Even automotive agnostics who think every supercar is a Ferrari recognise the Land Rover’s inimitable, upright form, the leading curve of a 1948 Series 1’s front wings as easily identified in a 2016 Defender as its step-sided doors and twin spotlights.
Handsome though it is, the Land Rover’s distinctive silhouette was born of necessity, not aesthetics. A utility vehicle conceived to meet post-war government export targets in support of Rover’s saloon car range, it was only intended to be an interim product, developed quickly and cheaply using as many existing parts and as little rationed steel as possible (hence the aluminium bodywork). It was innovation in the face of adversity.
Utility was the key word, with Land Rovers of countless body configurations serving in agriculture, fire-fighting, construction, rescue, recovery and the ambulance service. Its power take-offs could supply anything from saws and threshers to tillers and welding equipment. Globetrotting expeditions chose Land Rovers, while special military versions have served from the Korean War to Afghanistan, including eccentric 6x6, tracked and amphibious configurations.
And from the start, the Land Rover was a huge international success, with 74% of the first 250,000 shipped abroad. Knock-down kits were assembled in countless overseas plants including Chile, Ghana, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the Philippines, no doubt prompted by the vehicle’s simplicity and ease of maintenance. As Solihull veteran Roger Crathorne says: “It’s a no-frills, no-fuss vehicle that can be serviced under the shade of a tree.”
It was wholly that way for a long time: despite the recent rash of kerb-crawling, air-conditioned, hide-lined Defenders, it was only with the plusher County variants of the early 1980s that the idea of Land Rovers as family cars really gained momentum (plush being a relative term – the first One Ten County boasted the likes of rubber pedal finishers, mud flaps and a reversing light as concessions to luxury).