Back in 1948, the Land Rover Series 1 quickly became a success for the Rover Company, forging a reputation for reliability, ruggedness and versatility. It was a hit with farmers thanks to its fantastic cross-country and load-lugging ability, the military soon took an interest and the rest, as they say, is history.
The earlier 80in-wheelbase models are considerably different from the later 86, 88, 107 and 109in versions, both in design and the way they drive. A later vehicle is arguably easier to live with and a bit more practical. Short-wheelbase Station Wagons have a real country estate feel about them, with their well-trimmed interiors, side-facing individual rear seats and double-skinned ‘tropical’ roofs. The 107in version looks like a giant Meccano creation and is highly desirable; just 7001 were built and only 239 of those were for the home market. The 107 and 109 pick-ups are slightly more numerous and make great classic load-luggers, thanks to their cavernous load beds.
As early as the 1970s, Series 1s were being recognised as classics and interest in them has grown ever since. The diminutive proportions, simple mechanicals and no-nonsense workhorse image have won over legions of fans. They are now a regular sight at events such as the Goodwood Revival and many well-known collectors boast at least one Series 1 in their fleet.
They aren’t for everyone, being noisy, slow and having absolutely no concessions to comfort – but they are infectious fun. Behind the wheel feels very vintage, with a big wire-spoked steering wheel, pedals poking through the floor and a long gearlever connected to a gearbox with synchromesh on only the top two gears. Here is a true British classic, brimming with character, which not only offers open-topped motoring but can also take the garden rubbish to the tip, trundle along a muddy greenlane, follow the local shoot across farmland or tow a heavy trailer.
Another attraction is the interchangeability of parts from later Land Rovers, though the large number of Series 1s fitted with later engines, transmissions, brakes and axles has pushed prices of original vehicles steadily upwards.
It is still just about possible to buy a rough, MoT’d example for around £2500, but it is likely to be lacking in originality and to require major work in the near future. Tidy cars start at about £5000, though the best examples fetch far more.
‘For genuinely good vehicles, restored or unrestored, the market and prices have never been higher,’ says Series 1 expert Julian Shoolheifer. A classic car valuation specialist, Julian regularly inspects, reports on and purchases high-value Series 1s for customers. ‘It is very model specific; you can’t just lump “Series 1s” together. Take the 1948-49 80in. There’s almost a sliding scale in values, from early to late. Assuming concours condition, a pre-chassis-number 500 80in could easily fetch £30,000, whereas a 1949 car would be £15,000.’
Away from the 80in models, prices for later examples are equally strong. ‘The 1954-58 cars are the most practical, being reasonably easy to live with and with very good build quality,’ says Julian. ‘The LWB variants were the poor relations, but the market has come on in leaps and bounds.’
Specialist Mark Griffiths from The Land Rover Centre, Huddersfield, agrees that a LWB is a good choice, noting that prices haven’t yet caught up with the short-wheelbase models: ‘With prices for good SWB vehicles climbing beyond the reach of the man in the street, one of these would make a sound investment for the future.’
Expect to pay £8000 for a good 109 pick-up.
Despite the majority of the bodywork being made from ‘Birmabright’, a tough aluminium-magnesium alloy, Land Rovers suffer badly from structural corrosion. The substantial ladder chassis is notorious for rusting everywhere, so beware of messy-looking repairs – especially when looking at an ‘original’ vehicle.
‘The current trend for vehicles in as untouched condition as possible has, unfortunately, resulted in some downright dangerous vehicles being on the road,’ says Julian. ‘Genuinely original vehicles, with the factory paintwork and a known history from day one, are very desirable and attract a healthy premium. Make sure you aren’t being sold a worn-out wreck; the best examples retain patina but are mechanically excellent.’
Petrol engines suffer from worn valvegear and camshafts but are generally reliable. The 2052cc diesel is an acquired taste, being underpowered and noisy for regular modern use. They are usually smoky and many parts are no longer available, but they do have an important historical aspect, which appeals to some. Transmissions are tough and well-made, although noisy gearbox bearings are common and axles often suffer from wear in the steering swivels, differentials and wheel bearings.
Bulkheads are another rot trap, though, like the chassis, replacements are available – a galvanised SWB chassis comes in at £1750 plus VAT, while a new bulkhead costs around £1000. Other parts can be pricey, too. ‘It’s not unusual for a good DIY restoration of a standard Series 1 to cost over £10,000 in parts alone,’ says Julian. ‘A rebuilt engine from a specialist is around £5000; with the “common” vehicles it is difficult not to spend more than the vehicle is realistically worth.’
Mark Griffiths agrees and suggests looking for something more unusual if you want a project: ‘The rarer the model, the more sought-after and valuable it will be when completed.’
A Series 1 combines all the well-known Land Rover strengths with vintage appeal and a very distinctive character. Truly classless and as practical as the day it left the factory, a good Series 1 will become part of the family and invaluable all the year round. Just ask yourself this: what other vehicle will combat the winter snows, and then take the whole family out for a wind-in-the-hair run come summer?