The Very First Land Rover
Having been hidden from view for 20 years, Chassis Number One is now on display in London
THE FIRST production Land Rover, an 80in with chassis number R860001 and registration number JUE 477, has made its first public appearance since it was sold in a sealed-bid auction late last year (see LRM Winter issue). According to a recent report in The Sun newspaper the successful bidder was allegedly none other than Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of the chemicals giant INEOS, and the man who last year famously announced his intention to manufacture a successor to the Defender, which he called ‘Projekt Grenadier’ after the name of the pub in London’s Belgravia where the plan was hatched.
According to the company’s website, Mr Ratcliffe is “a long-term admirer of the original Land Rover Defender, and knows the true value of a go anywhere 4x4. When JLR announced it was going to cease production of the Defender in 2016, it left a gap in the market for an uncompromising off-roader, which Jim decided INEOS could fill – thus Projekt Grenadier was born.”
A subsidiary business, INEOS Automotive, has been formed to bring Projekt Grenadier to fruition. It has also just been announced that German company Mbtech, a subsidiary of Mercedes Benz, has been awarded the engineering contract for the new vehicle. In its press release, INEOS Automotive stated that “over 200 German engineers will be working full-time on the project in Stuttgart” and went on to say that “Mbtech will begin work to take the initial design concepts through to a fully-engineered vehicle and will be producing the first mule vehicles, followed by prototypes, later in 2018. It will be responsible for working up the exact specifications of the vehicle to ensure that it is a truly rugged, reliable and uncompromising 4x4.”
This means we can look forward to an exciting latter half to the year, because JLR have indicated that the New Defender is likely to get its first public airing later in 2018 as well. If this happens, it will be fascinating to compare the new vehicles.
Chassis Number One was on display in the luxurious surroundings of the Rotunda at London’s Royal Automobile Club. This was not exactly a public display, though, given that the RAC is a members-only club, but the vehicle was just about visible if you pressed your nose against the revolving entrance door. The Rotunda, an oval-
shaped entrance hall at the cub, is used to display a constantly-changing array of motor vehicles of all types, although getting them in through the door and up the flight of steps can be tricky.
As the accompanying photograph shows, the vehicle is undoubtedly in very poor condition and was displayed exactly as it was found in its Northumbrian home last year. The debate among enthusiasts as to whether this important piece of Land Rover and automotive history should be preserved exactly as it is today, or restored in some way, was not helped by the accompanying display board, which stated ‘Chassis Number One will now be subject to a carefully considered restorative process that retains its remarkable history, original components and unique details.’
Quite what that means is anybody’s guess, but in response to LRM’S request for clarification, Yasin Ali, Group Company Secretary at INEOS Group, told us: “At present we cannot confirm who purchased the car, but we’re happy to confirm that the plan is to undertake an extremely sympathetic restoration.”
But isn’t it fascinating that this undoubtedly important vehicle is now apparently owned by a serious Land Rover enthusiast whose frustration at JLR’S decision to stop Defender production appears to have been the catalyst that led to him deciding to design, build and launch his own alternative to Defender? And meanwhile JLR have of course acquired Preproduction Land Rover L07, and have announced their intention to restore that vehicle. In due course, we’ll perhaps have two interesting restorations to compare and contrast!
And finally, this wasn’t the first time that a Land Rover vehicle has been
displayed in the RAC’S Rotunda. In March 2012 it was Pre-production Range Rover YVB 165H that had pride of place there, complete with ‘Velar’ badging fabricated from Range Rover plastic bonnet and tailgate letters. It was in rather better condition that Chassis Number One.
Chassis No.1 on display at RAC, Pall Mall
Confirmation of the Land Rover’s heritage
Not often that The Sun are the first to break a Land Rover story!
Rotunda has a constantly changing display of cars