HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BATTLEFIELD WORKHORSE!
By Julian Nettlefold
I am sure that when Tom Barton presented Maurice Wilks and the Rover board with the first Land Rover centre-steering prototype on October 16th 1947 he had no idea that he had created what was to become the most enduring motor icon in history and a trademark – Land Rover – which to this day is still in the top 100. The Land Rover’s iconic design has endured to this day with minor facelifts, again unique in motoring history. The value of the millions of Land Rovers and parts which have come off the Solihull line and other far away places is huge. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom in 1982 during the SMC/Land Rover Perentie Project which Tom kicked off after a visit to Australia. He is the unsung hero of the motor industry, tending to take a low profile at Land Rover, always answering the telephone, “Barton ‘ere.” Sadly Tom died five years ago.
But, it is on the world’s battlefields that the Land Rover has won its spurs, which is no doubt why the latest version was named ‘Defender’. The Land Rover is in service with over 150 of the world’s armies. Bob Morrison’s excellent history in this issue outlines the different versions used from lifesaving ambulances thru the gun totting WMIK to communications vehicles and gun tractors. Another excellent reference book is Pat Ware’s ‘Military Land Rover’ (Ian Allan ISBN 978-0-7110-3189-0). The Land Rover is in service with over 150 of the world’s armies. Indeed even the new M-WMIK launched last year at DVD was given the acronym ‘A Land Rover on steroids.’ The launch of the M-WMIK did not stop production of the standard WMIK which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. The MoD ordered more from Ricardo after the M-WMIK launch!
Another unusual aspect of the Land Rover is that is often present on both sides of the battle! How many films have we seen with .50 calibre Land Rovers streaming through towns in Africa and other countries laden with soldiers or terrorists? Indeed, we understand that one country was so worried recently that its Land Rover fleet would end up in Chad in the hands of terrorists that it has organised for these vehicles to be disposed of in the U.K.
The other extraordinary feature about the Land Rover is that people like taking it apart and adding extra pieces! This caused a huge headache for Land Rover in the early days as so many conversions failed or used spurious parts. Thus Land Rover brought in the ‘Approved Converters’ list. Converters who wish to convert Land Rovers have to gain Approval from Land Rover by testing their conversion to destruction. The Editor has first hand in this process having spent two weeks driving the SMC (Sandringham Motor Company) 136” 6×6 round the Chertsey test track in 1980. It passed! ! (The Editor learnt to drive in an ex-military Series 1 and my first car was a Series 2a)
At its height Land Rover had 35 converters delivering conversions for ambulances, fire engines, gun tractors, WOMBAT gun mounts, specialist communications vehicles, snow mobiles, Pink Panthers, mine layers, missile launchers, internal security vehicles, Police cars, Mountain Rescue vehicles and command vehicles. Converters have added the CVR(T) running gear, Laird; 6 wheels, Penman, Hotspur, Townley Cross, JRA; low ground pressure tracks, Cuthbertson; rail wheels, REME Kenya; armour, Shorts, Hotspur, Penman, Otokar, NP Aerospace, Hobsons, Manor Armour, SMC Engineering; ambulances, Pilcher Green, Marshalls, Lomas; gun platforms, Ricardo. Sadly Land Rover reined in the converters dream in the late eighties when Roland Maturi created what was nicknamed ‘Maturi Motors’ to carry out this work in-house. However due to high pricing and lack of the entrepreneurial spirit, the numbers did not materialise. The largest Land Rover conversion is reputedly the SMC 6×6 FC82 Forward Control troop carrier built for a Far East client.
The passion which the Land Rover produces in people who work with i