Those of us in the car business love to throw around words like “Iconic”, “Legendary” and “Archetypal”. Perhaps it is because, as enthusiasts we feel so passionate about our favorite machines that we resort to trusty superlatives to describe them – however deserving (or not) the car may be of such praise. But there are some vehicles that pass beyond the borders of our beloved hobby and earn themselves a place as cultural icons. Usually, this comes courtesy of groundbreaking styling, sporting success, or in the case of the Land Rover, through faithful service in war and in the hands of those working the most rugged corners of Earth. The Land Rover was directly inspired by another cultural icon – the Jeep. Rover’s chief engineer Maurice Wilks, working on his family farm alongside his brother (and Rover’s Managing Director) Spencer, developed a prototype in 1947 based on a leftover Jeep chassis. The idea was for a vehicle that could serve in a military setting, or provide versatile and inexpensive transport for farmers and tradespeople.
When it was introduced a year later, the Land Rover would become a near instant success. The chassis was a robust steel ladder-type with a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Due to post-war steel shortages, the body was constructed from aluminum which was much easier to source at the time. One notable benefit was that the body didn’t suffer from serious rust that similar steel bodies would. All early Land Rovers were painted varying shades of drab green – quite literally surplus paint used to finish aircraft cockpits during WWII. Initially, a 1600 cc petrol engine powered the Land Rover, with a 2000 cc diesel offered from 1957. Throughout production, a wide variety of body styles and configurations were offered to suit just about any imaginable situation. For farmers and industry, countless aftermarket PTO accessories could transform the trusty Landie into virtually any type of machine needed in the field. Its incredible toughness, dependability and versatility earned the Land Rover a place as one of the most valuable tools in a tradesman’s arsenal. It found favor around the globe, serving owners on virtually every continent.
This charming 1955 Series I Land Rover Station Wagon is a short wheelbase (86”) station wagon that presents in very original condition. This right-hand drive wagon is delightfully well-preserved, showing what appears to be maybe one paint job in its lifetime, which now exhibits a wonderful patina that is perfectly appropriate for an old Land Rover. There are a few battle scars and a dent or two in the alloy body, which just adds to the appeal – like a well-used tool. Robust bumpers are fitted front and rear, and the plain white wheels are unadorned, with no frivolous trim or wheel covers. The spare wheel is mounted on the hood in traditional Land Rover fashion.
Thanks to the four jump seats in the rear compartment, this little Landie will seat seven passengers. It seems almost absurd how today’s bulbous, oversized crossovers and SUV’s grow to enormous proportions to accommodate seven seats, when this little Landie can do it in the span of just an 86” wheelbase. Of course, a certain degree of comfort is sacrificed in the name of practicality, but it is still a testament to the efficient packaging of the original design. Passenger capacity aside, the interior is all business, yet presents in good order with tough gray vinyl covering the seats. The fixed rear roof features safari windows for some extra light and the front door windows are simple Perspex sliders. It is fitted with an optional heater and windscreen wipers should one encounter properly British weather while bouncing through a field.
The engine bay is tidy and exhibits signs of maintenance, though it is pure function over form. The legendary 2.0 litre petrol engine runs strong and is a joy to motor around, perched high on the driver’s seat, peering through the split ‘screen. It isn’t fast, and the engine isn’t particularly sonorous, but there is a joy to driving and old Land Rover like this. While it is always nice to have a car that is fully restored and returned to showroom new condition, there is just something more appealing about a Landie in this kind of condition; a tough old machine that is proud to work and proud to show off the scars it’s earned through its life.