Road Rover

The first crossover. In the world.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

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.

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