1983 Military Landrover Ambulance
The first Land Rover was designed in 1947 in the United Kingdom (on the island of Anglesey in Wales) by Maurice Wilks, chief designer at the British car company Rover on his farm in Newborough, Anglesey. It is said that he was inspired by an American World War II Jeep that he used one summer at his holiday home in Wales. The first Land Rover prototype 'centre steer' was built on a Jeep chassis. A distinctive feature is their bodies, constructed of a lightweight rustproof proprietary alloy of aluminium and magnesium called Birmabright. This material was used owing to post war steel shortages and a plentiful supply of post-war aircraft aluminium. This metal's resistance to corrosion was one of the factors that allowed the vehicle to build up a reputation for longevity in the toughest conditions. It is reckoned that 75% of all those ever built are still in use. In fact, Land Rover drivers sometimes refer to other makes of 4x4 as "disposables". The early choice of colour was dictated by military surplus supplies of aircraft cockpit paint, so early vehicles only came in various shades of light green; all models until recently feature sturdy box section ladder-frame chassis.
The early vehicles, such as the Series I, were field-tested at Long Bennington and designed to be field-serviced; advertisements for Rovers cite vehicles driven thousands of miles on banana oil.
The use of Land Rovers by the British and Commonwealth military, as well as on long term civilian projects and expeditions, is mainly due to the superior off-road performance of the marque. For example, the short wheelbase version of the Land Rover Defender is capable of tackling a gradient of 45 degrees, an approach angle of up to 50 degrees, a departure angle of 53 degrees and a ramp break-over of up to 155 degrees - greatly superior not just to urban 4x4s but to military vehicles such as the HMMWV and Pinzgauer High Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle. A distinctive feature of all Land Rover products has been their exceptional axle articulation (the degree to which the wheels have vertical travel, with high amounts allowing them to maintain contact (and traction) with the ground over uneven surfaces), which is currently 7 inches (178mm) at the front axle and 8.25 inches (210mm) at the rear on basic Defender models.
Right from the start in 1948, PTOs (Power take-offs) were integral to the Land Rover concept, enabling farm machinery and many other items to be run with the vehicle stationary. Maurice Wilks was very clear about this, and his original instruction was "...to have power take-offs everywhere!" The 1949 report by the British National Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Scottish Machinery Testing Station described it thus:
"The power take-off is driven through a Hardy-Spicer propeller shaft from the main gearbox output and two interchangeable pinions giving two ratios. The PTO gearbox casing is bolted to the rear chassis cross-member and an 8 in x 8 in belt pulley driven from the PTO shaft through two bevel gears can be bolted to the PTO gearbox casing."
PTOs remained regular options on Series I, II and III Land Rovers up to the demise of the Series Land Rover in 1985. It is still possible to order an agricultural PTO on a Defender as a special order.
One of the other capabilities of the utility Land Rover (the Series/Defender models) is that they are available in a huge variety of body styles, ranging from a simple canvas-topped pick-up truck to a 12-seat fully trimmed Station Wagon. Both Land Rover and out-of-house contractors have offered a huge range of conversions and adaptations to the basic vehicle, such as fire engines, excavators, 'cherry picker' hydraulic platforms, ambulances, snowploughs, and 6-wheel drive versions, as well as one-off special builds including amphibious Land Rovers and vehicles fitted with tracks instead of wheels. See next page for further information.