The History of Land Rover: Small Beginnings, Big Results
Six decades equates to 60 years, or 720 months, or 21 900 days. During that period, Land Rover has grown from little more than a sketched outline of a vehicle on a beach to a global brand selling hundreds of thousands of vehicles. It’s been a journey filled with adventure, courage, engineering excellence and, above all, many thousands of content and loyal Land Rover Owners.
Below, we trace just some of the highlights that have made Land Rover great.
1947 – The Birth of a Legend
The Land Rover brand that you have come to know and love was born in a sketch made in the sand on a Welsh beach in 1947. While using a Jeep on his farm in Anglesey, Rover’s Technical Director Maurice Wilks and his brother Spencer Wilks - Rover’s Managing Director - saw a gap in the market and development of Land Rover commenced using a Jeep chassis and a Rover car engine. The use of simple body panels made from light alloy and a chassis fabricated from off-cuts avoid the use of rationed steel and the need for complex and expensive press tools.
1948 – The Launch of Land Rover: and Instant Success at the Amsterdam Motor Show
A year later the first Land Rover is launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show, and is an instant success. Rover quickly realises that the ‘stop gap’ product is set to outsell its other vehicles – and by the end of the year is exporting the Land Rover to nearly 70 countries.
1949 – Land Rovers Exported to the USA
The first Land Rovers are exported to the USA.
1950 – Land Rover’s Dynamic Four Wheel System Updated
Changes are made to the original Land Rover design – larger and more powerful headlamps that shine through apertures in the grill are fitted, and a hard-top is fitted. The four-wheel system is dynamically changed – and drive to the front axle in high range is engaged by pressing down on one lever, while low range is selected by pulling another lever rearward. In selecting low range, four-wheel drive is automatically engaged.
1951 – Land Rover Engine Increases in Size
The 1.6-litre Rover engine is replaced by a larger-bore 2.0-litre unit.
1953 – An Increase in the Load Space of the Early Land Rover
To increase the load space area, the wheelbase of the Land Rover is extended to 86 inches. A new long-wheelbase Pick Up version and a Station Wagon are created, and are as popular as other versions.
1955 – A New Power Unit for Land Rover
Based on a new engine in production for Rover saloon cars, a new power unit is introduced to the Land Rover.
1956 – Bigger and Better Land Rovers: Longer Wheelbase for More Space
Land Rover gets bigger and better: 10-seater 107-inch wheelbase Station Wagon is introduced. The wheelbase is extended to 88 and 109 inches to make room for a new diesel engine under development.
1957 – Land Rover Diesel: A New Family of Engines
The start of a whole new family of engines – a 2.0-litre diesel engine is introduced, and features overhead valves.
1958 – Still Going Strong After 10 years: Land Rover Series II
Land Rover Series II is released at the Amsterdam Motor Show – ten years after the first Land Rover was launched at the same event. The Land Rover Series II features a wider body with barrelled sides and sills to conceal the chassis. It also debuts with a new 2.25-litre petrol engine, and is very positively received.
1959 – 250 000th Land Rover is Manufactured
In another landmark of a legendary vehicle brand, the 250 000th Land Rover rolls off the line.
1961 – Land Rover Series IIA: Higher Power Output
The Land Rover range is now known as the Series IIA, and the capacity of the diesel engine is increased to allow for greater power output. A 12-seater Station Wagon is introduced.
1965 – Land Rover Acquires Alloy V8 Engine
Negotiations with General Motors are completed – and Land Rover acquires the rights to an all-alloy lightweight 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine.
1966 – Production Reaches 500 000 Mark
In April, Land Rover production reaches the half million mark.
1967 – Rover Company Merges with Leyland
The Rover Company merges with truck manufacturer Leyland, which had acquired the rival Coventry-based car maker Triumph. A six-cylinder 2.6-litre engine is made available as an option on 109-inch wheelbase models.
1968 - Two Major British Vehicle Manufacturing Groups Merge
Leyland - including Rover and Triumph - join the British Motor Corporation (BMC). The merge incorporates Austin, Morris and Jaguar, thus uniting British vehicle manufacture in one company: British Leyland. Following a three-year development period, the 'Truck Utility ½ Ton' – better known as the 'Lightweight' - enters service with the British Army.
1969 – Lighting Regulations Change
To comply with new lighting regulations, the headlamps are moved to the front fenders.
1970 – Birth of the Range Rover: Gold Medal for Coachwork and Don Trophy for Safety
In June 1970, Land Rover launches a major new model line – the Range Rover – set to become the core of the brand in the future. The vehicle’s suspension is by long-travel coil springs - endowing the vehicle with good road manners as well as remarkable articulation for off-road agility.
