The first peacetime project for Rover was the Fiat 500 inspired M-Type or M1. Envisaged as a small family car with a 699cc engine, aluminum was used for the chassis because of steel shortages, and three prototypes were built in 1946 before the project was finally abandoned.
The ex-military Jeep Rover technical director Maurice Wilks used as a family runaround (above). Land Rover folklore claims he designed the first Land Rover by sketching an outline in the sand. Picture from holiday film footage, probably around 1948.
Maurice Wilks in post-war Britain meantime detected a strong demand for ex-army Jeeps. He was also aware of the success Standard Motor Company of Banner Lane, Coventry, was achieving with Ferguson lightweight tractors in export markets. Astute following a lifetime’s experience in the motor industry he felt sure a small agricultural truck had potential.
When his Jeep wore out, and with no replacement available, Maurice with the approval of his brother, conceived something that would not only provide transport, but also do jobs on the farm like hauling logs, pulling a plow, and acting as a power source for machinery. Together they decided Rover should make a Jeep-style vehicle as a temporary measure to augment car production. The company had an official license under government rationing to make no more than 1100 cars, so once the M-type proved a non-starter something else had to be found to keep the factory going. They examined the possibilities of an ex-WD half-track Ford, with a big side-valve V8, but decided against it.
In September 1947: “The board considered the position, and also the numerous product lines which had been under discussion since car manufacturing had recommended. Mr. Wilks said that he was of the opinion that an all-purpose vehicle on the lines of the Willys-Overland Jeep was the most desirable. Considerable research had been carried out on this vehicle by our development department.” It was agreed that this should be sanctioned; Maurice Wilks set up a design team, one of whom, Gordon Bashford was sent off to an ex-WD surplus vehicle dump in the Cotswolds to buy two Jeeps.
The first prototype was built before a Rover-made chassis was available, so it used one of the Jeep frames with a Rover rear axle and springs, and a rather timid 48bhp (35.8kW) 1,389cc Rover 10 engine. The production run was to be short, so the design had to be plain, and next to nothing was to be spent on tooling. The effect of the truncated design phase, as with the US Jeep, was to impose utter simplicity. The Land-Rover, as Wilks began calling it with a hyphen, had to be simple in plan and simple to make.
In the event, it was also simple to service, simple to repair, and strong. Its straight body panels were made from locally supplied aluminum under the trade name Birmabright, with gussets and brackets of galvanized steel. A chassis fabricated from off-cuts avoided using rationed steel sheet, and there was no need for expensive press tools.