Series III.
Generally found in the established variants, the Safari was also added to the list of variables, and was a posh version amongst the mix and match Land Rover types. The Series III had a better interior, nicer adjustable seats, padded dashboard with plastic surrounds, and the dashboard was moved in front of the driver away from the central consul. By definition all this was very cosmetic, but with vinyl door panels and sound proofing, it made for a much nicer vehicle. This model was manufactured from 1971 to 1985, but for the purposes of this website the cut off point is 1980 for Classic Cars.
Today, these vehicles are many, but we also have to consider their condition, which in many cases are ‘adequate,’ and although poor in appearance, they still do tricks off-road. The most popular are the series II and IIa models due to their comparative rarity, the Series III however, is the smoother ride, and usually has more creature comforts; although cup holders have only recently become an option. What can be said though, is that the after market replacement parts, are fully available, even here in Greece where there is a keen following, and enthusiastic ownership of Classic Cars in general.
Land Rover entered production in 1948 with what was later termed the Series I. This was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show. It was originally designed for farm and light industrial use, and had a steel box-section chassis, and an aluminum body.
Originally the Land Rover was a single model offering, which from 1948 until 1951 used an 80 in (2,000 mm) wheelbase and a 1.6 litre petrol engine producing around 50 bhp (37 kW; 51 PS). The 4-speed gearbox from the Rover P3 was used, with a new 2-speed transfer box. This incorporated an unusual 4-wheel drive system, with a freewheel unit (as used on several Rover cars of the time). This disengaged the front axle from the manual transmission on the overrun, allowing a form of permanent 4WD. A ring-pull mechanism in the driver's footwell allowed the freewheel to be locked to provide more traditional 4WD. This was a basic vehicle, tops for the doors and a roof (canvas or metal) were optional extras. In 1950, the lights moved from a position behind the grille to protruding through the grille.
From the beginning it was realised that some buyers would want a Land Rover's abilities without the spartan interiors. In 1949 Land Rover launched a second body option called the "Station Wagon", fitted with a body built by Tickford, a coachbuilder known for their work with Rolls-Royce and Lagonda. The bodywork was wooden-framed and had seating for seven people. Tickford was well equipped in comparison with the standard Land Rover, having leather seats, a heater, a one-piece laminated windscreen, a tin-plate spare wheel cover, some interior trim and other options. The wooden construction made them expensive to build and tax laws made this worse — unlike the original Land Rover, the Tickford was taxed as a private car, which attracted high levels of Purchase Tax. As a result, fewer than 700 Tickfords were sold, and all but 50 were exported. Today these early Station Wagons are highly sought after.
In 1952 and 1953 the petrol engine was replaced with a larger 2.0 litre I4 unit. This engine was "siamese bore", meaning that there were no water passages between the pistons. During 1950 the unusual semi-permanent 4WD system was replaced with a more conventional setup, with drive to the front axle being taken through a simple dog clutch. Around this time the Land Rover's legal status was also clarified. As mentioned above, the Land Rover was originally classed as a commercial vehicle, meaning it was free from Purchase Tax. However, this also meant it was limited to a speed of 30 mph (48 km/h) on British roads. After an appeal to the Law Lords after an owner was charged with exceeding this limit, the Land Rover was classified as a "multi-purpose vehicle" which was only to be classed as a commercial vehicle if used for commercial purposes. This still applies today, with Land Rovers being registered as commercial vehicles being restricted to a maximum speed of 60 mph (as opposed to the maximum 70 mph (110 km/h) for normal cars) in Britain, although this rule is not often upheld. The 1954 Year Model saw a big change: the 80 in (2,000 mm) wheelbase model was replaced by an 86 in (2,200 mm) wheelbase model, and a 107 in (2,700 mm) "Pick Up" version was introduced. The extra wheelbase was added behind the cab area to provide additional load space.
1956 saw the introduction of the first five-door model, on the 107 in (2,718 mm) chassis known as the "Station Wagon" with seating for up to ten people. The 86 in (2,184 mm) model was a three-door seven-seater. The new station wagons were very different to the previous Tickford model, being built with simple metal panels and bolt-together construction instead of the complex wooden structure of the older Station Wagon. They were intended to be used both as commercial vehicles as people-carriers for transporting workmen to remote locations, as well as by private users. Like the Tickford version, they came with basic interior trim and equipment such as roof vents and interior lights.
Finally, in 1957, the "spread bore" petrol engine was introduced, followed shortly by a brand new 2.0 litre Diesel engine that, despite the similar capacity, was not related to the petrol engines used. The petrol engines of the time used the rather out-dated inlet-over-exhaust valve arrangement; the diesel used the more modern overhead layout. This diesel engine was one of the first high-speed diesels developed for road use, producing 52 hp (39 kW) at 4000 rpm.
This engine was slightly longer than the original chassis allowed, so the wheelbase was increased from 86 to 88 in (2,200 mm) for the short-wheelbase models, and from 107 to 109 in (2,769 mm) on the long-wheelbases. The extra two inches were added in front of the bulkhead to accommodate the new diesel engine. These dimensions were to be used on all Land Rovers for the next 25 years.
The Series III had the same body and engine options as the preceding IIa, including station wagons and the 1 Ton versions. Little changed cosmetically from the IIA to the Series III. The Series III is the most common Series vehicle, with 440,000 of the type built from 1971 to 1985. The headlights were moved to the wings on late production IIA models from 1968/9 onward (ostensibly to comply with Australian, American and Dutch lighting regulations) and remained in this position for the Series III. The traditional metal grille, featured on the Series I, II and IIA, was replaced with a plastic one for the Series III model. The 2.25 litre engine had its compression raised from 7:1 to 8:1, increasing the power slightly (the high compression engine had been an optional fit on the IIa model for several years).
During the Series III production run from 1971 until 1985, the 1,000,000th Land Rover rolled off the production line in 1976. The Series III saw many changes in the later part of its life as Land Rover updated the design to meet increased competition. This was the first model to feature synchromesh on all four gears, although some late H-suffix SIIA models (mainly the more expensive Station Wagons) had used the all-synchro box. In keeping with early 1970s trends in automotive interior design, both in safety and use of more advanced materials, the simple metal dashboard of earlier models was redesigned to accept a new moulded plastic dash.