The prototype Land Rover was constructed using donor Jeep and Rover parts.
A batch of 48 vehicles was then built for testing purposes and experimental exercises in body design. Most were painted Sage green, previously used in World War II aeroplane cockpits. Bumpers on the earliest examples were integrated as part of the chassis, in contrast to the bolt-on style that was later adopted.
Originally the Land Rover was a single model offering, which from 1948 until 1951 used an 80 in (2,000 mm) wheelbase and a 1.6-litre petrol engine producing around 50 bhp (37 kW; 51 PS). The 4-speed gearbox from the Rover P3 was used, with a new 2-speed transfer box. This incorporated an unusual 4-wheel-drive system, with a freewheel unit (as used on several Rover cars of the time). This disengaged the front axle from the manual transmission on the overrun, allowing a form of permanent 4WD. A ring-pull mechanism in the driver's footwell allowed the freewheel to be locked to provide more traditional 4WD. This was a basic vehicle, tops for the doors and a roof (canvas or metal) were optional extras. In 1950, the lights moved from a position behind the grille to protruding through the grille.
From the beginning it was realised that some buyers would want a Land Rover's abilities without the spartan interiors. In 1949, Land Rover launched a second body option called the "Station Wagon", fitted with a body built by Tickford, a coachbuilder known for their work with Rolls-Royce and Lagonda. The bodywork was wooden-framed and had seating for seven people. Tickford was well equipped in comparison with the standard Land Rover, having leather seats, a heater, a one-piece laminated windscreen, a tin-plate spare wheel cover, some interior trim and other options. The wooden construction made them expensive to build and tax laws made this worse, unlike the original Land Rover, the Tickford was taxed as a private car, which attracted high levels of Purchase Tax. As a result, fewer than 700 Tickfords were sold, and all but 50 were exported. Today these early Station Wagons are highly sought after.
In 1952 and 1953, the petrol engine was replaced with a larger 2.0-litre I4 unit. This engine was "Siamese bore", meaning that there were no water passages between the pistons. During 1950, the unusual semi-permanent 4WD system was replaced with a more conventional setup, with drive to the front axle being taken through a simple dog clutch. Around this time the Land Rover's legal status was also clarified. As mentioned above, the Land Rover was originally classed as a commercial vehicle, meaning it was free from purchase tax. However, this also meant it was limited to a speed of 30 mph (48 km/h) on British roads. After an appeal to the Law Lords after an owner was charged with exceeding this limit, the Land Rover was classified as a "multi-purpose vehicle" which was only to be classed as a commercial vehicle if used for commercial purposes. This still applies today, with Land Rovers registered as commercial vehicles being restricted to a maximum speed of 60 mph (as opposed to the maximum 70 mph (110 km/h) for normal cars) in Britain, although this rule is rarely upheld.
The 1954 Year Model saw a big change: the 80 in (2,000 mm) wheelbase model was replaced by an 86 in (2,200 mm) wheelbase model, and a 107 in (2,700 mm) "Pick Up" version was introduced. The extra wheelbase was added behind the cab area to provide additional load space.
1956 saw the introduction of the first five-door model, on the 107 in (2,718 mm) chassis known as the "Station Wagon" with seating for up to ten people. The 86 in (2,184 mm) model was a three-door seven-seater. The new station wagons were very different from the previous Tickford model, being built with simple metal panels and bolt-together construction instead of the complex wooden structure of the older Station Wagon. They were intended to be used both as commercial vehicles as people-carriers for transporting workmen to remote locations, as well as by private users. Like the Tickford version, they came with basic interior trim and equipment such as roof vents and interior lights.
The Station Wagons saw the first expansion of the Land Rover range. Station Wagons were fitted with a "Safari Roof" which consisted of a second roof skin fitted on top of the vehicle. This kept the interior cool in hot weather and reduced condensation in cold weather. Vents fitted in the roof allowed added ventilation to the interior. While they were based on the same chassis and drivetrains as the standard vehicles, Station Wagons carried different chassis numbers, special badging, and were advertised in separate brochures. Unlike the original Station Wagon, the new in-house versions were highly popular.
Wheelbases were extended by 2 in (51 mm) to 88 in (2,200 mm) and 109 in (2,800 mm) to accommodate the new diesel engine, to be an option the following year. This change was made to all models with the exception of the 107 Station Wagon, which would never be fitted with a diesel engine, and would eventually be the last series I in production.
Finally, in 1957, the "spread bore" petrol engine was introduced, followed shortly by a brand new 2.0-litre Diesel engine that, despite the similar capacity, was not related to the petrol engines used. The petrol engines of the time used the rather out-dated inlet-over-exhaust valve arrangement; the diesel used the more modern overhead layout. This diesel engine was one of the first high-speed diesels developed for road use, producing 52 hp (39 kW) at 4,000 rpm.
This engine was slightly longer than the original chassis allowed, so the wheelbase was increased from 86 to 88 in (2,200 mm) for the short-wheelbase models, and from 107 to 109 in (2,769 mm) on the long-wheelbases. The extra two inches were added in front of the bulkhead to accommodate the new diesel engine. These dimensions were to be used on all Land Rovers for the next 25 years.
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