The British Jeep
The Land Rover was introduced during the post World War Two years as the British answer to America’s famous Willys Jeep. In fact, the British Land Rover adopted most of it's traits directly from the Jeep. Just like the Jeep, the Land-Rover was built for tough work. It was a vehicle that was built to do the tasks other vehicles could not. The design of the first Land Rover was the work of Maurice Wilks. Wilks had high praise for the Willys Jeep and in fact owned one.
After the end of World War II, a good number of Jeeps had been left behind in Britain. Interestingly enough, while the Willys Jeep was created as a military vehicle, Wilks looked at the possibilities of it being incorporated into farming and more. Along with being a director with British Rover, Wilks also owned a farm. The very ruggedness of the vehicle made it applicable to farm work.
While the Willys Jeep was the first of such a vehicle, it actually was the British who carried the concept even further. The first British Land Rover model (see specs below) was very similar to the Jeep. If you didn't see the nameplate of the first Land Rover model you may have easily mistaken it for a Willys Jeep.
The early Land-Rover was a four wheel drive “go anywhere” vehicle. Series I through III were produced from 1948 to 1980. It took a few years for Britain to begin producing civilian cars in any number because of the steel shortage right at the end of the war. There was a prototype made in 1947 that never went into production. This prototype actually had the drivers seat and steering wheel in the center. The prototype of this sort never made it into production.
The vehicle shown in this article is a 1965 Land Rover Series II model. As you can see from the photos, this 1965 Land-Rover has been highly customized. The rear half has essentially been redesigned for possible safari expeditions. Seats in the rear are along the truck side and face one another. The modifications made to this particular model are excellent.
The People Friendly Later Land Rovers
Later models of the British Land Rover Series II came with a variety of options. The Series II pretty much represented the classic Land Rover. Two or four wheel drive and gasoline or diesel engines. In 1970, Land-Rover introduced the more rider friendly Range Rover which had a variety of creature comforts not found in the earlier Land-Rovers. The Range Rover meant to be a more luxurious vehicle. Ruggedness and comfort was the aim and the Range Rover was essentially like many of today’s SUV’s.
The attributes of the Land-Rover was it’s all terrain capability, ruggedness and rust proof body. Another positive was the wide choice of options, sizes and types. Negatives would include it’s hard ride and Spartan appearance. This of course was addressed with the production of the Range Rover. The early Land-Rovers were also considered somewhat slow with a speed of about 60 MPH.
Specifications of the First Land Rover as Compared to the 1940's Military Jeep
Here's a comparison of specs between the first Land Rover in 1948 and the Willys Jeep. It's amazing how close most of the specs are.
The Willys Jeep wheelbase was 80 inches, width 62 inches, length 133 inches, track 48 inches, engine 4 cylinder 2.1 liter and weight of 2,315 lbs.
The 1948 British Land Rover wheelbase was 80 inches, width 60 inches, length 132 inches, track 50 inches, engine 4 cylinder 1.6 liter and weight of 2,520 lbs.
The comparison between the two vehicles was about as close as you can get.
The 1965 Land Rover Series II
The 1965 Land Rover Series II shown in this article has a wheelbase of 88 inches with a 4 cylinder engine putting out 77 HP at 4,000 RPM. Options were available for a six cylinder engine. The 88 inch wheelbase is referred to as the short model. Models were available with a much longer 109 inch wheelbase. The shorter 88 inch model in it's "lightweight" version was used extensively by the British military and some models were produced which could be taken apart quickly by the military quickly for air shipment overseas. It's estimated that some twenty countries in addition to Great Britain have employed the Land Rover in their military inventory.
Beyond a doubt, the British Land Rover in it's many versions and wheelbase lengths is considered one of the very best off road vehicles that were ever built. Just as with the Jeep brand, Land Rover has now moved into the luxury vehicle market without totally abandoning their off road heritage. In many ways they never compromised the basic early design. Also, just as with the Jeep, the Land Rover luxury vehicles can be in the expensive range.
Used Classic Land Rovers, especially the series I and II are in demand for collectors searching for good vehicles to restore. Parts are not difficult to locate and there are plenty of interesting modifications to undertake based upon the vehicles simple and compact design.
(Photos from author's private collection)