Power comes from the new all-alloy, 3.5-litre petrol engine – which gives the big vehicle a top speed of nearly 160 km/h. The Range Rover features permanent four-wheel drive to cope with the power and torque output of the V8 engine.
The Rover-designed two-speed transfer box shares a common case with the four-speed manual gearbox and has a vacuum-operated centre differential. The braking system has innovative dual-circuit hydraulics with all-round disc brakes. The two-door body features Land Rover’s trademark aluminium panels on a steel frame and embodies Rover’s latest safety technology including seat belts integrated with the folding front seats.
The trim reflects the vehicle’s utility roots with its easily cleaned PVC coverings. The Range Rover is awarded a gold medal for its coachwork, while its safety features are recognised by being awarded of the Don safety trophy.
1971 – The 750 000th Land Rover Produced and Range Rover Receives RAC Dewar Award
In a bumper year for Land Rover, the 750 000th Land Rover is produced, the Range Rover receives the RAC Dewar award for outstanding technical achievement, a great car-journey begins in Alaska, and the Land Rover Series III is launched.
The Series III features an all-synchromesh gearbox and more powerful brakes with the long-wheelbase, with the 109 inch versions receiving servo assistance. The interior is updated with a revised instrument pack placed in front of the driver, and a new top roll to the facia. Externally, the Series III introduces a new front-end treatment with a revised lighting layout in a styled fender-front recess, which is complemented by a new plastic radiator grille.
The British Trans-Americas Expedition leaves Alaska in two Range Rovers in December - heading for Tierra del Fuego. One of the last great car journeys of the world left to be done, the real challenge lies in the jungles of the Darien Gap in Central America.
1972 – Land Rover 1-Tonne Forward Control Announced
The Land Rover 1-tonne Forward Control is announced. The vehicle is designed to the British Army specifications it is powered by a de-tuned, militarised version of the 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine used in the Range Rover.
1975 – British Leyland Under State Control
Following years of industrial disruption, British Leyland is taken under state control to prevent its bankruptcy and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
1976 – 1 Millionth Land Rover Manufactured
The production of an 88-inch Station Wagon at Solihull marks the one millionth Land Rover built.
1978 – Land Rover Limited Created
Industrialist Michael Edwardes is brought in by the Government to manage British Leyland. He creates Land Rover Limited as a separate operating company, and for the first time in its history, Land Rover is under independent management. Government funding is promised to allow for a doubling of production by the 1980s.
1979 – New Version of 109-inch is Launched
A new version of the Land Rover 109-inch, powered by the V8 petrol engine, is launched.
1981 – 4 Door Range Rover is Launched
The four-door version of the Range Rover is launched.
1982 – Range Rover Production Reaches 100 000
Range Rover production reaches 100 000, and following the introduction of the four-door a year earlier, the company introduces an automatic gearbox option to the Range Rover, using the three-speed Chrysler ‘Torqueflite’. The Land Rover ‘County’ Station Wagon variant is launched with improved interior comfort. The High Capacity Pick Up is introduced on the Land Rover 109.
1983 – Land Rover One Ten is Launched
Land Rover’s new managing director, Tony Gilroy, begins a programme to concentrate production at the main Solihull plant. The Land Rover One Ten is launched. The new vehicle uses the coil spring suspension of the Range Rover in a new stronger chassis frame. Other features include a five-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, a one-piece windscreen and optional power steering. The extended-wheelbase Land Rover 127 also appears in Crew Cab form. The Range Rover is upgraded with a five speed manual gearbox and other improvements. Annual production now tops 12 000 vehicles.
1984 – Land Rover Ninety Makes its Debut
The Land Rover Ninety debuts, featuring new doors with wind-up windows. Following a successful limited edition, the ‘Range Rover Vogue’ is introduced at the top of the model’s line-up.
1985 – Automatic Gearbox Improvements
The refinement of Range Rover’s automatic option is improved with the introduction of a ZF four-speed gearbox. Land Rover vehicles are now being sold in 120 countries with plans for even more expansion.
1986 – Diesel Powered Range Rover Breaks Records
A diesel powered version of the Range Rover is launched with a 2.4-litre turbocharged VM engine. The benefits of the new engine are underlined when a diesel Range Rover breaks 27 speed and endurance records. The Land Rover also gets the option of a turbocharged diesel engine based on its earlier naturally aspirated unit.
1987 – Range Rover Launched in the US
The formation of Range Rover of North America heralds the launch of the vehicle in the US market.
1988 – 40th Anniversary of Land Rover
Land Rover introduces a Borg-Warner chain-driven transfer box with a viscous-coupled centre differential into the Range Rover’s driveline. This introduces a significant improvement to the vehicle’s refinement, reinforcing its luxury credentials. The 40th anniversary of the Land Rover is marked by total sales of over 1.6-million vehicles worldwide. The Rover Group is sold to British Aerospace (BAe).
