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British manufacturer Rover Company that were inspired by the US-built Willys Jeep. Stage 1 V8 version of the Series III featured permanent 4WD.
All three models could be started with a front hand crank and had the option of a rear power takeoff for accessories. The Land Rover was conceived by the Rover Company in 1947 during the aftermath of World War II.
Before the war Rover had produced luxury cars which were not in demand in the immediate post-war period and raw materials were strictly rationed to those companies building construction or industrial equipment, or products that could be widely exported to earn crucial foreign exchange for the country. Also, Rover’s original factory in Coventry had been bombed during the war, forcing the company to move into a huge “shadow factory” built just before the war in Solihull near Birmingham, and used to construct Bristol Hercules aircraft engines.
This factory was now empty but starting car production there from scratch would not be financially viable. Plans for a small, economical car known as the M Type were drawn up, and a few prototypes made, but would be too expensive to produce. Maurice Wilks, Rover’s chief designer came up with a plan to produce a light agricultural and utility vehicle, of a similar concept to the Willys Jeep used in the war, but with an emphasis on agricultural use. He was possibly inspired by the Standard Motor Company, who faced similar problems and were producing the highly successful Ferguson TE20 tractor in their shadow factory in Coventry.
More likely, he used his own experience of using an army-surplus Jeep on his farm in Anglesey, North Wales. Unimog, which was developed in Germany during this period. The first prototype had a distinctive feature — the steering wheel was mounted in the middle of the vehicle. It hence became known as the “centre steer”.
It was built on a Jeep chassis and used the engine and gearbox out of a Rover P3 saloon car. Birmabright, to save on steel, which was closely rationed. The choice of colour was dictated by military surplus supplies of aircraft cockpit paint, so early vehicles only came in various shades of light green. The first pre-production Land Rovers were being developed in late 1947 by a team led by engineer Arthur Goddard.
Tests showed this prototype vehicle to be a capable and versatile machine. The PTO drives from the front of the engine and from the gearbox to the centre and rear of the vehicle allowed it to drive farm machinery, exactly as a tractor would. It was also tested ploughing and performing other agricultural tasks. However, as the vehicle was readied for production, this emphasis on tractor-like usage decreased and the centre steering proved impractical in use.
The steering wheel was mounted off to the side as normal, the bodywork was simplified to reduce production time and costs and a larger engine was fitted, together with a specially designed transfer gearbox to replace the Jeep unit. The result was a vehicle that didn’t use a single Jeep component and was slightly shorter than its American inspiration, but wider, heavier, faster and still retained the PTO drives. The Land Rover was designed to only be in production for two or three years to gain some cash flow and export orders for the Rover Company so it could restart up-market car production. Once car production restarted, however, it was greatly outsold by the off-road Land Rover, which developed into its own brand that remains successful today.