The first crossover. In the world.
To get to Land Rover’s first road-biased vehicle, we first need to look at the history of the second word in the brand’s name: Rover.
The now defunct Rover brand started manufacturing bicycles in 1878 but moved over to the world of luxury cars in 1904. It was good at building said luxury vehicles, as it was considered a realistic rival for Rolls-Royce.
But then came World War I. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much demand for luxury vehicles after the war ended and, even if there was, Rover wouldn’t be able to build them. The original factory was bombed quite badly during the raid so it basically started from scratch. Enter Land Rover, which Rover established due to the demand for vehicles that would help build Britain back to its former glory.
Land Rover’s Series models would prove to be hugely successful and it would eventually become its own brand separate from the now defunct parent company.
With Britain slowly finding its feet again, Rover decided it would revisit manufacturing luxury vehicles. But it couldn’t help but notice that there was huge demand for its off-roaders. What would happen if it combined the two different vehicles in one tiny package?
As a starting point, Rover used the basis of a luxury sedan and not the rugged underpinnings of the Series 1. The Road Rover was intended for an upmarket clientele who wouldn’t appreciate the bouncy nature the Series’ leaf springs would inevitably provide.
The model chosen was the P4, which was equipped with a 2.1-litre six-cylinder petrol engine and rear-wheel drive. Even more importantly, it had a certain amount of prestige attached to it: the royals quite liked them and Grace Kelly was apparently quite a fan of her P4.
The original 1951 prototype was a sad-looking thing but the bosses agreed it was a good idea and gave the go-ahead.
By 1956, Rover had built at least nine three-door Rovers and the production date was pencilled in for 1960.
According so Landy history buff George Goswell, the high cost of coach building, road tax and the introduction of the Landy 109 station wagon saw the Road Rover project put on ice. The ’50s were rather bleak but there was an optimism in the air when the swinging ’60s came round.
People had money to burn and perhaps the bigwigs thought they wouldn’t respond well to a car that was, at the time, based on a 10-year-old design.
So Rover went back to the drawing board and started from scratch. Which turned out to be the best move it ever made.
You see, the model it started working on after the Road Rover would become one of the most coveted vehicles in history. The first clay models still carried the Road Rover badge but before it was showcased to the world, Rover decided to name it Range Rover. The rest, as they say, is history.
Interest in the Road Rover sparked up recently after Land Rover trademarked ‘Road Rover’ earlier this year. At the moment it’s pure speculation but rumours suggest that the name might be in reserve for Land Rover’s first all-electric model, which is due in 2020.
Finally, after nearly 70 years of waiting, the Road Rover will finally see the light of day.