The Land Rover legacy started with the Series 1 Land Rover 80", although when it was introduced in 1948 it was just called "The Land Rover". The first Land Rover was smaller than all later models, but it was adaptable and durable, quickly becoming a familiar sight in the UK and overseas.
This capable vehicle was created as more of a 'stop-gap' to match Rover production requirements, rather than to meet a specific existing market. The Rover Company started off in the mid-1800s selling sewing machines and then 'Safety' Tricycles and Bicycles. By the 1930s, it had evolved into a car company but was hit badly by the Depression. In common with many British industrial companies during World War 2, its factories were turned over to the war effort and produced engines for tanks and aircraft. By 1945 and the end of World War 2, Rover found itself with two excellent factories and a highly skilled workforce. It was looking at restarting car production and produced ambitious plans to build 20,000 cars per year. A new model, the 'M'-type was dropped when it became clear that it would be unsuitable for export and that tooling costs would be excessive. Plans to produce 15,000 of the pre-war designs per year were quickly quashed by the Government which refused to allocate steel for more than 1,100 cars per year. This serious short-fall led Rover to realise that a stop-gap solution was required until sufficient steel was available. The stop-gap also had to have export potential. Just to make things difficult, Rover had never exported any vehicles before!
In the 1940s, Rover's Managing Director was Spencer Wilks, and his brother Maurice was the Chief Designer. Maurice Wilks owned a farm in Anglesey that also had a war surplus Willys Jeep. Although very beaten up, the Jeep proved to be a very useful vehicle for small jobs around the farm. Seriously in need of replacing, Maurice Wilks had a problem. Although further war surplus jeeps were available, they were in a similar condition. Spare parts could only be purchased in bulk, and new Jeeps were not being exported from the US to the UK. Besides, the British Chief Designer balked at the idea of buying a non-British vehicle, and commented that if he could not build a better vehicle he should not be in the business!
This was the beginning of the project. The idea formed in early 1947, and early prototypes were running during summer 1947. At a Board Meeting in September 1947, this new vehicle was described as an 'all-purpose vehicle on the lines of the Willys-Overland post-war Jeep'. Although similar to the Jeep, it was designed to be more useful to the farmer. It had greater utility as a power source being able to drive things, have lots of bolt-on accessories, and "to have power take offs everywhere". Tooling was also minimised by using existing Rover parts where possible, and using body panels that could be made with simple folds. The existing P3 engine, gearbox, and back axle were used. Design and planning were rapid with a concept that did not exist before 1947 being exhibited to the public by April 1948. This was mainly because a workforce was waiting to be employed, and Rover desperately needed the export ability.
Rover did not know what to expect at the Amsterdam Show in 1948, but they need not have worried. Enthusiasm was displayed in all quarters and was quickly followed by very serious interest and the order books quickly over-flowed. The new vehicle could be used as a car, but also as a power source and even small tractor. It had excellent off-road abilities - perfect for the farmer.
Although a very popular and useful vehicle, the early Land Rovers were criticised for having a small load space. This was addressed in 1954, when the 80" Land Rover was replaced with an 86" wheelbase version. A "long wheelbase" 107" Land Rover was also introduced.
The first Land Rover model with the lights behind the grille remains as the most rare and sought after model. Interest and international market prices leaped up and became red hot after the Land Rover company announced that they have started a program of buying up this model from existing owners worldwide and fully transforming them to virtually brand new vehicles in their workshop in England. It is not unusual for these to fetch in excess of £100,000 from collectors.
The vehicle featured here is a 1948 series 1 "lights behind the grill" Land Rover owned by Kapila Jayawardena. It stands majestic in his beautiful private car museum located in Battaramulla. The vehicle is absolutely original with semaphores mounted on the windscreen, thumb push starter, D shaped tail lamps plus the original 1600 cc petrol engine etc. The Landy was purchased over six months ago in pretty original shape but still underwent a complete restoration. The paintwork was changed from air force blue to Land Rover green. All the decals and few other parts were imported from England. The original Land Rover grill badge in solid brass adorns the front of CN 7126. Kapila was lucky as the previous owner had a brand new set of original seats which he delivered with the vehicle. RMV records indicate that The Landy which was manufactured in 1948 had been used in England for one year and imported to Ceylon in 1950.
We saw the vehicle cruising effortlessly and Kapila makes sure that this rare icon is well preserved and maintained for future generations.