In 1945 World War II was over and the British were rebuilding. With huge overseas debts to repay, the British government took on the slogan “Export or Die.” Steel stocks were rationed, and those car makers who could guarantee a high percentage of exports were the ones who would get the limited sheet steel supplies.
Rover Car Company early Viking marqueRover Car Company was a successful British car maker, with an excellent reputation since at least the mid 1930’s. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, their track record for exports was not good – they were successful at selling cars locally but had no experience with exporting. This meant they would not be able to get enough sheet steel to keep their factory at Solihull going if they simply proceeded with producing the same Rover cars they had in the past. They needed something new – a stop-gap – either a vehicle for which they could be sure of being able to reliably and consistently export, or else one that did not use much sheet steel, or really both. What to do?
Well, first let’s back up in time and cover Rover’s history prior to 1945. Rover Car Company was founded as Starley & Sutton Company in 1878 in Coventry, West Midlands, England. Initially they built pedal cycles (first tricycles, and later some of the first modern-style bicycles), then motorcycles, and starting in 1904, motor cars. 1905 red Rover car In the late 1890’s, the company was named the Rover Cycle Company Ltd. – so the Rover part of Land Rover has been around since the 19th century. Rover produced distinctive cars and was successful in a feast or famine sort of way, sometimes struggling to survive. It was when Spencer and Maurice Wilks joined the management team that Rover’s then lagging reputation and profitibility was built back up and by the mid-1930’s they were profitable and had an excellent reputation. This led to the British government inviting them to join their “shadow factory” scheme to increase production of aircraft engines, and ultimately to Rover managing two large new factories in Acocks Green and Solihull. Rover kept its car making business in Coventry.
World War II broke out and Rover put all of their efforts into military contracts. The Coventry plant was badly damaged by bombing during the war, but neither of their shadow factories were hit. The end of the war saw Rover with a car plant in Coventry in need of major rebuilding and too small for future expansion, and offers from the government to take over larger and newer shadow factories that were rapidly losing the military contracts that kept them humming with work for a large labor force.
Back to what to do? Maurice Wilks, his farm, and the Willy’s Jeep to the rescue. Maurice Wilks found that his war surplus Willys Jeep was an indispensable tool on his 250-acre farm in Newbourough, Anglesey. When his brother Spencer, visiting Maurice one weekend at his farm, asked him what would he do when it finally fell apart, Maurice is said to have replied “Buy another one. There isn’t anything else I can buy.” Bingo! — a stop gap found, and since it would be an agricultural-oriented vehicle, it would have greater export appeal and it could be built with plentiful aluminum stocks – no need for steel bodywork. With lots of post-war aircraft aluminum available it could be used for the body work, and would give their new do-everything farm vehicle great resistance to corrosion. Maurice Wilks returned to Solihull immediately, gathered a design team, and the new project, christened Land Rover, was born.
— adapted from “Land Rover — Series One to Freelander” by Graham Robson, The Crowood Press
Land Rover is pretty busy turning out its new model – the LRX, due out sometime early next year. According to insiders, the Tata Motors owner company has also started work on its replacement to the 62-year-old iconic
Defender. Known internally as Project Icon, Tata Motors has signed off funding for a complete redesign and reengineering of the model.
Sources say that Project Icon
should be in Land Rover’s product cycle by 2014.