The original Land Rover was revealed to the world at the Amsterdam motor show on 30 April 1948.
Designed as Britain’s answer to the Jeep, the Land Rover was tough, basic and could go anywhere.
Things stayed that way for many years, and while the brand started to move upmarket with the the arrival of the Range Rover in 1970, the most practical go-anywhere model the company produced has always been much-loved, even when it went out of production in 2016.
And now a new Defender is imminent, and it’s perhaps the most anticipated new British car since BMW relaunched the Mini in 2000. Let’s take a look at the full story:
Land Rover prototype (1947)
If you thought the production cars were basic, they were positively lavish compared with the prototypes.
This one, in the Lode Lane jig shop in 1947, featured its steering wheel in the centre, McLaren F1-style. The Landie wasn’t as quick as the McLaren but it was better at ploughing fields.
Land Rover Series I (1948)
The first ever production Land Rover, launched in 1.6-litre form with an 80-inch wheelbase; pictured is the first pre-production prototype.
Later we’d get long-wheelbase editions (107/109-inch wheelbase) to go with the short-wheelbase (86/87-inch) model, a 2.0-litre petrol engine (from 1951) and a 2.0-litre diesel (from 1957).
By the end of the year Land Rover was exporting to 70 countries; the US followed in 1949.
The Series I is extended (1953)
The 80-inch wheelbase of the original Series I meant a minimal carrying capacity, so in 1953 the Series I was stretched by six inches.
A long-wheelbase pick-up and Station Wagon were also introduced. Three years later the wheelbase would grow by another two inches.
Land Rover Minerva (1954)
Belgian company Minerva was founded in 1900 to make bicycles, but within two years production had expanded to include cars as well.
By the outbreak of World War 2 Minerva had seemingly run out of steam, but in 1954 a deal with Land Rover was signed for the Series I to be built under licence, although production lasted only until 1956.
Land Rover diesel conversion (1955)
Even the crude diesel engines of the 1950s were ideal for off-roading thanks to the increased range and extra low-down torque.
But Land Rover wouldn’t offer a diesel version of its Series I until almost the end of its production run – which is why specialists such as Turner Engineering offered an independent solution.
Far Eastern Expedition (1955)
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s dozens of expeditions were undertaken using Land Rovers.
One of the first and biggest was the Far Eastern Expedition, undertaken by six Oxford & Cambridge graduates. They set themselves the task of embarking on the longest possible overland journey: London to Singapore, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
They covered 12,000 miles in six months – then turned round and drove back.
Land Rover Series II (1958)
After a decade of production the Series II took over from the Series I, with a new 2.25-litre petrol engine.
The restyled bodyshell now featured a curved shoulder line which would stay until the last car was built almost 60 years later.
Land Rover Santana (1958)
It suited Land Rover to licence its products for overseas production, which is why in 1958 a deal was struck with Spanish company Santana to assemble Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits.
The partnership lasted rather longer than the one with Minerva – right the way up to 1983.
Business booms (1959)
This transporter shows five early Series IIs on their way to new owners. This picture was taken in 1959 – the same year that the 250,000th Land Rover was built. The 500,000th was built in 1966, the 750,000th in 1971 and the millionth in 1976.
Land Rover Series IIa (1961)
The Series IIa ushered in a 2.25-litre diesel engine, then in 1969 the in-board headlamps were relocated to the front wings.
From 1967 a 2.6-litre straight-six petrol engine was available in long-wheelbase models (pictured here).
Forward Control (1962)
Based on the Series IIa, the Forward Control was a lorry that was launched in response to requests for a vehicle with an increased payload.
While it could carry a lot more than a regular Series IIa, the 2625cc straight-six petrol engine struggled to pull it along with all of 90bhp and 132lb ft of torque.
Land Rover Lightweight (1968)
Developed specifically for the military, the Lightweight came in Series IIa (pictured here) and Series III forms.
Available only to the armed forces and civilians when de-mobbed, the Lightweight was designed to be suspended from helicopters and dropped from aircraft. Don’t let the name fool you though; these cars were heavier than the regular Land Rovers that sired them.
