Land Rover Series 1 – Survival Tactics


By Chris Pollitt

Classic cars can often be thought of as being delicate and fragile. After all, these cars that were built many decades ago weren’t screwed together with machine and with modern techniques. Instead, they were assembled by people called Charles or June and while they built the cars to the best of their abilities, the vehicle’s longevity wasn’t something that was high on the list of priorities. As such, older cars didn’t tend to last all that long without ongoing mechanical intervention. That’s why the ‘delicate and fragile’ stereotype exists. But is this stereotype built on any real evidence? For us, the ‘assembled by humans’ angle means that when classics go wrong, they can be fixed by, well, humans. The irony is that the very thing that makes people think of them as being fragile is in fact the mechanism by which we are able to keep them going ourselves. Classics, really, are hardy little machines that anyone with a decent tool set can keep running.

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Furthermore, there are classics out there that show how tough and durable old cars really are. There are old Volvos, which are seemingly hewn from solid blocks of granite. And old Mercedes is so well built that should a bomb go off next to one, it would shrug and drive away. And then there is the king of them all, the Land Rover. Or more specifically the Land Rover Series 1. Genesis, if you will, a now legendary name.

The Series 1 version of the Land Rover is a curious beast. It was Rover’s response to the needs of a war-torn Great Britain. We needed mobility if we were going to rebuild. We needed a rugged, tough but ultimately simple machine that could go anywhere and do anything. Rover had giddy ideas to initially build a new car, as it had done before the war. However, the main Coventry factory had been heavily bombed, pushing Rover into its ‘shadow’ facility at Solihull. However, this facility, which had been used to make bombers, was too under-equipped to start car production. Something more basic, but with commercial appeal was needed. As such, Rover decided that an agricultural, ‘working’ vehicle was the way to go. Initially, it built prototypes based on the Willys Jeep chassis, and there was even one with a central driving position. There were various body types proposed… Rover had fun with the development. But in the end, it settled for what you’re looking at here.

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The Series 1 Land Rover, as it’s now known, was released in 1948. It featured a steel box-section chassis with a wheelbase of 80 inches. The body was simple, so it could be assembled quickly and by hand, and was fashioned from an aluminium/magnesium alloy known as Birmabright. This was beneficial due to being incredibly light. However, that wasn’t the main motivator for its use. Instead, it was used because steel was heavily rationed in post-war Britain. Birmabright was simply more readily available. The fact it was light and resistant to corrosion were happy bonuses.

The Series 1 was a hit from the off, and it found a home in more places than its designers ever imagined. They had visions of the Land Rover becoming a common sight on farms up and down the country. Little did they know how well it would permeate the wider motoring world. The Series 1 was built to work, it was built to go anywhere, it was built to power machines via a natty power take-off system. It was about as complicated as a cup of tea, but we like a cup of tea. And as such, the Series 1 started appearing on the driveways of houses that weren’t on farms. It became a vehicle people would use as their everyday transport. Land Rover responded by offering seats in the back, and even a more substantial roof care of the guys at Tickford. The Land Rover had to quickly evolve to become more car, less tool. Little did Rover know, this vehicle would spawn a new brand that would outlast Rover itself.

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And that’s what brings us to the Land Rover in the picture here. A 1950 Series 1, which has been retrofitted with a 2.0 petrol engine from 1956 but, other than that, remains largely standard. It’s also delightfully battered and bruised, which is how an old Land Rover should be if you ask us. But still, it’s a rugged, rough, uncompromising vehicle to drive. It’s a straw-filled burlap sack of hay of a car in a world of duck down-filled, modern alternatives. Why is it still here? Why was this wheeled anachronism not put out to pasture decades ago in favour 0f something… better?

Because ‘better’ doesn’t exist. That’s why. If you want a simple, rough, rugged, dependable, reliable, capable machine that will laugh in the face of whatever you put in front it, the original Land Rover is it. This is the apex point of off-roading. Yes, there are others that will do it with more comfort and with less noise, but they don’t complete the task at hand any better. The Land Rover Series 1 is a car that, because of its simplicity, gets under your skin. Certainly, the car pictured here has been with its owner since 1997. You bond with a car like this, it transcends just being metal, oil and rubber and instead becomes a faithful friend. A wheeled terrier that’s always by your side. Nobody has ever thought that about a Land Cruiser.

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Too many car companies build cars that are trying to be legends from the off. Halo cars that men in suits hope will become coveted and thus, will further elevate the brand. What these suits forget, however, is that you can’t force such a thing. And that’s where the Land Rover Series 1 succeeds so well. It was a tool for a job, a machine, it wasn’t built to have heart and soul. It was built to be a disposable thing to do a job. But by being built as such, it was allowed to breathe, and we welcomed it into our motoring world without a pre-fed expectation from the marketing men. It was a car that we forged our own relationships with, and because of that, it has became a car dear to many of us.

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You have to remember that when the Land Rover was launched, Land Rover wasn’t a brand. It was a model in the Rover range. The Land Rover. Rover had no idea how popular the Series 1 would be. It had no idea it was going to spawn the Series II, the III the Defender, the Range Rover… It was all organic, it was flowing and not in anyway forced, and we responded positively to that. But not out of some sort of simple desire to not be swindled by marketing. No, we fell for the Land Rover because it had no image, but also because it was brilliant at what it did. It still is, which is why people still seek them out today. These early cars remind us that leather, air con and fancy screens are niceties. They remind us that all we really need is a sturdy all-wheel drive system, some ground clearance and a plucky engine.

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The Land Rover Series 1 is now, of course, a classic. The one you’re looking at here is seventy years old now, for example. The one here is also the one you want. There are myriad restored examples out there, and while they’re nice, they detract from the Land Rover’s purpose, at least to our mind. A Land Rover is a tool to be used, irrespective of its age. This one is a glowing indictment of that. A restored one, gleaming in green without a spec of mud on it, it is a wonderful thing to behold. However, in bringing it to that condition, you take away the ability to go smashing through the mud and rocks. You’ve taken away its ability to ‘be’.

No, you want one with some life to it. One with scrapes, dings and imperfections. One with a bit of oil underneath it. One that can still be used as the original designers intended. The 1950 Land Rover Series 1 pictured here is exactly that. It’s rough and ready. It doesn’t know it’s 70 years old. Instead, all it knows is that it’s a Land Rover and as such, it needs to be used to traverse the path less followed, to scrabble and scrape its way up the rocks and mud. It’s a Land Rover after all. And more than that, this could be your Land Rover Series 1. Currently listed on our new Auction Platform, this Land Rover is, after twenty-three years, looking for a new owner. And that new owner, dear reader, should be you…

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