1989 – Range Rover gets 3.9 V8 Engine
The Frankfurt Motor Show in September sees the launch of the first new Land Rover vehicle since the Range Rover in 1970. The Discovery moves Land Rover away from its traditional markets and into the burgeoning leisure sector. While based on the Range Rover, the Discovery is new where it matters. The interior with its distinctive facia style and striking light blue colour-way owes much to input from the Conran design Consultancy. The exterior features a distinctive stepped roof with a single rear door mounting the spare wheel.
The powertrain debuts the new 200 TDi direct-injection diesel engine while the 3.5-litre V8 petrol engine is offered as an alternative. The Discovery’s launch is supported by a massive marketing campaign which is designed to support Land Rover as a brand in its own right. Helping to distinguish the Range Rover from its new stablemate, as well as giving a useful power boost, its V8 engine is enlarged to 3.9 litres. Detail design changes give the Range Rover a sleeker profile with concealed front door hinges.
1990 – 20th Anniversary of Range Rover and Defender is Introduced
The Land Rover range is offered with the 200 TDi engine and, in support of the new Land Rover brand strategy, the model is named 'Defender'. A four door version of the Discovery is introduced. The 20th anniversary of the Range Rover is celebrated with the introduction of a four-wheel, four-channel ABS braking system – the first in the world designed for optimum performance off-road, as well as on-road. North America becomes the largest export market for the Range Rover. Underlining its credentials as the world’s leading manufacturer of off-road vehicles, Land Rover opens the ‘Land Rover Experience’ at Solihull.
1992 – Air Suspension and Electronic Traction Control – ‘Firsts’ in an Off-Road Vehicle
Land Rover of North America is founded with a limited edition of 500 Defender 110 vehicles powered by the 3.9-litre V8 engine. The long-wheelbase Range Rover LSE showcases a number of ‘firsts’ for an off-road vehicle. These include air suspension and electronic traction control.
1993 – Driver and Passenger Airbags in the New Discovery
Land Rover of North America follows up the success of the launch of the Defender 110 with the Defender 90 soft top. For the 1994 Model Year, Discovery receives a major facelift. Externally, there is a new front-end treatment with new front lights. Internally, a new facia allows the installation of driver and passenger airbags. These changes pave the way for Discovery’s introduction into the North American market. The Range Rover also receives a new facia treatment.
1994 – Rover Group Acquired by BMW
An all-new Range Rover is launched. The new vehicle has a long-wheelbase chassis and air suspension system, and seeks to bridge the gap between off-roader and sports saloon. The new Range Rover has a new chassis and semi-monocoque body for rigidity, and is powered by developments of the V8 petrol engine with a BMW six-cylinder diesel alternative. The Rover Group, including Land Rover, is acquired by the German car maker BMW.
1995 – Production Tops 100 000 Units Per Annum
Production of Land Rover vehicles at Solihull tops 100 000 units per annum.
1997 – Freelander is Launched
The Frankfurt Motor Show in September sees the debut of a brand new Land Rover product, the Freelander. Powered by transverse-mounted four-cylinder petrol or diesel engines, the Freelander uses an Intermediate Reduction Drive unit to take the drive to the back axle via a viscous coupling. Two body styles are offered – a five-door estate and an exciting three-door. The Freelander's off-road ability is reinforced by the innovative Hill Descent Control (HDC) system.
1998 – 50th Anniversary of Land Rover Celebrated with Limited Editions of all Models
April 30th sees the 50th anniversary of Land Rover. Special commemorative limited editions of all four models are produced. The Discovery Series II is launched. The new vehicle has a new, longer body to accommodate seven forward facing seats. Another innovation is Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE), a computer-controlled high-pressure hydraulic system to control vehicle roll. The ABS braking system of the new Discovery incorporates the Hill Descent Control (HDC) system developed for Freelander. The new Discovery acts as the launch platform for the Td5 engine, a five-cylinder, and 2.5-litre direct injection diesel engine featuring high pressure electronic unit injectors. The engine now also powers the Defender.
2000 – Land Rover Sold to Ford Motor Company
The Rover Group is sold by BMW, with Land Rover being acquired by the Ford Motor Company, joining Aston Martin, Volvo, Lincoln and Jaguar in the Premier Automotive Group. Bob Dover is named as CEO.A revised Freelander debuts with power coming from new 2.5-litre V6 petrol or 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engines.
