Land Rover back in the summer of 1947
Happily, it survived the horrors of British Leyland and enjoyed varying levels of fortune under the ownership of British Aerospace, BMW and Ford before the controversial purchase by the Indian-owned Tata Motors in 2008. There is a certain irony in the fact that while Maurice Wilks was developing the prototype of his original Land Rover back in the summer of 1947, India was still technically part of the British Empire. It was granted independence on August 15th that year. Today, an Indian automotive company owns both Land Rover and its sister company, Jaguar. But you know what?
I reckon old Maurice would be proud to see how his invention has prospered. As an executive of Rover, he saw it as his job to create comfortable and well-engineered cars. He would have thoroughly approved of the style, innovation, and excellence of today’s Land Rovers... although I expect he would have disapproved of the more ostentatious trappings of luxury. Bling hadn’t been invented in post-war Britain. But the world has changed and so has the Land Rover. It’s a fascinating story, which I tell here. Whether you own or drive a vehicle with the green oval badge, or just have an enthusiasm for automotive history, this book is for you. I hope you enjoy it.
Although the Amsterdam Motor Show of April 1948 is regarded as the birthplace of the Land Rover, it was actually conceived much earlier. The vehicle that started it all had a very long gestation period, brought about by fate – and World War 2. Look closely at the red brick walls of the famous office block at the Land Rover factory in Solihull and you can still see traces of the camouflage paint applied during the 1939-45 conflict.
The idea was to confuse Luftwaffe bombers, and presumably, it worked, because while nearby Coventry was flattened, the Rover plant at Lode Lane, then manufacturing aircraft components, survived intact. So much so, that when peace resumed in 1945 the factory was looking for new, civilian projects. Steel was required to rebuild a war-torn world but was in short supply. Like everything else in post-war Britain, it was strictly rationed. What the country desperately needed was earnings from exports; to get steel, companies had to export 75 percent of what they manufactured.
And that was a tall order even for a successful car manufacturer like Rover, which had earned a comfortable living by selling plush saloon cars to the middle classes on the domestic market in the pre-war years. Now, although new models were in the pipeline, its existing vehicles were dated and unlikely to appeal to overseas buyers. Rover had little chance of persuading the government to allocate the all-important steel it needed. But there was, on the other hand, mountains of aluminum left over from the aircraft industry if only somebody could find a use for it... Although quirky four-wheel drive cars had been in existence since the early years of the 20th Century, it was the gathering war clouds across Europe in the late 1930s that made a go-anywhere utility vehicle a necessity.