Land Rover The Beginning
In the overgrown graveyard of St Mary’s Church at Llanfair on Cwmwd, on the Isle of Anglesey, is the weathered gravestone of Maurice Wilks, which reads: A much-loved gentle, modest man whose sudden death robbed the Rover company of a chairman and Britain of the brilliant pioneer who was responsible for the world’s first gas turbine driven car. Like the man himself, the inscription is modest, for it fails to mention the invention for which he is best known – the Land Rover. Wilks died in 1963, aged just 59. In his all too short life, he also helped to develop Frank Whittle’s original jet engine, but he will forever be remembered for creating the motor car that has taken the world by storm.
But what began in austerity Britain of 1948 as a simple, four-wheel drive car aimed at farmers has become a multi-billion pounds global industry selling luxury 4x4s to tycoons and celebrities. Nobody back in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s could have predicted how the utilitarian little 4x4 would one day become the car of the stars. When Wilks died, even his family underestimated the importance of the Land Rover. They thought he’d be best remembered for his contribution to Rover’s ill-fated gas turbine car, which is why that got mentioned on his gravestone and the Land Rover didn’t. In 1948, Land Rover sold just over 3,000 of its 80-inch wheelbase workhorse.
By 1960, it was selling over 30,000 a year and by 1971 had topped 50,000 a year, thanks to the introduction of a second model, the Range Rover. More models followed: Discovery, Freelander, Range Rover Sport and, late in 2011, the Range Rover Evoque. Total sales in 2011 were 232,000 – up 30 percent on the 178,600 it had sold a year earlier. Land Rover insiders are confidently predicting sales topping 300,000 per annum within the next year or two – that’s 100 times more than the original vehicle achieved – as new markets in the Far East eagerly snap up Britain’s most famous and successful cars. At the time of writing this book, in April 2012, the star of the Beijing Motor Show was a Range Rover Evoque Special Edition, unveiled by A-List celebrity Victoria Beckham, who helped to design the interior. It included mohair floor mats, gold trim and an owner’s manual signed by Ms. Beckham..for an asking price of £80,000 (twice the price of a standard Evoque).
Maurice Wilks’ original Land Rover didn’t even have floor mats. It didn’t have a roof, passenger seat, heater or doors, either. The driver, exposed to the elements, sat on a bit of padded vinyl attached to the metal seat box. The original Land Rover was built with aluminum body panels due to steel rationing in the years following the second world war. It was meant to be a stopgap until normal saloon car production could continue, but it was so universally popular that it soon outsold, and eventually outlived, the Rover car company that produced it. This book is about the chequered history of Land Rover and the models it has produced. Despite the overwhelming success of its ground-breaking models, there were times when the company was nearly dragged under due to poor leadership.