13 crazy facts you didn't know about Land Rovers

13 crazy facts you didn't know about Land Rovers

Fancy yourself as a Landie fan? In honour of the Land Rover Defender, we've put together 13 crazy facts that we bet you didn't know about Land Rovers.

Most Land Rover fans will probably know the story of how the original Series I was conceived after its creator drew a picture of it in the sand on an Anglesey beach, or how the Queen is such a fan.

That said, given the Land Rover’s extensive history there are also plenty of weird and crazy facts you mightn’t know about, even if you consider yourself an expert. In honour of the Land Rover Defender’s last day of production, here are 13 of the craziest things we bet you didn’t know about Land Rovers.

1. Land Rovers predate Land Rover by 30 years

The original Series I Land Rover was introduced in April 1948, making the Land Rover the second oldest four-wheel drive vehicles in history after the Willys Jeep.

However, for the first three decades the Land Rover was made by Rover; Land Rover as a company wasn’t actually founded until 1978 during a particularly odd period in the British automotive industry.

2. The first Land Rover had its steering wheel in the middle

Modelled after the US-made Jeeps from the Second World War, the original Land Rover was designed by Rover engineer Maurice Wilks, who owned a farm in Wales.

Conceived as an agricultural vehicle, Wilks decided to keep its layout simple and more tractor-like by putting the steering wheel in the middle. It also meant that Rover could dodge the nuisance of building two different versions of the same vehicle for left- and right-hand drive markets.

3. The first Range Rovers were actually known as ‘Velars’

Before the Range Rover entered full production, the first 25 pre-production models were instead badged as the Velar, in a bid to confuse the public so they wouldn’t speculate about the car.

The top-secret development versions are now in fact extremely sought after, with one sold for more than £30,000 at auction back in 2013.

4. Land Rover gave vehicles to students to race around the world

In the mid-1950s, Land Rover used to provide vehicles for Oxbridge students to drive across full continents, all in the name of a good education.

Land Rover provided Series I models to teams of students from Oxford and Cambridge for two expeditions, one which saw the teams compete against the clock to make it Cape Town and back, and a race from London to Singapore.

Amazingly, the genesis of the races came as the result of a bet between students David Waters and Adrian Cowell in a Hong Kong bar, and spiralled into a 1956 expedition that was even broadcast on the BBC.

5. The Range Rover’s designer used to make jet engines

The man who would go on to design the Range Rover, Charles S. King, got his start developing a jet turbine engine for Rolls Royce before making the switch to the Rover company in the late 1950s.

Having also developed some of the most technologically-advanced cars of the time, including the Triumph Dolomite Sprint, King went on to be best known for creating the famous Range Rover. Shame he absolutely hated the thing.

6. You used to be able to buy a Land Rover with tank tracks

Invented by a Scotsman James A. Cuthbertson, who needed his Land Rover to be able to cross the Highlands without sinking into the soggy ground, the Series II Cuthbertson is one of the strangest but coolest Land Rover variants ever made.

Kitted out with four sets of tank tracks instead of traditional tyres, the Cuthbertson was able to go further in adverse conditions than any other Land Rover model and eventually became a factory option in the late 1950s.

7. Land Rover made the first monster truck

Like the Series II Cuthbertson, what’s arguably the world’s first monster truck came as a result of necessity. The British Forestry Commission demanded that Land Rover create a road-going vehicle that could tackle even the deepest puddles.

The company happily obliged, bolting on four tractor tyres and beefed-up axles, thereby creating the first monster truck nearly 30 years before the Americans would popularise the format.

8. Land Rover made the first crossover in the 1950s

In another first for the company, Land Rover was also responsible for the first crossover SUV as far back as the 1950s, more than half a century before crossovers became popular.

Known as the Road Rover, the vehicle was based on a car platform like modern crossovers, and combined the comfort of a regular car with the signature off-road ability that Land Rover’s vehicles became renowned for.

9. Range Rover wasn’t always part of the same company

When the Rover group was bought by BMW in 1994, the Germans split Land Rover from Rover before pawning Land Rover off to Ford in 2000.

The companies remained separate until Ford bought the Range Rover brand in 2006, while both Land Rover and Range Rover were consolidated into the larger Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover in 2008.

10. The company’s military vehicles made Hummers look like toys

The Land Rover 101 Forward Vehicle was originally built to tow howitzer cannons, and was essentially Britain’s answer to the hard-as-nails Mercedes-engineered Unimog.

Drivers sat ahead of the front wheels, hence its name, and the vehicle was so large that Land Rover had to integrate a step into the wheel just so the pilot could climb up into the cabin.

11. It once made a floating Land Rover Defender

Not content with tackling the earth, Land Rover turned into attention to the sea when it released the unique Floating Ninety Defender, which was copied from the design of several aquatic Series II military prototypes from the 1960s.

More of a river raft than a full-blown sea vessel, the floating Landie nonetheless comes with a dedicated propeller at the back, a rudder to steer and a snorkel to prevent its diesel engine from drowning.

12. The Range Rover was displayed in the Louvre

The Range Rover currently holds the honour of being the only vehicle ever to be displayed in the Louvre gallery in Paris, thanks to the fact that it was considered a masterpiece of industrial design.

It’s something that really cheesed off the car’s designers, Charles S. King. He had designed the Range Rover to be a utilitarian vehicle and literally drew a box around the inner components, thinking that the design would be updated at a later date.

Unfortunately for him, the company had other ideas, declaring King’s rudimentary drawing to be perfect, simply softening the edges and putting it straight into production.

13. Land Rover even built a car for Judge Dredd

Land Rover built 33 unique and slightly terrifying vehicles for the 1995 Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone, including the 101 Forward Vehicle-derived ‘City Cab’.

After filming wrapped up, Land Rover converted most of them back to regular vehicles but left a few of them as they were so they could be driven the premiere of the movie in London.

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