It started as a go-anywhere workhorse. Seven decades later it’s a luxury brand selling £300k Range Rover ‘coupes’.
1948 Life’s a beach
The Land Rover debuts in Amsterdam in April, less than a year after Rover chief engineer Maurice Wilks sketches Jeep-based ideas on Anglesey beach, with brother Spencer, Rover’s chairman. A centre-steer prototype on a Jeep chassis with Rover mechanicals promptly follows. If these guys were still around new Defender would be finished by now.
1953 Making Britain Great again
The Solihull factory is booming, with hardy Land Rover already outselling luxury Rover saloons. Short-wheelbase (86 inches) joined by long-wheelbase (107 inches) in 1955.
1955 Into the jungle
Off-road cred boosted by Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, with students trekking from London to Singapore in two Station Wagons. Author Barbara Toy has similarly epic adventures. Less ambitiously, the first owners’ club trials are held in the Midlands.
1963 The handover
Maurice Wilks passes away aged 59. Rover buys Buick V8 rights. Apprentice Roger Crathorne joins. He’ll work in engineering, marketing and PR, and do things off-road that’d unnerve a goat; ‘Mr Land Rover’ retires in 2014.
1967 The L word
Rover is swallowed by Leyland, which makes buses and trucks, and does a fine line in shop-floor discontent
and brand-portfolio mismanagement. Still, LR sales are 60k units per year, with 70 per cent exported.
1970 Range Rover is born
Ex-Rolls-Royce apprentice Spen King – nephew of the Wilks brothers – takes Rover upmarket with Range Rover. In 2004 King says: ‘To use the 4x4 for the school run, or even in cities or towns at all, is completely stupid.’ It’s too late, Dr Frankenstein.
1971 Bridging the Gap
Spencer Wilks dies. Two Range Rovers leave Anchorage, Alaska, for Tierra del Fuego, Chile, on the British Trans-Americas Expedition. Trickiest bit is the Darien Gap – the 250 miles of jungle in the middle. Heinz supplies three tonnes of food, leading to significant emissions. Trip succeeds.
1976 Tough times
One million Land Rovers and counting, but British Leyland is losing traction, the now nationalised company struggling to keep the lights on, let alone meet global Range Rover demand.
1978 Diesel dud
Land Rover is finally spun off from British Leyland but it remains stifled by the incompetence of remaining under same umbrella. In ’79 Land Rover and Perkins begin work on a stillborn diesel for the Range Rover.
1979 Dakar win
Private Range Rover sponsored by Vendredi, Samedi, Dimanche mag wins Paris-Dakar rally. Rover partners with Honda, initially yielding Triumph Acclaim.
1981 ‘Hello, this is Vogue’
In another move upmarket, Range Rover In Vogue is launched after a one-off shoot for the fashion mag sets phones alight. Land Rover is also given upmarket makeover with County Station Wagon spec the next year. Grubby cred maintained with Camel Trophy exploits.
1983 Coming to the coil
The One-Ten and, a year later, the Ninety replace the previous ‘Series’ Land Rovers. It’s the biggest shake-up since 1948, but that’s relative – the really big news is a radical move to coil-sprung suspension… Basic template won’t change until end of production in 2016.
1994 BMW buys in
Second-gen Range Rover debuts, making The Stone Roses look snappy at releasing their also-difficult second album. BMW buys Rover for £800m. ‘The prospects for Rover in the future are excellent,’ says Conservative Prime Minister John Major – and would later wish he hadn’t.
2000 PAG to riches
BMW breaks up Rover Group, now losing £2m a day, offloading its off-roading arm to Ford for £1.8bn. Land Rover becomes the rough (but very desirable) diamond in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, with Aston, Volvo and Jaguar.
2001 I am your father
Third-gen Range Rover launched. Engineered by BMW, whose engines it uses for the first four years, but it’s born post-divorce thinking Ford is its father. No wonder it flashes so many warning lights as a teen.
Range Stormer concept previews the next year’s Range Sport, and Disco 3 debuts. Greenpeace invades Solihull, causing almost as much disruption to production as the workforce of the ’70s and ’80s managed.
2007 Hell of a deal
Recession looming, CO2 targets are getting tougher, anti-SUV sentiment is rife – Ford puts profitable Land Rover up for grabs, throwing in loss-making Jaguar as a buy-two-or-don’t-get-one-at-all special offer.
2008 The McGoverner
Indian company Tata buys JLR in March. Solihull factory threatened with closure as recession bites. LRX show car debuts, wearing Land Rover badges. Designed under Gerry McGovern, it becomes the Range Rover Evoque.
2011 Posh Spice
Evoque launched, with Victoria Beckham ‘creative design executive’, trading in Geri Halliwell for Gerry McGovern. She really, really wants a convertible but will have to wait.
2012 DC RIP
Fourth-gen Range Rover, on new all-aluminium platform, is the first clean-sheet Tata model. It sets the tone for the second Range Sport. DC100 does less well, the mooted Defender replacement inspired more by LA surfers than engineers on Welsh sands.
2016 End of days
Defender production ends just before Range Rover Velar arrives, the most road-focused LR ever, and twinned with a Jag (the F-Pace) for the first time. New Disco also lands, trading boxy cool for bulbous bum.
2018 Still waiting
Land Rover celebrates its 70th anniversary but, as new Defender slips to 2019, must do so without a replacement for the car that started it all. The anti-oil sentiment propagated by Dieselgate also threatens to spoil the party. Second-generation Evoque a cautious redesign of its radical predecessor.