The end of 1948 was a glorious season for Land Rover as another version of the popular Series 1 ‘Land Rover’ was added to its line-up. It was named the 80-inch Station Wagon, and the story goes it was developed alongside the normal Series 1 for people who preferred the same kind of go-anywhere-ness, but with a degree of comfort the standard car was not able to provide.
The Station Wagon featured a body fashioned from wood and aluminum by Tickford. A one-piece, laminated glass windscreen was integrated along with the all-important heater and plusher upholstery and trim. Plus, it had a split-folding tailgate. Since only 641 were sold, it was withdrawn in 1951.
You might be asking why. Well, it was kind of expensive–£950 in 1950, which was ten times the average yearly salary. Given that it was categorized as a car rather than a commercial vehicle, it was not qualified for the same tax breaks as a regular Series 1. It was a commercial flop, but as a concept, it was praised as a more civilized kind of off-roader. It bore a huge resemblance to the car that would follow in its footsteps 20 years later.
The early Range Rover editions had spartan, utilitarian interiors. It was not until some years after its debut that Land Rover began to see the Range Rover as a luxury good. The automaker’s split from Rover also served as a signal of the first-ever real investment in the marque since its debut. Come the 80s and the 4dr was introduced, an automatic gearbox soon after, and the quality and equipment levels were steadily enhanced until production stopped in the mid-90s. From its humble beginnings, the Range Rover had successfully climbed the ladder of success by becoming a luxury item.
Obviously, this one is not luxury in that it does not have a radio, or any real creature comforts, and the actual daylight can be seen through the panel gap between the nearside front wing and passenger’s door. Climbing up into the driver’s seat was an experience reserved for bus, truck and van drivers. In order for rear-seat passengers to stick their feet under them, the front seats are set high on a kind of pedestal. However, the absence of rear door access was difficult.The V8 comes with a weighty clutch and non-power-assisted steering, but once it gets off the line, it is extremely easy to stroke along. The steering is described as “on again, off again” and the brakes are ineffective. Before you have set off, the long-travel springs are betrayed by the way it squats when someone sits on the tailgate. They give the Range Rover not only decent levels of on-road comfort, but axle travel. The modern Range Rover comes with an air suspension that keep things level, and its diesel grumbles away to itself, offering the kind of performance in the 70s designed for sports cars.
The new Range Rover was chosen as Luxury Car of the Year in 2012–only very few cars have sophisticated interiors, yet can wade through 900mm of water. While it’s true that the old car may not have the level of luxuriousness most drivers come to anticipate, it shares the sense of completeness with the present car.