Land Rover History

The Americans realised a major conflict was inevitable, and that they were eventually likely to get involved, so the US government invited tenders for the 4x4 military vehicle that would eventually become the Jeep (designed by the Bantam Car Co and Willys-Overland, but eventually built by both the latter company and, under license, by Ford).

The Jeep had played a major part in resolving the war in the Allies’ favor, and when peace arrived in 1945 there was no shortage of takers for the inevitable vehicles surplus to military requirements. They were particularly popular with farmers, and gentleman farmer Maurice Wilks was no exception. Maurice, engineering director at the Rover car company, owned a rugged 250-acre coastal estate on the island of Anglesey, North Wales, which was made more accessible thanks to his own ex-US Army Jeep. The truth was, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience of 4x4 off-road driving.

Old home movies still in possession of the Wilks family show him driving it at every opportunity. Whenever he was able to escape the hustle and bustle of the Rover factory for the wilderness of Anglesey, the man and his machine were seldom parted. While a certain factory in Solihull, on the outskirts of Birmingham, is recognized as the birthplace of the Land Rover, it was only the delivery room. In keeping with a vehicle that would become legendary for its association with wild and rugged places, it was on the Isle of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales, that the very first Land Rover was conceived. And, as what you may have read in the past was born only a passing resemblance to the facts, it’s time to set the record straight. History is as much interpretation as a record. For example, a history book in communist North Korea would bear little resemblance to its counterpart in democratic South Korea. But the twaddle written over the years by some individuals purporting to be Land Rover historians owes more to Hollywood than the truth...  SCENE ONE: it’s 1947 on a sprawling farm on Anglesey.

The camera pans to a handsome man driving a battered ex-US Army Jeep across his fields. And CUT! SCENE TWO: the farmer, Maurice Wilks, pauses to mop his brow. Suddenly he sees another man strolling across the field towards him. It’s his brother, Spencer, who happens to be managing director of the same car company that employs Maurice as engineering director.

SPENCER: “Hey, Maurice, what are you going to do when that old Jeep finally gives up the ghost?” MAURICE: “I’ll have to try and find another. Nobody else makes anything like it... ”  (Suddenly a shaft of sunlight penetrates the stale-grey clouds and both brothers smile. They know the answer to their problems. Aluminum isn’t rationed. If they were to build a Jeep-like vehicle with aluminum body panels...  the sound of violins grows.) SPENCER: “What shall we call our new vehicle?” MAURICE: “I think we should call it the...  Land-Rover.” (The violins get louder and, as a bright-red sun dips over the horizon, the future is clear... ) Well, not quite. Maurice Wilks did indeed have an affinity with Anglesey.

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