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The historic Jeep isn’t the only vehicle born of the necessity of ruggedness and off-roading capability. From humble beginnings, the Land Rover evolved from a Jeep-derived concept to one of the last words in modern luxury off-roaders with an Indian owner. Check out a brief look at the history of the British marque, from a drawing in the sand to the V8-powered Land Rover Defender 110 models of today.

When was the first Land Rover made?

A replica of a Land Rover concept from the 1940s awaits its owner on a grassy lawn.
A ‘Centre Steer’ replica | Dunsfold Collection

The Rover Motor Company produced the first-ever prototype of a Land Rover in 1947. Lovingly monikered the “Centre Steer” for its central driving position, the body has obvious similarities to the Willys Jeep, the WWII-era workhorse of the Allied Forces. 

Like the civilian-market Willys Jeep, the 1947 “Centre Steer” concept sought to bolster Britain’s agricultural sector. However, the first production models wouldn’t see the public until 1948. Since then, the Land Rover has operated under owners worldwide, like Ford and the now-extinct British Leyland. 

Which one came first, Land Rover or Jeep?

The “Jeep,” as named by American servicemembers in WWII, started rolling off assembly lines in 1941 as part of the Lend-Lease Act. As a result, the closely related Land Rover is six years younger than the Jeep. 

In fact, the “Centre Steer” concept rode on the Jeep’s axles, chassis, and steering architecture. As for the original 1947 concept, fans believe it was returned to its Jeep origins for use of the Wilks property, per the Dunsfold Collection

What is the history of Land Rover?

A Land Rover 4x4, a precursor to the Defender 110 model of today, drives through Albania in 1955.
British students off-road through Albania in a 1955 overland journey | JLR

In 1947, Maurice Wilks drew an iconic boxy shape in the sands of the Red Wharf Bay, Wales. The form would go on to be the familiar Land Rover 4×4, but not until Wilks shared the idea with his brother Spencer Wilks, then-director of Rover Motor Company. 

Beyond Rover’s 1947 “Centre Steer” concept, the first model debuted at the Amsterdam Motor Show the following year. Further, after the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, the first Series I models reached civilian customers until the Series II replaced it in 1958. Complete with a larger 2.25L engine, a freewheel 4×4 platform, and its characteristic side sills, the Series II gave way to the Series IIA in 1958.

After crossing the half-a-million vehicle threshold in 1966, the Series III debuted in 1970. Further, after over thirty years of production, the iconic utility vehicle marque ditched the model’s inset fascia to accommodate a 3.5L V8. Since the end of the Series vehicles, the more modern Land Rover Defender 90, 110, and 130 vehicles hit the market in the 1990s. 

How many models of Land Rover are there today?


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Today, JLR, under Indian owner Tata Motors, produces three Land Rover models: the Defender, Discovery, and Discovery Sport. JLR also produces Range Rover luxury SUVs, of which there are four: Range Rover, Evoque, Sport, and Velar. Still, no model better channels the history of the marque than the Land Rover Defender 90, 110, and big, eight-passenger 130.

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