Nothing unusual there: the tractors, combine harvesters and other farm machinery of the era didn’t have modern, comfortable cabs either. Nobody minded the spartan creature comforts anyway, once they had encountered the new vehicle’s amazing capabilities.
They didn’t even bat an eyelid when the original purchase price of £450 was jacked up to £540 in October 1948. The first year’s production was 3,048, but this more than doubled to 8,000 the following year, doubling again to 16,000 in 1950. What had been a stopgap exercise, cobbled together from Rover car components and other bits copied from the original Jeep, was now a very important vehicle in its own right and one that would eventually outsell – and indeed outlive Rover cars.
The company clearly had a success story on its hands. Land Rover literally plodded on. There were developments a-plenty in the following years, but they were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Today, more than 60 years on, you can stand a modern Defender beside the earliest Series I and there’s no mistaking the family resemblance But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s time to return to the early vehicles and see what lurked beneath the bonnets... The first prototypes were powered by a 1398cc engine, which developed a mere 48bhp. Mercifully, this was deemed inadequate and the production vehicles were equipped with a 1595cc unit that had been designed for the Rover P3 60 saloon car. Various drive train and axle changes along the way were also dictated by contemporary saloon variants
until, in August 1951, the vehicle received the very welcome 1997cc engine, which delivered a 26 per cent increase in torque at low engine speeds. In 1953, the wheelbase was extended to 86 inches and a long wheelbase version at 107 inches was also introduced. In 1956, these were further extended to 88 and 109 inches to accommodate the bigger 2052cc diesel engine, which became available for the first time a year later. The very earliest Land Rovers were available in light green only.
Legend has it that the company managed to secure a bulk purchase of war surplus paint used to decorate the interiors of RAF bombers. It was only when that ran out that Land Rovers were sold in the familiar dark ‘bronze’ green now synonymous with the marque. It was some years before further colour options – blue and grey became available. Although the choice of paintwork was limited, the sky was the limit as far as other options went. The simple, bolt-together construction of the vehicle and its generous provision of power take-off points meant that it could be readily adapted for industrial as well as agricultural use. In fact, a fire engine variant had been included among the original prototypes, proving that the company was on the ball from the start.
Mobile compressors and welders were among the special vehicles available direct from Solihull, but like the 1948 coach-built Tickford Station Wagon, they were not a financial success. Events have since proved that the most successful variations on the Land Rover theme have mainly been produced by independent specialists. However, the company did return to the abandoned Station Wagon theme late in 1954 with a seven-seater on the 86-inch chassis, and accommodation (albeit rather cramped) for ten in the distinctive 107-inch version. Alloy-framed bodies replaced the expensive wooden frames of the earlier coach-built version and, although the long wheelbase model in particular looked for all the world as though it had been assembled from a Meccano set, both were an immediate and enduring success. I love the rugged simplicity of the Series I