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The Legacy of Land Rover and Range Rover

The Legacy of Land Rover and Range Rover

By Matt Boyd | Photos courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover
Legend has it that the single most adventurous, rugged, worldly vehicle ever to traverse to the farthest reaches of this planet actually started as a sketch—in the sand—on a Welsh beach. Maurice Wilks, technical director of the Rover Company, was the artist, and the inspiration was a World War II–surplus U.S. Army Jeep he had used on his family farm. Useful as the Jeep was, Maurice had contemplated a number of improvements, and he decided a British equivalent (produced by his company, of course) might do the Jeep one better, so he sketched out—literally—a proposal, with improvements geared toward civilian and agricultural needs and using parts from Rover’s car line. When his brother Spencer, then managing director of Rover, approved the concept, Maurice got to work on a prototype, using the 80-inch-wheelbase Jeep rolling chassis as its foundation, with a hand-built body out of an aluminum/magnesium alloy because steel was being rationed in the still-recovering postwar British economy. It sourced its major mechanicals from existing Rover car parts’ bins to keep production costs minimized (the 50hp 1.6L motor and 4-speed gearbox were out of a Rover P3 saloon car). The plan was to produce a few of these rough-and-tumble little overland rovers to help cover the costs of converting back from wartime production to producing civilian models. Little could they have guessed that seven decades later they would still be producing them!

The arrival of the Range Rover in 1970 marked the second time the company would reinvent the off-road vehicle. Where the original Land Rover was rough and a little raw, the Range Rover was smooth and polished—but every bit as capable. It embraced new technologies and brought a level of sophistication to the 4X4 class that had never been seen before. It aimed to flatten out the rough terrain for automotive adventurers while providing a level of on-road driving capability and enjoyment that trucks had never experienced. It largely succeeded. And whereas the Land Rover had come close to perfecting a vehicle category, the company actually invented a whole new one with the Range Rover! There have been countless imitators in the decades since, but there is still nothing quite like the Range Rover anywhere in the SUV world.

Let’s take a look at these two amazing—and amazingly different—vehicles, trace their lineage and highlights, and try to capture some of what makes them some of the most admired and aspired to machines in history!


1947 Land Rover Catalog

The original Land Rover is conceived by Maurice Wilks and sketched in the sand on a beach in Wales during a family vacation. Inspired by a WW II Army-surplus Jeep he used on his Anglesey farm, the prototype that would become the Series I LR fea­tured center steering (like a tractor) and simple-shaped aluminum panels to avoid rationed steel or complex tooling.

Series I production begins on an 80-inch wheelbase, utilizing a 1.6L motor out of a Rover P3 saloon car. It is a runaway success in both domestic and export markets. It is exported to the United States beginning in 1949.

Various technical revisions to the original design: A hardtop is offered for the first time. The four-wheel system is changed from a free-wheel front to the more famil­iar setup that engages the 4WD via a lever to the transfer case. At the end of the year 1951, the standard engine is enlarged from 1.6L to 2.0L, gaining an extra 20 lb.-ft. of torque. Minichamps has several excellent 1:18 Series I models. We review one
on page 22.

A longer 107-inch wheelbase (LWB) pickup truck is added to the LR lineup for the ’54 model, while the standard wheelbase (SWB) grows
to 86 inches. Queen Elizabeth is a big fan of the Land Rover. She has
used them for a variety of purposes, going as far back as this Series I, which she used for inspecting the troops. She was known to drive her own Land Rovers on her farm. TSM makes a 1954 Royal Inspection
Series I in 1:43.

The SWB grows to 88 inches to make room for the introduction of the first 4-cylinder diesel engine option.

The Special Air Service (SAS), Britain’s Special Forces unit, exploited Land Rover’s capabilities for its patrol vehicles. This is a 1:43 replica of a 1957 Series I 86 from TSM

The Series II debuts. The LWB grows to
109 inches, and an all-new 2.25L 4-cylinder gas engine bumps power from 52 to 72hp. A revised IIA would arrive in 1961, including a new, larger, more powerful 2.25L diesel based on the gas-engine architecture.

The IIA Forward Control (FC) cab-over pickup truck is launched on the LWB 109 chassis and running gear to increase load capacity without increasing the overall length of the vehicle. An improved version—the IIB—arrived in 1966.

Land Rover builds a series of 110s for the British military to use as patrol and scout vehicles. Among the most famous were the so-called “Pink Panthers” used by the SAS during the Gulf War. Pink was chosen because it was excellent camouflage in the desert at dawn and dusk!

The Series III LR begins production. It featured a number of technical improvements and would become the most popular and best selling of all Series LRs. It was distinguished by revised lighting inset into the front fenders. This 1:43 model of a Series III 109 cargo van version is by Cararama.

