Land Rover, the machine

Land Rover Defender, "the machine"

What could this be?

Let’s take a look at this picture. It’s kind of familiar, slightly looking like a Willys Jeep, only it’s not that, it’s the ancestor of the Land Rover Defender.

These days, when we say Land Rover, something like this will appear in our mind’s eyes:

However, 75 years ago this prototype was manufactured as an agricultural vehicle and yes, the driver’s seat was placed in the center as in a tractor.

But how did it all begin?

In 1947 mechanical engineer Maurice Wilks, who during the Second World War led a team of Rover engineers which developed a practical gas turbine aircraft engine, made the first ever drawing of a Land Rover on the beach sand in Wales, to explain to his brother his concept of an all-terrain vehicle. Coincidentally, his brother Spencer was the managing director of Rover. So, the development and testing proceeded rapidly, and the production version of the Land Rover was launched in 1948.

With steel strictly rationed, Rover decided to create the new vehicle’s bodywork from aluminium alloy panels. The steel box-section chassis was born of necessity, with strips of steel cast-offs hand‑welded together to create a ladder frame. As well as being cheaper to install than heavy pressed or expensive sheet steel, it also achieved the level of toughness appropriate for an off‑road utility vehicle.

The first Land Rover prototype was built in the summer of 1947, using many parts (including the chassis) from a Willys Jeep, while the engine was an underpowered 1,389cc unit from a Rover saloon.

Image source:

Today, the centre-steer prototype is the holy grail to many Land Rover enthusiasts. That’s because apparently no trace of it exists, although some very respected Land Rover experts are convinced it does. In fact, some believe several centre-steers kept hidden somewhere.

And this is the point, where we should look closer at these pics because this centre-steer model is just a replica which was built in 2005, using an original wartime Jeep chassis and handmade aluminium panels fashioned by eye using original photos as a reference. The vehicle is fully functional and is now part of the Dunsfold Collection.

Back to the story: It had been decided that the new vehicle – by now christened the Land-Rover (note the hyphen, which wasn’t lost until a decade later) – would be launched at the Geneva motor show in early March 1948, but it soon became clear that the prototypes wouldn’t be completed in time, so it was decided that it would be revealed at the Amsterdam motor show instead.

Thus it was, in the Dutch capital, on April 30, that the Land Rover legend was born when two prototypes – left- and right-hand-drive variants – went on display.

The initial 80 inch wheelbase Land Rovers that were sold to the general public remained very agricultural in every respect. Heaters were non-existent, as were passenger seats, door tops and roofs, but nothing unusual there; contemporary tractors, combine harvesters and other farm machinery of that era didn’t have comfortable cabs either.

But the new 4×4 planned by the Wilks brothers also had great export potential.

Peter Faidt

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