April 30

This Day in History

Automotive

Apr 30, 1948:

Original Land Rover debuts at auto show

The Land Rover, a British-made all-terrain vehicle that will earn a reputation for its use in exotic locales, debuts at an auto show in Amsterdam on April 30, 1948.

The first Land Rover, known as the Series 1, was the brainchild of Maurice Wilks, the head designer for the British car company Rover, of which his brother Spencer Wilks was the managing director. Maurice Wilks used an old American-made Willys-Overland Jeep to do work at his farm in England. However, the Jeep was plagued by mechanical problems and Wilks decided to design a more reliable vehicle. He intended it to be used for farm work and be more versatile than a tractor. The resulting Land Rover, known as the Series 1, had a boxy, utilitarian design, four-wheel drive and a canvas roof. Such features as passenger seat cushions, doors, a heater and spare tires were initially considered extras and cost more. The rugged Land Rover was well-received by the public and ended up being used not just for agricultural work, but by police forces, military organizations, aid workers in remote places and travelers on expeditions where road conditions were poor or non-existent. In 1976, the 1 millionth Land Rover rolled off the assembly line in Solihull, Birmingham, England.

In 1970, the Range Rover, a more comfortable, luxurious version of the Land Rover, launched. The Discovery, a less expensive version of the Range Rover made its public debut in 1989; it was marketed to a younger, less conservative audience than Range Rover buyers. By that time, the company had experienced ownership changes: In 1967, Rover became part of Leyland Motors (later called British Leyland). British Aerospace later acquired Land Rover. In 1994, BMW acquired the Land Rover business. Next, in 2000, the Ford Motor Company purchased Land Rover for $2.7 billion. In 2008, Ford, which was experiencing a sales slump due to the worldwide economic crisis, sold Land Rover, along with another British-based brand, Jaguar, to Tata Motors of India for some $2.3 billion.

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