The 1948 pre production survivors have legendary status in Land Rover circles
Series One 80 inch
It all began in 1947 when the Rover Company trialled one or more centre-steer ‘mule’ vehicles knocked together from Jeep and Land Rover components. By Spring 1948 fully-Rover hand-built versions were on test, based on the same wheelbase as the Jeep – 80 inches. Forty-eight pre-production vehicles were ordered, but less than half had been built (changes to specification being made en route) when Rover decided to go for production. The pre-pro vehicles were also used as press demonstrators and show vehicles. Production proper commenced in the summer of 1948.
At launch, there were simply right-or left-hand models – all were canvas-topped, and all had a 1600cc overhead-inlet side-exhaust (IOE) petrol engine. A coachbuilt Station Wagon variant (bodied by Tickford) was introduced in 1949 but discontinued in 1951 – British tax made it prohibitively expensive and rough roads shook the joints of the wooden body-frame badly. During this period exports were a resounding success and CKD shipping was established. Initially, front axle drive was via a self-engaging freewheel system, changed to the familiar selectable 4WD type in 1950. In 1951 the engine capacity was increased to 2 litres and a hard top was available – a truck cab followed later. 80-inch production finished in summer 1953.
80-inch Land Rovers had many specification changes in the first three years by which they can be dated, also many individual components are date-code stamped. Though the original 1948 pre-production models have been extensively researched, not much is known of development or press vehicles for later 80-inch versions.
Records at Heritage are good, a chassis number will get production date and destination. Company 80-inch Land Rovers typically wore ‘local’ registration marks, for example -WD, -NX, -AC, -UE (all Warwickshire) and -WK (Coventry).
Series One 86, 107, 88, 109 inch
In summer 1953 the new 86-inch was launched, partnered by a 107-inch truck-cab pickup offered as either basic or DeLuxe (cab-area trim). Doors now had a vertical rear shut line and the bulkhead now sported opening vent flaps. In 1954 an 86-inch Station was launched, based on simple aluminium panels developed from the 80-inch hard-top and with cab-area trim sourced from the 107 DeLuxe pickup. In 1954 the IOE engine was redesigned from ‘Siamese bore’ to ‘Spread bore’ in order to get more even bore cooling.
By 1956, wheelbases were being lengthened from 86 to 88 inches and from 107 to 109 inches (though overall external dimensions were not changed) in order to accommodate a forthcoming diesel engine. This didn’t affect the 107 Station Wagon (introduced 1956) which was only offered as a petrol version and stayed at 107 inches. In the end the Rover 2-litre OHV wet-liner diesel engine did not appear until 1957. The Land Rover Series II was launched in April 1958 – all previous production was then retrospectively referred to as ‘Series One’.
Pre-production versions for all the changes were running at least in the year before they were introduced, sometimes earlier – for example, pre-pro 86-inch vehicles were running in 1952. However, though a few pre-pro or press vehicles exist, it is probable that others remain un-recognised. These later Land Rovers had far fewer during-production specification changes than 80-inch models. Again, Heritage records are good. Land Rovers registered to Rover Co. continued to carry the same sort of local registrations as did 80-inch.
A general note on Series One:
Very many Series Ones (especially 80-inch) have been rebuilt from a mixed bag of various-dated components, or have transplanted identities. A great deal of background reading and help from people who know them well is required, to avoid purchasing mistakes. Genuinely un-molested vehicles are a very small minority.