The Land Rover turns 65-years old this April, so I thought it's time to dig deep into the archives to find the best photos from its muddy history. The one above is from 1948, the year when this British icon was presented to the public at the Amsterdam Motor Show.
The Landie was the brainchild of Rover's chief designer Maurice Wilks, who was inspired by the Willys Jeep in 1947 to make an even tougher agricultural vehicle. Sixty six years on, you can still get your Defender with nine body styles and two wheelbases. Mr. Wilks would be proud of us.
By 1976, the British sold more than a million Land Rovers. It's probably the most globally well known product of the British automotive industry to this very day. That's because, like the Enterprise, this vehicle tends to go where no man has gone before.
This is called the Centre Steer, and as you can see, it's the Land Rover prototype from 1947 using Jeep parts and a central sitting position. It also had a 1.6 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine producing 50 horsepower and a 4-speed manual gearbox from the Rover P3 saloon. While this car used the Willys/Ford 2-speed transfer gearbox taken from a Jeep, Rover came up with their own design by the next year.
Series I pre-production assembly line. These cars were painted with aircraft cockpit paint and they looked adventurous even standing still. Legend has it that the first rudimentary outline of the vehicle was drawn in the sand of a North Wales beach.
The AA bought its first Land Rovers in 1948 for use on night breakdown work in London. They were able to carry more equipment than the traditional AA motorcycle combinations, including bulky two-way radio sets, and could also tow. A snow plow could also be attached to the front...
If you were more into wagons, the 1949 Tickford Station Wagon gave you some curves. The coachbuilder was known for their work with Rolls-Royce and Lagonda, so these cars came with leather seats for 7 people, a heater, a one-piece laminated windscreen, a tin-plate spare wheel cover, some interior trim and other options. The bodywork was wooden-framed with an aluminium skin.
Obviously, the toughest chaps out there chose the open top wildlife experience wearing hats as an option.
Winston Churchill also had both a hat and a Series I Land Rover. It was given to him as an 80th birthday present in 1954 by Rover, featuring heated footwell, an extra-wide passenger seat and a wooden box believed to be for his bricklaying tools. Registered as UKE 80, as in 'United Kingdom Empire'.
In 1955, six Oxford & Cambridge university students in two Land Rover Series I Station Wagons travelled from London to Singapore and back. Rover gave them much stronger cars made with an aluminum structure instead of the previous wooden frame. They certainly needed that. The adventure was broadcast by the BBC, so the Cambridge Blue and Oxford Blue cars made great publicity before the new Land Rover reached the dealerships in 1956.
The Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh also had a great time on a Royal Tour in 1957 in a Series I. The 22,000 ton HMS Albion behind them was commissioned only three years earlier, and remained with the Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy until it was cut for scrap in 1973.
Talking of the Royals, this is how their rides looked like. Maybe they weren't as good as the best Popemobiles out there, but they did the job. The Queen remained loyal to Land Rovers, and commissioned a green Land Rover Series III in 1978 with special controls so she could instruct the driver from the back seat.
Where do I sign?
Land Rovers and racecars go together like bread and butter. We all know that. The shiny thing behind this car is Donald Campbell's Bluebird-Proteus CN7 record car. It was written off following a high-speed crash on the 16th of September in Bonneville. Campbell suffered a fracture to his lower skull, a broken ear drum as well as cuts and bruises. He found his way back to the tracks in less than three years, after getting his mojo back by flying light aircraft and getting rid of some nasty panic attacks.
In 1958, Land Rover introduced the Series II, while James A Cuthbertson of Scotland came up with this, in case you needed more. These were great on marshy and wet ground, but climbing capabilities and stability were issues. Around fifteen were built until 1972.
Naturally, you could get your Series II with the Forest Rover set up from Roadless Traction as well. These retained the original gearbox and transfer box but coupled them to a pair of Studebaker axles with GKN-Kirkstall planetary hub reductions and tractor type wheels. The front axle's track was 14 inches wider than the rear axle in order to give sufficient steering lock. Twenty people felt the need.
This is still a Land Rover, only slightly larger. Built by Carmichael and Sons Ltd in Worchester England, these were fitted with a 90 gallon water tank and a 475 gallon Godiva fire pump with a foam proportioner. In places like New Zealand, these remained in service as long as the Toyota Land Cruisers that took over in the seventies.
Where there's need, there's a Land Rover. Obviously, you could build almost anything on the Land Rover's ladder frame, and this ambulance set up was popular where there was more green than tarmac.
The Marine Rescue's Series IIIs had the best livery of the state, period.
The Series III was introduced as early as 1971, but the Stage 1 came only in '79, with the Buick-sourced 3.5-liter V8 detuned to 91 horsepower and permanent four-wheel drive. The development was largely financed by the British Government, and eventually led to the Land Rover 90 and 110 range.
It wasn't just the military who had fun with Britain's best, as the Ninety and One-Ten was used by the cops too. Have you ever seen a police light bigger than that?
Welcome to the 1990 Camel Trophy in Siberia, USSR! The 110 and Siberia stayed, the USSR collapsed. Update: You're right, this can't be Siberia. The rest remains true.
Yes, you can go to the Arctic in a Toyota Hilux, but why would you, when you can also take a Defender? Stay classy!
I'm sorry G-Wagen AMG guys, you can keep your horsepower. I'll take one of these, the Defender LE. India Pale Ales will always beat pils.
So, here we are in 2013. While we don't know what the future holds for Britain's legendary offroader, we wish Land Rover a happy birthday, and at least another 65 years of mud. It's always a good time for getting dirty...
Photo credit: Land Rover