Land Rover Series III (1971)
There’s not much to distance this from the Series II aside from an all-synchromesh gearbox, revised instruments and stronger brakes.
Purists hate the new plastic radiator grille but Land Rover doesn’t care; it’s on a roll with the production lines running flat out to satisfy demand.
Land Rover 1 Tonne Forward Control (1972)
Land Rover revisited the elevated lorry formula, but this time there was a 3.5-litre petrol V8 that provided 128bhp and 185lb ft of torque.
When launched there was a powered trailer available for maximum traction, but it led to the vehicles rolling over so it was given the chop.
Land Rover Series III V8 (1979)
Serious off-roading needs a decent engine with plenty of power and torque; the Buick-derived 3.5-litre Rover V8 already seen in the Range Rover was just the thing to turn the Series III from a plodder into a car with genuinely decent performance, even if the fuel bills were alarming.
Land Rover 90 and 110 (1983)
The Land Rover County arrived in 1983, in 110-inch form with the Range Rover’s coil-spring suspension, a five-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, a one-piece windscreen and optional power steering.
A year later the short-wheelbase 90 arrived, with three doors instead of five.
Land Rover Defender (1990)
To some, all classic Land Rovers are called Defender, but it wasn’t until 42 years after the arrival of the Series I that this tag was adopted to differentiate it from the new Discovery model, unveiled in 1989.
The renamed model got a new 200 TDi turbodiesel engine, as already seen in the Discovery.
Land Rover Defender NAS (1993)
Land Rover formally withdrew from America in in the 1970s, though unofficial imports continued. The Defender’s up-market sibling Range Rover officially went on sale in 1987, and proved an instant hit.
Sensing an opportunity for the Defender, the company formally re-established a presence in North America in 1993, and celebrated it by launching a limited run of 535 North American Specification (NAS) 110 models, powered by a 3.9-litre variant of the long-standing Buick-derived V8, all but one of which were in white.
Land Rover DC100 concept (2011)
Replacing the Defender was never going to be an easy task, but this was Land Rover’s initial attempt at doing just that.
Launched at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, the DC100 was displayed in fixed-roof and convertible forms and while it looked smart it just wasn’t utilitarian enough to be a Defender substitute. Land Rover went back to the drawing board.
Bowler partnership (2012)
Drew Bowler set up Bowler Motorsports in 1984, to develop and build hard-core off-roaders.
Along the way he’d build the Tomcat, Wildcat (pictured here), Nemesis and EXR. Competing all over the world in high-profile events Bowler Motorsport became the place to go to for high-performance off-roaders which is why Land Rover officially partnered with the company in 2012.
Final Land Rover Defender (2016)
Friday 29 January 2016 was an emotional day for Land Rover fans and employees, as the final Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull, forced by new emissions and crash-protection regulations.
A soft-top 90, the last Defender was registered H166 HUE, in tribute to the original prototype in Land Rover’s collection, HUE 166.
Land Rover Defender Works V8 (2018)
The Defender may have been out of production for two years, but that didn’t stop Land Rover bringing it back from the dead to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
For £150,000, buyers got a second-hand Defender into which was slotted a 400bhp 5.0-litre V8 with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Both short- and long-wheelbase editions were available.
A new Defender (2019)
Land Rover isn’t about to cede control of the space once occupied by the Defender. An all-new one will arrive in 2019. So what do we know about it? Well, it’s clear it’ll be available in extremely varied forms, including an ultra-short-wheelbase three-door version and a much longer and larger five-door.
We expect up to 12 variants, which will also include pick-ups and soft-tops, and also super-luxury versions to take on the recently reborn Mercedes G-Class. Whichever version of the new Defender you choose, cheap and utilitarian it won’t be; we expect starting prices in the region of £40,000 in the UK and $50,000 in America.
We'll see it in the flesh for the first time on the opening press day of the Frankfurt motor show, on Tuesday 10 September 2019. We reckon it'll be the star of the show, on Land Rover's rivals' home turf. PICTURE: Autocar artist impressions