Land Rover: Timeline


Seventy Years of Land Rover history

Legend has it that on the tomb of that great defender of the British Isles is carved the inscription:

“Here lies Arthur, King Once and King to be.”

It’s the lament of a nation unwilling to let go. Unwilling to believe in the death of a hero-protector. It speaks both of a heroic past and delivers a promise of resurrection.

And so it is again that in the barracks, in the farm yards and in the ale houses of Britain the life and death of another old campaigner is sung of with tear in eye and fire in heart.

The Land Rover was a child of war. Its conceptual germ a WW2 Jeep, its materials born of postwar shortages and its very production a stop gap intended to fill a factory that had ballooned in size for wartime production.

This year the final Land Rover Defender will roll off the line in the Midlands, marking the end of a 67-year patrol for this most British of vehicles – and many, not least within the Land Rover company itself, will mourn its passing.

Some production may continue abroad. Land Rover are tight lipped about these and other future plans for the Defender. So it must remain the stuff of bar room speculation.

Of its past though we can be certain. Here are some of the evolutionary highlights of the once and future king.

1947- Maurice Fernand Carey Wilks, Rover’s Technical Director, owns a Willys WW2 surplus Jeep. He feels there would be a market for a four wheel drive agricultural vehicle in postwar Britain. Legend has it he draws its plan in the sand of his Anglesey beach house.

1948 The new Land-Rover (it remained hyphenated until 1978) goes on show at the Amsterdam Motor Show. It has an 80-inch wheelbase and is made from locally supplied aluminium sheets and galvanised steel bracketing. The company expected to make 50 per year for about 2 years.


1952 The first licenses are issued to overseas manufacturers to Minerva SA, a Dutch armoured car maker – and German Tempo to make vehicles for The West German Border Police.

1956 The wheelbase of both Land Rover models are extended by two inches to make room for a bigger engine – SWB 88 inch, LWB 109 inch. The British army adopts it as their light 4×4 vehicle and the courts rule it can no longer be classed as an agricultural vehicle using low tax red diesel.


1958 On the 10th anniversary the Series II is launched, once again at Amsterdam. It has a wider body with sills that hide the chassis. Other changes include an external fuel filler and glass sliding side windows to replace the Perspex originals. The Australian army now adopts it.

1968 In conjunction with the MOD the Half Ton (or the ‘lightweight’) finishes its three year development program and goes into service for the British Army. Able to carry the US 106 mm Recoilless Rifle (RCL) the Half Ton is an extremely successful model and stays in production until the mid 1980s.


1971 The Series III is launched. Changes include a moulded plastic grill to replace the metal one of Series II and the addition of a new synchromesh gearbox.

1979 The Stage 1 is launched with a new V8 petrol engine.

1982 The Series III ‘County Station Wagon’ is launched to attract the ‘County Set’.


1984 The Short Wheel Base, 92 inch is launched, now known as the Land Rover 90 range.

1990 The range is rebranded as Defender referring to its long standing military role and it gets a version of the 200Tdi engine that runs in the Discovery.

1995 With the 2.5 litre TDI modified the previous year to meet new noise and emission standards (becoming the 300TDI) the V8 petrol engine now ceases production in the home market.

1996 A major new order is placed from the British military for adapted 90s and the longer wheelbased 110s. The Wolf and the Pulse, have served in both Iraq wars, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.


2002 The Defender gets an upgrade for the new millennium. Changes include zinc plated steel doors, which apart from fitting better, allow electric windows and central locking. Plus previously unthinkable luxury, with heated front seats.

2007 Defender TD4 2.4 is born, a new engine with a six speed wide ratio gearbox massively improves drive ability.

2008 A special 60th anniversary edition – the SVX – is launched. With only 200 made for the UK market it includes such radical additions as Recaro seats, alloy gear knobs, USB socket and even an iPod cradle.


2012 With increasing pressure to meet EU5 environmental targets for emissions and noise, the Defender gets a quieter and cleaner 2.2 Diesel engine.

2015 The last Defender will come off the line this December in Solihull, some limited production may continue abroad.


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