Land Rover revisits the Forward Control concept with a 1-ton version designed to British military specifications. The 101 Forward Control Vehicle (FC101) is an air-transportable heavy-duty payload 4X4 utility truck powered by a detuned version of the Range Rover’s 3.5L aluminum V-8. It was an all-new purpose-built chassis not related to the civilian Series IIA and IIB Forward Control LRs and is not sold to the public.

The Land Rover Ninety and One Ten are launched, replacing the Series III. The leaf-spring suspension is traded for the coil-spring setup from the Range Rover. Other updates include a 5-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, and power steering. Visually, a flush grille and a one-piece windshield differentiate the new models. In addition, a new extended wheelbase 127 is introduced as a heavy-duty crew-cab pickup, with 50 percent more payload capacity than the One Ten.

Land Rover introduces a new model, the Discovery, which combines the luxury-oriented chassis of the Range Rover with unique bodywork and a more affordable price point. It is the first all-new vehicle released by the company since the original Range Rover in 1970. More oriented toward comfort, it was a notable break from the traditional Land Rover concept, and some viewed it as foreshadowing the end of an era. AUTOart made this excellent model of the Discovery V8 some years ago.

The 127 is renamed the “Defender 130” (but the wheelbase is unchanged), and it remains the vehicle of choice as a support vehicle for overland expeditions.

Late in the year, the Ninety and One Ten are renamed the “Defender 90” and “Defender 110.” Kyosho makes several versions of the 90 in 1:18, while Century Dragon makes this excellent 110, which we reviewed in the Summer 2015 issue.

The Defender 90 North American Speci­fication (NAS) comes to the United States. The 1993 versions were soft tops with a 5-speed manual transmission, but hardtops and automatic transmissions followed later. All versions were powered by the 3.9L V-8. Importing ceased in 1998 when U.S. airbag and side-impact safety standards became stricter.

Several heavily disguised military-surplus FC101s appear in the 1995 Sylvester Stallone sci-fi action film Judge Dredd.

Starting in 1998 with Land Rover’s
50th anniversary, a succession of special editions are released, with various equipment and performance packages.

The British military orders a new group of utility trucks based on the heavily modified Defender chassis. The 90-inch wheelbase is designated the Truck Utility Light (TUL-HS) and the 110 the Truck Utility Medium (TUM-HS), but they are better known by their nickname “Wolf.” Nearly 100 different variants are produced, including the 110 scout vehicles that were a staple of British forces in Iraq.

Defenders have been a staple on the silver screen for decades. Two of the toughest in recent memory are the Defender 110 V-8 pickup from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the villainous Defender 110 Crew Cab from the latest Bond flick, Spectre. No one has announced modeling the Spectre LR yet, but Kyosho makes this beautiful 1:18 Tomb Raider truck.

Defender production finally draws to a close after 68 years and more than two million units sold. The series culminates with three Final Editions: the Autobiography, the Heritage, and the Adventure. The Adventure was built in both 90 and 110 versions in either Phoenix Orange, Corris Grey, or Yulong White, with a total of 600 built. The Heritage Edition was also available in both wheelbases, but all 400 examples are painted Grasmere Green. Just 100 of the ultra-optioned Autobiography Editions—all short-wheelbase, all in grey and black two-tone—were built. For collectors, Kyosho is making all three Final Editions using its 1:18 Defender 90 casting.


A prototype “Road Rover” is built, combining aspects of the LR with a more carlike
on-road chassis, creating what is likely the first true crossover vehicle.

Land Rover acquires the rights to the Buick 215 (3.5L) aluminum V-8 from GM. This will prove pivotal in the development of the Range Rover.

Work begins on a prototype for a luxury-oriented vehicle that splits the difference in length between the SWB and LWB LRs. Initially named the “Velar,” it will serve as the template for a new brand: Range Rover.

The Range Rover (aka the “Classic”) debuts. Coil-spring suspension gives a luxurious and responsive ride, while the 3.5L V-8 provides exceptional performance for a 4X4 vehicle, and it comes standard with 4-wheel disc brakes—a first for a 4X4. Styling and safety are paramount in the design as well, earning it numerous awards. It has been modeled numerous times in scale; this is the 1:43 version from WhiteBox.

The first production 4-door Range Rover goes on sale, along with the first limited-edition model, the “In Vogue,” which would become the top option package on future models.

The top-option Vogue Range Rover adds Lucas electronic fuel injection to the 3.5L V-8 and power climbs 30 percent. It also adds a more efficient ZF 4-speed automatic. This is
LS Models’ ’86 Vogue.

The first Range Rovers are imported to the United States and receive an enthusiastic reception.

Range Rover is the world’s first 4X4 to be fitted with ABS anti-lock brakes. A BorgWarner chain-driven transfer box with a viscous-coupled center differential brings added refinement to the Range Rover’s driving dynamics, and the engine is enlarged to 3.9L to differentiate it from the Land Rover Discovery, which was introduced in ’89.

