Brand Stories - Land Rover

A 69 year adventure 


In the last version of Brand Stories, I focused on Kodak to show what can happen if an innovative brand stops innovating. Kodak went from being one of the world’s most valuable brands to collapsing into bankruptcy.

This time I’m featuring one of of Britain’s most iconic exports. Known the world over for it’s design, versatility, reliability and pioneering spirit. 

Land Rover are a brand that have created their own niche and over 67 years have continued to segment that niche to create new products that draw a wider audience every time they innovate, whilst staying true to their brand values and purpose.

Crossing mountain terrains, deserts, jungles and grassland plains, Land Rover has journeyed around the globe, allowing explorers to discover new frontiers, equipping frontline soldiers to fight for their country's freedom and instilling a sense of adventure in all who drive their vehicles.

The story of Land Rover starts at the end of the second world war. The Rover car company was facing a bleak future. With an economy ravaged by war, the domestic automobile market was struggling. The reality was no one had money to spend on what was still seen then as an expensive luxury. Another obstruction to manufacturing new cars was that steel was also rationed, made available only for goods that were to be exported, a government policy to try and get the economy back on track.

With the automobile industry in decline, the inspiration for the birth of the Land Rover was one of chance. In 1947 Britain experienced a one of its worst winters, battered by snow, storms and floods it was this that set the stage for the birth of the Land Rover. 

The storm had left Morris Wilks, brother the Spencer Wilks and the Chairman of Rover Car Company unable to get to his home by car due to trees being blown down by the winter's storms. Needing to clear the trees and debris, he decided to try and tow them away using one of his Rover cars. But the car wasn’t up for the job.

Needing extra power and the utility to go off-road, he asked his neighbour, who happened to be a retired colonel who owned a surplus army Willis Jeep. Morris Wilks realised there were numerous uses for the Willis Jeep but also saw an opportunity in the market for such a new type of vehicle - an off-road civilian utility vehicle. 

The initial design of the land rover was sketched out in the sand on the island of Anglesey by the two brothers. To bring their vision to life they turned to the Head of design at Rover - Tom Barton. The concept was to create a vehicle with Rover parts that offered the utilitarian versatility of the Willis Jeep and improve its design for civilian use. 

Tom Barton’s brief was to design a utility vehicle to compete with the Willis Jeep, that farmers could use and Rover could export to an international market as cheaply as possible and within 12 months. 

12 months later, on April 30th 1948 The Land Rover was launched, with a durable box frame chassis and corrosion resistant aluminium body which negated the need to use steel and a box frame chassis. It was Morris Wilks who coined the name ‘Land Rover’. It was Europe’s first civilian off-road vehicle.

It launched with the marketing campaign ‘Anything You Can Do’ and was positioned as ‘a farmer's best friend’ it was an instant success. At a time when many farmers were still using horses to perform manual and heavy tasks such as ploughing and pulling heavy loads, The Land Rover had the power and durability to do anything that the horse could do, but at three times the speed and much more.

It soon became the vehicle of choice for farmers and developed the reputation as the world’s most versatile vehicle. From the army, heads of state and even royalty, everyone was using a Land Rover.

The Land Rover first saw military action in the 1950s during the Korean war. It was also in the 1950s that  the true age of exploration was declared. Along with the affordability of air travel, more people were adventuring to foreign lands they once thought were unimaginable. 

And it was Land Rover again that led the way. In 1955, true to the brands spirit of adventure and unstoppable durability, two Land Rovers set off on one of the longest ever overland carrying two competing teams from Oxford and Cambridge universities from London to Singapore. It was a 18,000 mile challenge across desert, mountains, jungles and swampland.

By driving through Africa, Asia and South America, Land Rover had become a global brand, able to tackle the toughest terrain.

It’s estimated that the first vehicle seen by ⅓ of the world’s population was a Land Rover. A symbol of the advancements of the western world.


