The Land-Rover hyphen continued in use up to 1978, was gone by 1980, and Land Rover prospered without it. The designers employed a production saloon gearbox, even the steering wheel was a standard Rover spring-spoke, and almost the only new item was a transfer box to take the drive to the front wheels. Both axles were broadly similar which was a useful economy. The transfer box had two ranges, allowing the driver to select four high gears for driving on main roads and four low ones for haulage off-road.
The simple body was not only easy to make but also easy to repair in the rough and tumble conditions Land Rovers were expected to endure. The first prototype had no doors, once again in the style of the Jeep, and a drop-down tailgate provided access to the load space behind the driving seat. Once Rover’s own chassis was ready, for the sake of simplicity it too had a wheelbase of 80in, much the same ground clearance as a Jeep, and similar approach and departure angles. Gestation occupied barely a year.
Spencer Wilks ordered a pre-production run of 25 pilot vehicles, later enlarged to 50, which were completed in 1948. He expected to make about fifty or so a week for a year or two. The aim was to keep the price below £450 and the hood, the spare wheel carrier, the starting handle, and even the doors and passenger seat were optional extras. In the event, they were all included in the price. It was ready for launch in April 1948 and in production by July.
One prototype had the driving seat in the middle, ostensibly because a farmer might want to use it instead of a tractor. Early internal pictures showed one pulling a plow but a more credible explanation was the endeavor to persuade the authorities that it was essentially an agricultural vehicle, and not subject to purchase tax. Prototypes were tried out on neighboring farms pulling an 8ft tandem-disc harrow, carrying livestock, running power benches and threshing machines.
When Tom Barton, one of the design team, was working on the transmission, he had to include power take-offs and winches for driving a tree-root and chaff cutter. There was further wrangling with the tax authorities over the Land Rover’s agricultural designation, and whether it was eligible to use unrationed red-dyed commercial petrol that was restricted to agricultural and commercial users. It took until 1956 to decide the issue.
1948 The first short wheelbase 80in Land Rover was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show alongside the two-month-old 75 saloons in April and proved an immediate success. Orders began to flow in, and also from exhibiting at the Bath and West Show of May 1948. The first production version had permanent four-wheel drive, with a freewheel device to disengage the front wheels, and a 50bhp (37kW), 1595cc engine derived from the Rover P3 60 car. Within a year the stopgap proved capable of outselling Rover cars, and by the end of it, met government obligations by exporting to nearly 70 countries.
Fulfilling expectations of seeing farmers and small businesses through the aftermath of the war, the first year’s production was only 3048 but 8000 were made of the 1949 model, which doubled to 16,000 in 1950. Rover was soon making 1,000 a week, and their earnings reached over £2.5 million a year in foreign currency. The Autocar called it “A practical road and cross country vehicle built to high standards.” Harold Hastings, the Midlands editor of The Motor was more cautious.