The Land Rover was designed in 1947 as a post-war temporary stopgap measure for the export-hungry Rover Company. The enthusiasm of Rover's top management was so great that it axed plans for its new 'mini' car in favour of the 4x4 newcomer. The 4x4 from Solihull, West Midlands, exceeded all expectations and created a world-wide niche.
The creators of the Land Rover were Spencer Wilks, then managing director of Rover, and his brother, Maurice, then engineering director. They designed the Land Rover as a civilian replacement for the US Jeep, manufactured by Willys-Overland and Ford. They chose 'Birmabright' aluminium-alloy for the body panels, as steel was still strictly rationed after the war, and all Land Rovers since have had aluminium alloy panels. The Land Rover was to be Rover‘s flagship export model, as at the time there were large financial incentives for companies to produce products for export. Rover thought that a 4x4 would appeal to many people, including those living in the developing colonial outposts.
The first Land Rover prototype was built in the summer of 1947, and all the early prototypes had a tractor-like centrally-mounted steering wheel. This was done to save money building separate left- and right-hand drive models for export. However, by the time the production Land Rover appeared, the centre-steer idea had been scrapped.
The Land Rover range was improved and expanded over the years to meet customers' (both civilian and military) demands, and to exploit gaps in the market. The original Range Rover was a revelation when it was launched in 1970, with permanent four wheel drive and a powerful V8 engine.
The last 15 years have seen many product launches, starting with the first Discovery in 1989, the Range Rover P38A in 1995, the Freelander and Discovery Series II in 1998, then the Range Rover L322 in 2002 and the Discovery III in 2004. Not forgetting the improvements and expansion of the Defender range, with the Tdi and Td5 engines introduced, as well as the double cab 110 and the XS specification vehicles.
Land Rover was sold (as part of the Rover Group) by British Aerospace to BMW in 1994. By 2000 the relationship between Rover and BMW had soured, and the Rover Group was split up and sold off. Land Rover was sold to Ford, and became part of the Premier Automotive Group (PAG), joining Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lincoln and Volvo.
Land Rover is still based at the Lode Lane factory in Solihull where the first Land Rovers were produced over 50 years ago. Now completely filling the site. the Land Rover factory has expanded a lot over 50 years, with separate production lines now handling the Range Rover, Discovery, Defender and Freelander.
Land Rover engines are now mainly sourced from outside companies, as they are supplied by BMW, Midlands Powertrain and the Ford group for their engines. With the replacement of the Discovery Series II, production has stopped of the Rover V8 engine, so the only Land Rover built engine now in a vehicle is the Td5 in the Defender.
Almost all testing is carried out at the off-road course on site at the factory, and also at Land Rover's test facility and new headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
Land Rover has come a long way from being a company producing a single model in the post-war years. It continues to develop and explore new concepts and ideas, such as the Range Stormer concept car. The launch of the Discovery III (LR3 in the US) sees the start of a period of product launches, and will see Land Rover drive into the 21st Century. Expect the 'baby' Range Rover Sport in the next year or so, then a new Freelander, and maybe even a new Defender. It's an exciting time for Land Rover.