It has been more than six decades since Maurice Wilks, chief designer and technical director at the Rover motor company, drew the first outline of an idea for a big vehicle – on the lines of the American World War Jeep II series which he had grown fond of – on the sands of a Welsh beach.
From just a set of lines on the sands the name and brand Land Rover has grown to a household name across the world. It has been a result of the passion, dedication, courage, engineering excellence and has come to define the term “SUV” ever since its inception in 1947.
An idea comes to life
The idea was built into an actual vehicle on Jeep chassis and a Rover car engine. They used light alloy body panels and the chassis was fabricated from off cuts to avoid the use of rationed steel and the need for complex and expensive press tools.
The first Land Rover was launched at the Amsterdam motor show and was a raving success. The company realised that this was to be one of their largest selling models ever, and the year end saw the commencement of its export and sales to seventy countries.
The fifties were the decade of constant innovations and upgrades on the successful SUV. Better headlamps, a hard top, and the introduction of the four-wheel drive system. The 1.6-litre engine was upgraded to 2.0 litres. The wheelbase was extended along with the introduction of a long wheelbase pick-up version and a station wagon. By the end of the decade, a 2.0 litre diesel engine was introduced featuring overhead valves. The company also launched the Land Rover Series II, celebrating ten years since the first Land Rover rolled off the line. It featured a wider body with barrelled sides and sills to cleverly conceal the visible edges of the chassis. It was also provided a new 2.25 litre petrol engine and was welcomed with more than enthusiasm.
By mid-1965, the company tied up with General Motors and over the exchange of technology and ideas amongst the two companies, the Land Rover was given an all-alloy, lightweight 3.5 litre, petrol V8 engine. By 1966, more than half-a-million vehicles had been sold. The rest of the decade saw another set of mergers with truck manufacturer Leyland, that had already acquired the Coventry-based car manufacturer Triumph. By the end of the decade, Leyland-Rover-Triumph had joined the British Motor Corporation along with Austin, Morris and Jaguar, bringing all British automobile manufacturers under one name – British Leyland.
Gaining popularity with Range Rover
In the year 1970, Land Rover launched their new model line – The Range Rover, the centre of the brand today. It came with long travel coil springs, allowing the vehicle a great command both on roads and off them with great articulation and agility, thus defining the “Range” of the new Land Rover. The engine was an all-alloy 3.5 litre petrol which allowed the vehicle to attain speeds up to 160 kmph. The Range Rover was awarded the gold standard for its build quality and interiors, and the safety features brought it the “DON” trophy.
The year 1976 saw the one millionth Land Rover being built. The Government then brought in an industrialist by the name of Michael Edwards to manage British Leyland. Land Rover was recreated as Land Rover Limited – a separate operating company with funding for production promised by the government.
Over the next two decades, Range Rover gained popularity at a higher rate than its parent company and the models received groundbreaking upgrades – technological and innovative “firsts” in the worldwide segment. Air suspension, electronic traction control, airbags, monocoque body for rigidity, and engines from BMW.
Making history in 2003 – The greatest car of all time
By 1995, Land Rover achieved a production of 1,00,000 units a year. In 1997, the benchmark model, Freelander was launched at the Frankfurt motorshow. It came with the introduction of the innovative “Hill descent control” HDC drive system.
The turn of the millennium saw the sale of Land Rover to the Ford Motor company, joining Aston Martin, Volvo, Lincoln and Jaguar and becoming an integral part of the Premier Automotive Group.
In 2003, Land Rover was dubbed “the greatest car of all time” by the viewers of the BBC’s “Top Gear”.
Changing hands – Bought by an Indian automobile company
Five years later, the company and its sister luxury brand were bought by Indian automotive manufacturer Tata Motors for $2.3 billion, and the acquiring company decided to retain the entire management team promising to continue investments in all future developments.
Models like the Freelander, Freelander 2, Discovery, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Evoque, Range Rover Vogue are the more popular ones being sold in India, and one can only expect the finest things from the ‘con’ in the world of Luxury SUVs, in their models to come.