Back home the the intrigue of off-roading had caught on and it was becoming a pastime for those with a more adventurous spirit. Owners clubs, trials and off-road lessons were set-up with the well to do enthusiasts attending competitions and evening dances, a social scene based around their Land Rovers. It created enthusiasm and loyalty towards the brand. This was the birth of the ‘Land Rover’ lifestyle, a step away from its utilitarian beginnings and into a brand known for recreational and leisure pursuits.

Thanks to the Land Rover, Rover car Company was back in business. The company set-up test courses at their Solihull base, intended to show off the Land Rovers ability and to attract even more off-road enthusiasts.

Land Rover is a great example of a product created to exploit a gap in a market, that used design and technical innovation to develop the perfect product and continued to innovate and develop the products and a brand around them which would could own that market. But the Land Rover brand never stood still. Built on the premise of constant evolution and improvement.
They started to segment the new off-road vehicle niche, seeing new opportunities and new markets to exploit and draw audiences to the brand.

Thanks to it’s own success of creating a market for off-road utilitarian vehicles, Land Rover identified a need for a new product, one which could capture the recreational vehicle market. Across the Atlantic the same market trend had been spotted, with Ford releasing the Bronco and Chevrolet the Blazer to take a percentage of the newly developing recreational 4x4 market.

In 1970 the Rover Company developed a new vehicle, the Range Rover. Designed with the basic premise that it needed to be as comfortable off road as it was predictable on the road. The Range Rover was again a huge success, winning numerous design awards and even hailed by The Louvre in Paris as automotive art. 

For those at Land Rover, for a new product to be part of the brand it had to prove itself. To do this they took two Range Rovers on a grueling expedition from Alaska to South America, helping the British Army to build roads on the way. It was this premise of doing the impossible that cemented Land Rover’s reputation as durable, tough and ready for any challenge set, whether ti was traversing the jungle or crossing the Sahara desert.

In the 1980s Land Rover found a new opportunity to put their four wheel capabilities to the test and showcase the now legendary brand, The Camel Trophy. This was the Olympics of offroad driving. Each year competitions were held where teams would take on the most challenging journeys imaginable. 

For 40 years, Land Rover was known for it’s rugged, utilitarian qualities, perfect for expeditions, off road pursuits and uses around the farm and country. Nothing but nothing got in the way of a Land Rover!

Range Rover Timeline - Click to enlarge

The brand and its products were a success, and some brands would be content with their positioning. But by segmenting that original niche further and further, a new opportunity became clear. Land Rover wanted to test the luxury car market. Their ultimate goal - to ‘crack’ the North American car market. Early research though said it was a bad idea. That Americans wouldn’t pay a premium for such a vehicle. Despite the research, Land Rover went ahead anyway. In 1987 The Range Rover In Vogue was launched, with leather seats, electric windows, wood trim, stereo system and all amount of luxurious features. Against all predictions, it was again an outstanding success, selling out of the initial production run and acclaimed as ‘The Gold Standard of Sports Utility vehicles’. Land Rover had done it again, creating and capturing a new market whilst it was in its infancy, the luxury sports utility market.

The brands ability to access and predict what the market requires, yet consistently come up with new, durable and off road solutions make the mark unique. Constantly designing products that win industry acclaim, design awards, new customers and build brand loyalty. Land Rover is the perfect example of a successful niche brand.

The Discovery, Freelander and Evoque models have all followed in the tyre prints of the original Defender. 67 years on from the original sketch in the sand, Land Rover are still focused on producing the best utilitarian vehicles and with the launches of the New Discovery and Range Rover Velar models the latest additions to the Land Rover Family. It’s the evolutionary approach to their products which I admire the most. When you see a Land Rover vehicle you know it’s a Land Rover. You recognise the shape, you know what it’s capable of and you admire the quality of design, performance and build. A consistent approach to brand and design which successfully creates a product that is completely new yet always so familiar.

Explorer, hard worker, public servant and peacekeeper; the Land Rover brand encapsulates our spirit of adventure and drive for innovation. It’s a classic brand that keeps on producing design classics and long may their 67-year adventure continue.

All images supplied by Land Rover
Tom LoveComment