1948 Landy 'show special' to regain former glory
Coventry, West Midlands - This year marks the 70th anniversary of the world debut, on 30 April 1948 at the Amsterdam Motor Show, of the Land Rover.
Conceived, like the Unimog, as an agricultural workhorse, it went on to become an automotive icon, a symbol of adventure, a military transport, and eventually, a cult vehicle - arguably the most recognisable shape on wheels.
For more than half a century, the further you went off the beaten track the more likely it was that the next vehicle you saw would be a Land Rover.
But nobody knew that in cash-strapped postwar 1948, not even brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks, then respectively chief designer and managing director of the Rover company, who invented it on their Anglesey farm.
The three pre-production models that caused such a stir at the Amsterdam show were brought back to the Solihull works, converted to right-hand drive and sold to unsuspecting customers - even though their chassis numbers were still recorded as “experimental” in the company books, with thicker aluminium body panels than the later production version, galvanised chassis and a removable load bed .
Seven years later, this one was first registered for the road as SNX 910, on 25 June 1955. The official story is that until then it had only been used on the owner’s farm; more likely is that in the rural England of the late 1940s and early 1950s, nobody bothered much about unregistered farm vehicles being driven on public roads.
It changed hands for the first time in 1961, going to a new owner in Handsworth; four years later its licence was renewed in Sutton Coldfield, two years later in Stratford Upon Avon (birthplace of William Shakespeare) and a year after that in the little farming town of Alvechurch, Worcestershire, which is named after a church founded there by a local lady named Ælfgyth more than 1200 years ago.
Later that year it wound up on a farm in Wales, where it was used as a static power source for two decades until its engine seized in 1988. At that point it was forty years old; more than that, the design of the 1.6-litre inlet-over-exhaust engine used in early Series 1 Land Rovers dated from before the Second World War.
It simply wasn’t worth repairing as a working farm vehicle, so it was sold to a Land Rover enthusiast in Birmingham, who may or may not have known just how special this particular old Gharri (an affectionate nickname for the Land Rover coined by soldiers of the Indian Army and widely used in the SANDF) was, as a restoration project.
As so often happens, unfortunately, the planned rebuild never happened, and the battered Landy stood untouched in a garden only a few kilometres from the Solihull works where it was built, until somebody spotted it in 2016.
Recognising that this was a pre-production model, the anoraks at Jaguar Land Rover Classic bought it back in and spent months researching its history and confirming that this was indeed one of the 1948 Amsterdam show cars.
Now it’s been passed on to the team behind the Land Rover Series I Reborn restoration programme, who are planning their most ambitious project to date - restoring this very special Land Rover to as-new running condition, to commemorate its and the Land Rover’s 70 birthday.
It’ll be re-finished in its original light green, a colour characteristic of Series 1 Land Rovers and which has a story of its own. It was actually postwar military surplus paint, originally specified as the interior finish of RAF aircraft, and the colour wasn’t consistent across different batches, making the restoration of early Series 1 Land Rovers a lot more complicated than it should be!
The video below shows a previous restoration of an early Series 1 production model, which was recovered from Australia after a life spent farming acres of land in Queensland, and is now the Land Rover Series I Reborn programme’s showpiece, nicknamed ‘Car Zero’.