Chances are you know that Land Rovers got their start as the British version of the Jeep, and that they were owned by BMW for a while, but did you know the first Land Rover had the steering wheel in the middle, or that tank treads used to be a factory option? We dove into their past, and found 20 things you probably didn't know about Land Rover.
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1. Land Rovers have been around 30 years longer than their company has. Land Rovers have been built since 1948, when they became the second oldest four wheel drive vehicles in automotive history after Jeeps. Back then, they were made by Rover, but Land Rover as a company wasn’t founded until 1978, as part of a really odd period of British mismanagement of the auto industry.
2. The first Land Rover had the steering wheel in the middle. It was modeled after WWII-era Jeeps, because the designer had used one on his farm in Wales. To keep things simple and more tractor-like, the designer just put the steering wheel in the middle. In doing so he also dodged the pesky nuisance of building two different versions of the car for left and right hand drive markets.
4. The father of Land Rover's larger offspring, the Range Rover, was a jet engine-designing badass. After WWII, Charles S. King worked with Rolls Royce, and helped them develop their first jet engines. To this day RR makes some of the best jet engines in the world.
5. By the way, those jet engines? Charlie built a car around one and set the first turbine powered world land speed record. Imagine the conversation, "Hey Charlie, what should we do with all these spare jet engines designed for airplanes?" Charlie: "I'm gonna bolt one to a car and ride across the desert on top of it."
6. You could order a Land Rover with tank treads in the fifties from the Rover factory, because f*ck you that’s why. The Series II Cuthbertson was invented by a Scotsman who figured out that treads would enable the SUV to trek across the Highlands without sinking into the spongy ground. Legend has it that originally this was a stunt meant to embarrass the English, who weren’t clever enough to come up with the idea on their own. However, eventually this became a factory option.
7. They also invented the Monster Truck 30 years before anyone else. In the 1950s, the British Forestry Commission demanded that someone create a road going vehicle that could tackle even the deepest mud puddles. Land Rover happily obliged, bolting on four tractor tires and some beefy axles from a Studebaker to a Series IIA, thereby giving birth to the first monster truck.
8. Oh, and they made the most grueling off-road challenge in the world their bitch for two decades. Land Rover dominated the Camel Trophy, which included treks across places like Siberia, the Amazon, Tierra del Fuego, and the Australian Outback, with vehicles that were mostly stock. Except for uhhh epic inflatable boat functionality.
9. The first Range Rover was designed in the 1950s, even though Range Rovers didn’t exist until the 1970s. It was called the Road Rover, and was based on a car platform, about five decades ahead of today’s crossover SUVs.
10. Land Rover hated paying taxes, and went to great lengths to make sure their buyers didn’t have to either. The Defender 110 could technically fit up to 12 people, qualifying as a “bus” by the taxman’s standards. This qualification allowed them to be exempt from the brutal tax system on passenger vehicles. Extra bonus: you get to use bus lanes and skip out on all that pesky London traffic.
11. They made floating SUVs, because of course. You’ve gotta really trust your floatation device if you’re gonna float your SUV down a river.
12. Their military vehicles make Hummers look like toy cars. The 101 Forward Vehicle was originally built to tow howitzer cannons, and it’s basically Britain’s answer to the Unimog. It was called the Forward Vehicle because the driver sat forward of the front wheels. Crumple zones were clearly not a chief concern here. Getting into the driver's cabin is a bit of a challenge however, so they had to build a step into the wheel.
13. The Range Rover was built exactly as the first prototype was designed. That literally never happens in the car industry. Somehow, when they put together the 1966 prototype that ultimately led to production, the lines never changed.
14. And that design was good enough to get the Range Rover displayed in the Louvre. Like, the actual Louvre with all the art, because it was considered a masterpiece of industrial design.
15. The first 25 pre-production Range Rovers were actually called Velars. This was only done to confuse the general public so they wouldn’t speculate about Range Rover.
16. The second Range Rover ever produced had six wheels, obviously. It was converted to an airport fire truck, and is still in use today.
17. Range Rover won the first ever Dakar Rally, the legendary race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal. It was an all French team, and they kind of ran away with it.
18. Range Rover wasn’t always part of the same company. When BMW bought the Rover group in 1994, they split Land Rover from Rover, then sold Land Rover to Ford in 2000. They remained different companies until Ford bought Range Rover in 2006. Now they’re both part of Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata motors, maker of the world’s cheapest car.
19. Unsurprisingly, Charlie King hated that Range Rovers became luxury vehicles. He went on record as saying they had become “an acceptable alternative to Mercedes or BMW for the pompous, self-important driver”.
20. By the year 2139, Land Rover will be the only vehicle manufacturer left. They’ll only make the 101 Forward Vehicle, and they’ll be used as cabs. At least, that’s what they said in Judge Dredd. They made a few of these for the movie, by the way, and several of them are still driven around on the streets of Britain by some very strange, very awesome people.