It’s been 60 years since the first Land Rover rolled off the assembly line, and we thought it would be fun to see how much you really know about the brand you’ve come to know and love…
Q. Why wasn’t the original Land Rover made of steel?
A. In 1948, steel was in short supply in post-war Britain, forcing the Wilks brothers (Maurice and Spencer) to look for another alternative.
Q. OK, so what did they use?
A. Aluminum, or aluminium, as they say overseas. The aircraft industry had surplus supplies of unused alloy. It was strong, it was lightweight, and hey – if it was good enough for the boys in the RAF, it was good enough for us here on the ground.
Q. What special purpose was the original Land Rover built for?
A. No, it wasn’t off-roading as we think of it today. That, as a recreational activity, hadn’t really developed yet. No, the original Land Rover Series I was designed as a working vehicle, to be used as a light tractor on the farm. That trademark hole in the back bumper? That’s where the optional Power Take-Off (PTO) clutch was housed. With it, the driver could run all kinds of farm machinery, powered by the engine of the Rover. There is even an early publicity shot showing a Land Rover plowing (or ploughing, if you say aluminium). Plus, farmers needed a way to deliver feed to far-off fields or to check on their sheep grazing on isolated hillsides and the Land Rover gave them access to all of that and more.
Q. Why, after all of these years, is the interior so cramped?
A. Actually, there’s a very good reason for that, and it’s one of the reasons Land Rover’s are so adept at running around on hellish terrain. From the start Land Rover engineers wanted to ensure maximum ground clearance and so they designed the chassis so that the gearbox and driveline were located well out of harm's way.
This meant that there was - and still is - a hefty transmission tunnel running right through the center of the cabin, shunting the driver and his passenger far apart but at the same time providing a useful perch for the occasional third body up front. (Of course, vehicle safety rules have since put the kybosh on that!)
Q. Can you name one thing that hasn’t changed since the original?
A. The obvious answer is the door design. Even on the latest model Defenders they still flap about like, as one reporter put it, “the ears of an African elephant.” (The only difference there being that when a gust of wind blows the elephant's ears generally tend to stay attached to their owner.) Another acceptable answer would be the infamous “pillbox” windshield and those pathetic little 6” wiper blades that struggle in vain to clear them. You’d think in a place like the UK, where they’re no strangers to rain…but maybe that’s just a part of the charm that the engineers at Solihull refused to part with. Oh, and lastly, the permanent four-wheel-drive thing. That’s non-negotiable.
Q. What are the two most significant changes then?
A. You’d have to say the engine and the suspension. The latest Defenders have a 2.4-liter common-rail turbocharged diesel engine and six-speed gearbox with 122hp. The 1948 version had a small gas engine with four-speed crash box offering 50hp. Also back then, the Series I had leaf-springs that took riders through rolls and pitches like a carnival ride, which not only made it fun but also unbeatable as an off-roader. Today’s new, coil-sprung, anti-roll-bar-equipped Defender doesn't smooth things out that much, really, but it does mean you still get unbeatable off-road performance, which is the point after all.
Hey, if you want comfort, get a Discovery or Range Rover. And congratulations on successfully completing our quiz!
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