On the 70th anniversary of the Series I, here are Land Rover’s major historical moments
Land Rover has been on a bit of a hot streak for sales lately, although its snazzy luxury SUVs are certainly a far cry from the unforgiving, rugged off-roaders it made its name with in 1948. The Land Rover Series I, in fact, launched 70 years ago today, prompting us to look back at some of the standout moments in the British marque’s history.
1948 — Launch of the Land Rover Series I (1948–58)
Originally intended for agricultural and industrial uses, the Land Rover Series I made its first appearance at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show. Many have said that engineering director Maurice Wilks, who sketched the first boxy design of the Series I in the sand of the UK’s Red Wharf Bay, based his idea on WWII-era Jeeps. Permanent four-wheel drive and a short wheelbase were part of the initial run, but later Land Rover would add conventional four-wheel drive, a longer wheelbase, additional body styles, and a diesel engine. Most desirable are the Station Wagon models, which were first built by coachbuilder Tickford in 1949 until Land Rover branched out with a factory version for 1956, complete with the lovely Safari Roof.
1956 — Oxford and Cambridge teams go from London to Singapore in Series I Rovers
It took six months and one hell of a journey through uncharted desert and untouched jungles, but the two elite student-led teams completed their expedition in a pair of blue Series I Land Rovers.
1958 — Launch of the Land Rover Series II and IIA (1958–71)
Finally, Land Rovers started to look good. The Series II famously got curved body sides to cover the wider track, but under the hood there was also an improved 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, and an inline-six would join the lineup for 1967. The Series IIA from 1961 and on is essentially the same, the main change being the new 2.25-liter diesel engine under the hood, which proved durable. The Series IIA marked the point where Land Rovers started to really make their mark worldwide and in popular culture.
1970 — Launch of the Range Rover Classic
The two-door Range Rover was Land Rover’s response to the growth of more road-going SUVs in the vein of the Ford Bronco. It was meant to be the best of both on- and off-road worlds, built with aluminum panels for the body, disc brakes, coil-spring suspension, and (not long later) power steering. It had permanent all-wheel drive, space, comfort, and the chops to win the Paris-Dakar rally in 1979 and 1981.
1971 — Launch of the Series III (1971–85)
Though it looked a lot like a IIA aside from the plastic grille, the Series III packed a lot of updates. It had synchros in all forward gears, an alternator instead of a generator, a new dash, and controls shifted over to the steering column. Imports for this improved Landie sadly discontinued in ’74 in the wake of the first oil crisis.
1972 — Range Rover crosses Darien Gap
Part of a bonkers 18,000-mile road trip from the northern Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina, a Range Rover led by a British Army team crossed the Darien Gap, a hellish spread of untamed swampland between Central and South America across the Pan-American Highway.
1989 — Launch of the Discovery (1989–98)
Now regarded as an icon of luxury off-roading, the original Discovery epitomized the ’90s safari look, which had broader appeal than the more expensive Range Rover. It joined the North American market in 1994 when it was refreshed, and despite a few name changes along the way, the Discovery is back and still being sold today.
1990 — The Defender name arrives
Although Land Rover had already been building the 90, 110, and 130 off-road trucks since 1983, it didn’t add the hallowed Defender name until 1990, so that the Discovery and Range Rover wouldn’t be alone in having names. It came to the U.S. market in 1993, where it was praised for its off-road dominance. These days, as the truck and SUV market booms, Defenders are in high demand. And judging by the report from Automotive News Europe, the next Defender will be as boxy and brutish as before. Look out, new Bronco.