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Before they became a fashion statement, you had to be a pretty down-to-earth sort of person to drive a Land Rover - the classic car you can still buy new today. Blame its upper class brother, the Range Rover for starting the 'trendy' trend in 4x4s because before 1970 off-roaders were decidedly off limits for most motorists.

It's the classic car you can still buy brand new and they're good value as well

Not unless you needed one that is, because the original Landie was made purely for work. Now, some 65 years later, enthusiasts are prepared to tolerate the cars rudimentary road manners all for the sake of image. Something that defi nitely wasn’t on the minds of the Wilks brothers when they wanted to copy the wartime Jeep.

The Land Rover was born out of desperation from a war-torn country where the message to the UKs industry in general, and car makers in particular, was ‘export or die’...

Coincidentally a Rover big wig wanting to do some gardening at home sowed the seed for 4x4s! The MD of Rover was Spencer Wilks and whilst pondering the fi rst problem, his brother Maurice had one of his own. He had a 250 acre farm on the island of Anglesey and there was only one vehicle capable of getting him around the varied terrain – a wartime Willys Jeep. 

As it neared the end of its useful life, Maurice considered getting another to replace it, when he realised that there was a gap in the market, which could easily be filled – by Rover!

Work on the Land Rover (the name was decided early on) began in 1947 with a simple sketch drawn in the beach by Maurice at his Anglesey home, so folklore has it. Amazingly, the brothers only saw the Land Rover as a stop cap car for Rover and thought this Jeep clone would be dead and buried by the 1950s as Rovers new car range took over. Well they got that bit wrong didn’t they!

Instead the Land Rover became such a success that it’s still in production and is fundamentally much the same design. Granted, it’s been on borrowed time for a number of years and sales have slowed signifi - cantly, but recently Land Rover put the feelers out to ask owners what they wanted from a new Landie. Coincidentally, the Indian company has granted a stay of execution for the old timer and the dependable Defender should still be with us until the end of the decade!

Land Rover didn’t jump from the horsey set to working class until 30 years ago when the family-friendly County estate was introduced. Based upon the SIII, a year later the Land Rover became almost civilised when a coil spring suspension taken from the Range Rover was installed. By the time that the Defender was launched in 1990 the Land Rover boasted permanent all-wheel drive plus the option of a turbo diesel, albeit a piston-digesting 2.5-litre. 

This prickly unit was replaced in 1998 by the excellent TD5 that first featured in the Discovery. By 2002 the Defender was almost becoming soft because there was even the option of heated front seats!

‘Attenshun’ seekers

Of course it wasn’t just farmers and country folk who loved the Land Rover – our armed forces depended on them for their lives. Agreed, ex-military Land Rovers aren’t the sort of thing you buy as your everyday car, but if you want Land Rover with a difference, then there’s arguably none better. They’ll take a whole load of abuse and the scrapes and dents are worn as a badge of honour. You won’t think twice about fi lling the back with stuff for the tip or collecting supplies from the DIY store. Their capability for carrying loads is impressive, even if the 90 versions do have quite a small load area, but the suspension rarely objects to lardy loads. 

What ex-military Land Rovers don’t have is civilian luxury. Seats are basic vinyl, there’s no soundproofi ng, carpeting or even anywhere to put a stereo . Unless you are looking at keeping an ex-military Land Rover as a show piece, you’ll probably want to hold to make it more civilised. A sound-proofi ng kit will make the world of difference, and it is something the MOD is now fi tting to service Land Rovers – the softies!

Up until around a decade ago, you could buy ex-forces Land Rover (and ex-staff cars) from special auctions but the practice is a lot more controlled now. You’ll have to go to Witham Specialist Vehicles (, 01476 861361), where you can buy direct at auction or tender sale. Prices start at around £4000 but you’ll have to register the vehicles for the road. This involves getting the Land Rover through an MoT and visiting your local DVLA office with the cast papers (MOD form 654) and insurance documents. You’ll then be issued with an agerelated number plate.

A civilian Land Rover is hard core enough for many however! The ride is as rocky as the terrain it’s designed for and the mechanical noise is like a war zone, but Defenders go well enough, especially the TD5 and the V8-powered versions.

Although marketed as an estate, family-sized Land Rovers were never that roomy and rear seat space is cramped; what’s more, some passengers may not like the crew cab seating plan on certain models. As we said at the beginning, Land Rover Defenders were, and still are, aimed at those who need, rather than simply fancy a 4x4 to motor around in. They still make an excellent second family hack, especially for those who reside out in the sticks, while their simple rugged make up remains ideal for DIYers. 

That said, for all their strength (its long been reckoned that some 75 per cent of all Landies are still in use in some shape or form), Land Rover reliability has always been strangely patchy; it’s the details the Landie slips up on. While rust can be rampant, word on the street is that very early Series IIIs were made from steel hardly worth the name.

By all means restore one as many now do. We trust that this doesn’t mean ending up with some concours trailer queen though, because this is something the Land Rover was never intended for. It’s still best to put yours to work in the fi eld rather than simply looking pretty in one. 


When The Car Was The Star

Readers may wonder just why the Land Rover, is doomed to appear in so many appalling British B-fi lms. In 1959’s Behemoth The Sea Monster (extremely dim-looking dinosaur pays a surprise visit to London in order to eat Dinky Austin Cambridges), where an 80 has a brief cameo or Gorgo a 1961 Technicolor extravaganza in which a giant dinosaur pays a brief but memorable visit to London in order to rescue her offspring (the titular monster) from Battersea Fun Fair, take in the sights and eat Big Ben. Naturally the army arrive in their 80 Series 1, a vehicle that gives a better performance than many of the human cast. Best of all is The Earth Dies Screaming where a 1952 80 plays a vital role in defeating the foul robots who have laid waste to humanity (or a few extras lying around Walton on Thames), causing respectable actors to turn into zombies.

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