In 1948, Land Rover debuted its first model at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Three prototypes graced the company’s stand, and one – described as a demonstrator model – resurfaced in a garden near its Solihull birthplace in 2016. After careful research to verify the truck’s history and provenance, Jaguar Land Rover Classic has begun a year-long sympathetic restoration, one of a series of events that will commemorate the brand’s 70th anniversary in 2018.
In 1947, Maurice Wilks, then engineering director for Rover, drew a shape in the sand of an Anglesey, U.K., beach for his brother Spence, the company’s managing director. The outline was vaguely Jeep-like, owing perhaps to the fact that Maurice himself owned a war surplus Jeep, used for chores on his farm in North Wales. His vision was to create a similar, multi-role, domestic four-wheel drive, one that could be used on the farm during the day but still driven to town on weekends.
A year later, the Land Rover debuted in pre-production form in Amsterdam. Compared to later production models, the prototypes – of which 48 were ultimately constructed – differed in several key areas, making them easy to identify for marque experts. The aluminum body panels were thicker than later mass-produced variants, frames were constructed of galvanized steel, and the rear tub was removable as a single assembly. Later still, following the introduction of the Series II models in 1958, early Land Rovers became known as Series I models.
The Amsterdam prototype “rediscovered” in 2016 was initially constructed with left-hand drive, but later converted to right-hand drive at the factory while being updated with production parts. It remained unregistered, and likely in Land Rover’s possession, until June of 1955, when it received registration number SNX 910. It stayed with its first owner for six years, before selling to a buyer in Handsworth in 1961.
The Land Rover remained with its second owner for four years, and in 1965 was sold to a buyer in Sutton Coldfield. This began a series of short-term ownerships, and before the truck was relocated to Wales in 1968 for use as a static power source, it passed through another two owners. For the next 20 years, until its engine seized, it remained in place, but in 1988 was sold to a collector in Birmingham.
The planned restoration never commenced, and by the time the early Land Rover was found in 2016, it had been off the road for nearly 50 years. Finding it at all, without a current registration, amounted to sheer luck, one reason why Jaguar Land Rover Classic employees went to great lengths to verify its authenticity.
Tim Hannig, director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic, said of the remarkable find,
This Land Rover is an irreplaceable piece of world automotive history and is as historically important as ‘Huey,’ the first pre-production Land Rover. Beginning its sympathetic restoration here at Classic Works, where we can ensure it’s put back together precisely as it’s meant to be, is a fitting way to start Land Rover’s 70th-anniversary year. There is something charming about the fact that exactly 70 years ago this vehicle would have been undergoing its final adjustments before being prepared for the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show launch – where the world first saw the shape that’s now immediately recognized as a Land Rover.
In a sympathetic restoration, every effort is made to refurbish parts instead of replacing them, and the end goal is to maintain as much originality as possible. Jaguar Land Rover Classic has committed to preserving this early prototype’s patina, down to the original Light Green paint, much of which has been lost to time and the elements. The project is expected to take a full year, with the end result being a driveable – if not exactly pristine – early Land Rover.