A brief history of Land Rover

Land Rover is an iconic British car, so much so that King George VI granted Land Rover a Royal Warrant in 1951.

So yes, the Land Rover is as historically British as they come, but how did they become the iconic British manufacturer we know and love today?

In this article, we take a look at the interesting history of the Land Rover, from the Series I to…pushchairs.

When was the first Land Rover launched?

The first Land Rover was officially launched in 1948 after a design was created in 1947 using the Jeep chassis and components. The Series I was officially launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show.

The Series I was based around the military, using surplus supplies of aircraft cockpit paint which meant that the early vehicles only came in a light green colour. Series II was launched ten years later in 1958 and was the first to use the 2.25 litre petrol engine. Interestingly, there was a 109-inch Series II Station Wagon introduced with the intention of taking advantage of the UK tax laws. A vehicle with 12 seats or more was technically classed as a bus and therefore was exempt from both purchase tax. It also meant that they could use bus lanes. This made it considerably cheaper than the other, smaller Series II. This layout actually stayed very popular on the later models including the Defender variants. It was dropped in 2002, however, though it’s weird exemption status stayed.

When did Land Rover become a separate company?

Before Land Rover became, well, Land Rover, it was a product line of the Rover Company. When this became the British Leyland Motor Corporation, Land Rovers became part of the Rover-Triumph division.
Land Rover became their own company (but still under the British Leyland umbrella) in 1978. This was following the success of both Land Rovers and Range Rovers. It stayed as part of the Rover Group under the ownership of the British Aerospace when British Leyland was broken and privatised.

Who owns Land Rover?

So, who owns Land Rover today? Land Rover is still a company in itself, of course, but in 1994 it went to BMW after the German manufacturer acquired the Rover Group.

But then the Rover Group was broken up by BMW and Land Rover ended up being sold to Ford Motor Company in 2000. It became part of their Premier Automotive Group and the Rover brand was purchased from BMW in 2006. In 2008 Ford Motor Company sold Land Rover, and Jaguar, to Tata Motors. Ford and BMW initially wanted to preserve the Land Rover brand and most Land Rover vehicles are produced using Ford engines. When Tata acquired Land Rover, it came with the right to use Ford engines until 2019.

When did Land Rover create Range Rover?

The success of Range Rover was evident from the beginning. And now, it’s been named one of the top British cars of all time. And, it’s hard to argue with it.

The origins of Range Rover actually date back to 1951, when there were plans for a larger Land Rover model. These plans, however, were shelved until 1966. The first Range Rover prototype was built in 1967 and was completed in 1969. It was launched in 1970.

The Range Rover was never meant to become a luxury car nor was it supposed to become a status symbol. The designer of Range Rover himself actually spoke out about this, saying that was never the intention. Nevertheless, Range Rover has since become a popular sight on our roads, but you can read more about that in our Range Rover history.

When was the Land Rover Freelander launched?

The Land Rover Freelander was a more compact version of the original Land Rover and was launched in 1997.The Freelander was a result of market research by Land Rover that suggested that they could make a move into the compact SUV market. However, the Rover Group had a strict development budget and therefore tried to look for a partner to develop the project. They approached their partner Honda, who declined and instead developed the CR-V model which was launched the same year. So Rover decided to go at it alone and started to design a model. However, BMW took over the Rover Group in 1994 and this provided them the funding they needed to continue the project.  And so the Freelander was launched in 1997 and quickly became the best-selling four-wheel drive model in Europe. It stayed that way until 2002. There were two generations of the Freelander, and it was replaced by the Discovery Sport in 2005.

When was the Discovery launched?

The Land Rover Discovery was launched in the UK in 1989 and was code-named ‘Project Jay’. The Discovery was loosely based on the Range Rover, with similar chassis and drivetrain, but was given a lower price aimed at a larger market. It was created with the intention to rival the Japanese manufacturers models.

The second generation Discovery was launched in 1994 and also marked the first year that the Discovery was sold in the United States. In Japan, the first generation Discovery was offered as the Honda Crossroad. This was due to the cross-holding relationship Land Rover had with Honda in the early 80’s. This relationship ended, however, after Rover was taken over by BMW.

Land Rover and the Military

Land Rover have developed quite a few models for the Ministry of Defence, including the Land Rover Wolf which was an uprated Military Defender and the Snatch Land Rover which had an armoured body. They even developed a model for the Australian Army; the Land Rover Perentie.

Land Rover and Electric Vehicles

In 2008, Land Rover presented their diesel-electric hybrid at the London Motor Show. The same year, they presented their LRX hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show, a model which was to run entirely on electricity below speeds of 20mph. In February 2013 they unveiled their plans for an All-Terrain Electric Defender, a vehicle that would produce zero emissions. This was following the successful trials of a Defender-based electric vehicle, Leopard 1. The electric Defender has a range of 80km and in off-road, low speed usage it can last eight hours before charging.

Land Rover and Brand Extensions

Land Rover have had quite a few brand extensions in their time, some make sense and others…not so much.

In 1995 Land Rover endorsed a hand-made bicycle using its logo. Two more of these bicycles followed, including one aimed at children and a bicycle with hydraulic rim brakes.

But that wasn’t Land Rovers only foray into the world of two week vehicles. In June 2004 Land Rover launched a line of 25 bicycles with three main ranges; the Defender, Discovery and Freelander. Each range were suited to different types of cycling; Discovery was an all-round bicycle, Defender was an off-roader and Freelander was a road bike, designed for more urban lifestyles.

But bicycles weren’t the only thing Land Rover were putting their name to. In 2005, Land Rover Coffee company was established. And, since then, Land Rover have had their name associated with it though there is no word as to whether they are still trading.

It gets stranger. Land Rover gave Pegasus, a UK pram company, license to produce a range of three-wheeled pushchairs bearing the Land Rover name. The design of the pushchairs reflected the marque, with a light metal frame and canvas seating that were held together with push studs. The pushchair was even suited for all terrains, and could be folded completely lat and repaired at home with home tools. It even came in military colours such as light blue, a sand colour and olive. Unfortunately, these pushchairs were discontinued in 2002.

And that brings us to the end of our Land Rover history. In 2013 Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to open a research and development centre at the University of Warwick to create the next generation of vehicle technologies. This research centre will cost 100 million GBP and around 1,000 academics and engineers would work there. So we have a feeling Land Rover will be sticking around for a long time.

If you are interested in any of the current Land Rovers, you can use our search function below.

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