Range Rover becomes the world’s first 4X4 to receive electronic traction control. The long-wheelbase “County” is introduced, along with adjustable-height air suspension.

Production of the Range Rover Classic ends with the Autobiography Edition after total run of 317,615.

The second-generation (P38a) Range Rover goes on sale. The styling is updated, but the utility and luxury of the Classic is retained and expanded upon. AUTOart did a nice model of the 2nd-generation Range Rover in 1:18.

The Gen-3 Range Rover (code L322) is released. Initially planned under BMW ownership, it was to use BMW mechanicals, but during development, BMW sold Range Rover to Ford. So after the first two years, an updated L322 was released in 2005 using Jaguar (another Ford property) mechanicals.

The flagship Range Rover is redesigned. Models of current designs abound, including dealer edition 1:43-scale models like this.

The year of its 40th anniversary, Range Rover announces a third model line: the entry-level compact Evoque.

Also in 2005, along with the flagship refresh, Range Rover introduces its first all-new line: the Sport. Based on styling from the Stormer concept vehicle, the Sport slots in below it by borrowing structural pieces from the Land Rover Discovery 3. Several diecast companies have done scale Range Rover Sports. Maisto’s 1:18 version is an excellent value.

The following year, the new Range Rover Sport debuts. Dealer editions of this are
prolific as well.

Range Rover launches a super sport version of the Sport called the “SVR.” Its fastest-ever product, the 550hp supercharged Jaguar V-8 propels it to 60mph in 4.4 seconds and around the Nürburgring in just over 8 minutes—sports car territory for a 5,500-pound SUV! Kyosho has just released this 1:18 resin model of the SVR.

Range Rover announces a fourth model to its range that recalls the code name of the original 1970 prototype: the Velar. Small and sporty, it is expected to start around $50,000. The move signifies a further expansion of Range Rover into a full-fledged brand of its own. No longer a spin-off or a specialty brand under Land Rover’s shadow, the emphasis on sport and luxury reinforces its distinct identity and has secured it a spot atop the SUV world for years to come.


Land Rover and Range Rover both have rich traditions in off-road sports, and are the vehicles of choice for overland expeditions to some of the most remote and difficult-to-reach places on earth. To prove the capabilities of its products, the Rover brands have also organized and sponsored numerous events. Here are just a few of the most famous and extraordinary:

1955–1956 Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition
Six students from Oxford and Cambridge drive a pair of essentially stock SWB Series Is (one in each school’s colors) overland from London to Singapore—a journey of some 18,000 miles, which took six months to complete! This began a tradition of extraordinary overland tests for Land Rover that continues to this day.

1971 British Trans-Americas Expedition
Two Range Rovers undertake an expedition starting in Alaska and concluding in Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of South America—mirroring the 18,000-mile distance of the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, also taking six months to complete. The deep, roadless jungles of the Darién Gap, straddling the borders of Panama and Colombia, represent one of the most challenging terrains on earth
for a ground vehicle; that 250-mile stretch alone took three months to traverse!

1977 London-Sydney Marathon
A modified Range Rover wins the 4X4 class in the London-Sydney Marathon—the longest ever speed-based car race, at 18,750 miles.

1979 Inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally
The French team of Alain Génestier, Joseph Terbiaut, and Jean Lemordant wins the first Dakar Rally in a Range Rover. Range Rover would win again (with different drivers) in 1981. French diecast manufacturer Norev marks its countrymen’s accomplishment with this 1:43 replica.

1981–1998 Camel Trophy
Range Rover took over the sponsorship of the Camel Trophy in 1981, its second year. Nicknamed “The Olympics of 4X4,” this race featured two-man national teams from participating nations who traversed grueling courses in some of the most demanding and remote locations on earth in identically prepared vehicles. Starting in 1983, the title sponsorship switched from Range Rover to Land Rover, with various 90, 110, Dis­covery, and even Freelander models used. This is IXO’s 1:43 model of the 1987 winning Range Rover.

1985 Diesel World Speed and Endurance Records
To help promote the launch of its new 2.4L turbodiesel engine option, the Range Rover nicknamed “Bullet” breaks 27 speed and endurance records, including a record for averaging more than 100mph for 24 hours.

2003 & 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge
In 2003, Land Rover launches the spiritual successor to the Camel Trophy: the G4 Challenge. A second event is held in 2006. Eighteen nations enter teams. Competition vehicles are prepared from across the LR/RR range, and are distinguished by the Tangiers Orange paint and livery as well as special equipment. Matchbox even got in on the action with this 1:64 G4 Defender 110.

2009 Record-Setting Desert Crossing
Land Rover LR4 turbodiesel sets record for fastest crossing of the Western Desert of Egypt, covering the 795 miles in 13 hours and 54 minutes.

Updated: May 17, 2018 — 3:08 PM

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