2001 – Three Millionth Land Rover Produced
The three-millionth Land Rover comes off the Solihull production line – a Freelander built for the US market. The new Range Rover is revealed. Its investment cost of £1-billion makes it the biggest project carried out by the British motor industry. The new vehicle is very different to its predecessor. It is larger and of monocoque construction. The suspension uses air springs but is independent all round, with an innovative linked system to replicate the action of a beam axle to maximise off-road articulation. The vehicle is powered by two BMW engines – a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel, and a 4.4-litre V8 petrol. The external design and stylish interior epitomises presence and luxury.
2002 – Discovery Gets a Facelift: “Family Face”
The Discovery receives a facelift in the shape of a new front end featuring the Land Rover ‘family face’ introduced on the new Range Rover. Range Rover production notches up its 500 000th vehicle in May.
2003 - Land Rover is Named ‘The Greatest Car of All Time’ by Viewers of the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’
The Freelander is face-lifted with new, Land Rover trademark ‘pocketed’ headlights, external design revisions and an upgraded interior. Land Rover runs the first ‘Land Rover G4 Challenge’, an extreme adventure competition using specially-adapted Range Rovers, Discoverys and Freelanders, with Defenders as support vehicles. The Land Rover is named ‘The Greatest Car of All Time’ by viewers of the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ television programme.
2004 – Discovery 3 Debuts
The Range Stormer concept vehicle, heralding a new Land Rover design direction, is revealed at the Geneva Motor Show. The Discovery 3 makes its public debut. Featuring a new ‘Integrated Body Frame’ architecture, the new vehicle echoes the design themes of the original Discovery but with 21st century sharpness. New technology includes the ‘Terrain Response’ system. Power units include a 4.4-litre V8 petrol, a 2.7-litre V6 diesel and a 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine. The suspension is independent all round, while a flat floor optimises space in the rear compartment. The Discovery 3 is launched in the North American market as the Land Rover LR3.
2005 – Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport is launched. It uses similar architecture to the Discovery 3 with revisions to the suspension to improve road holding. To further improve handling, the Range Rover Sport can be specified with the Dynamic Response system. A Jaguar-derived 4.2-litre V8 petrol supercharged engine developing 290 kW is offered. The exterior design has all the drama of the earlier Range Stormer concept vehicle, while the interior is configured around four people with the driver being treated to a cockpit feel engendered by a high centre console and well-placed instrument panel.
The 500,000th Freelander leaves the production line just eight years after its introduction. The vehicle is marked with paw prints and the logo of the Born Free Foundation and is offered as a prize to launch an appeal for the animal welfare charity.
2006 – Diesel Electric Hybrid SUV Land_e Revealed at Geneva Motor Show
The Land_e is revealed at the Geneva Motor Show. The diesel-electric hybrid SUV incorporates the latest fuel saving technology and a unique 4x4 drive system. The Range Rover 2007 model year vehicle introduces a new V8 diesel engine. Based on the technology used in the smaller V6, it provides virtually the same performance as petrol engine versions but with vastly improved fuel consumption. The engine is also available in the Range Rover Sport.
The Freelander 2 is launched. An all-new vehicle, it continues the Freelander concept but with a new generation of six-cylinder petrol and four-cylinder diesel engines. The transmission incorporates new manual and automatic gearboxes and an electronically-controlled coupling unit. The crisp lines of the exterior design incorporate cues from its predecessor while the interior has a well-integrated, luxury feel. The new model includes the latest Land Rover on and off-road technology, including Terrain Response. Built in the award-winning plant at Halewood on Merseyside, it is firmly aimed at staking a claim in the vital US market.
2007 – Four Millionth Land Rover is Produced
The icon of the Land Rover brand, the Defender, receives a facelift in the shape of a new, 2.4-litre diesel power unit coupled with a new six-speed gearbox. A new interior revitalises its appeal. The four-millionth Land Rover vehicle is produced. A Discovery 3, it is donated to the Born Free foundation. The LRX Concept Car makes its debut at the Detroit Motor Show. The hybrid vehicle is considered the clearest and most exciting indication yet of Land Rover’s response to environmental concerns and the challenges of motoring in the future.
2008 – Land Rover Sold to Tata Motors
Land Rover and sister luxury brand Jaguar are sold to Tata Motors by the Ford Motor Company for a reported $2.3-billion. Tata Motors retains the entire management team and pledges to invest in the future and technological development of the brands. The move is heralded as a positive step. Land Rover launches the SVX – a special, limited edition version of the Defender, available in 90 soft-top and 90 and 110 CSW versions. It celebrates the 60th anniversary of Land Rover. Only 1 800 units will be produced worldwide.
2009 – Discovery Turns 20
The Land Rover Discovery celebrates its 20th Anniversary.
Jaguar Land Rover Limited: Registered Office: Abbey Road, Whitley, Coventry CV3 4LF Registered in England No: 1672070