LAND ROVER SERIES I – THE GO ANYWHERE VEHICLE
The first overland expedition was in 1955, after months of extensive preparation, six students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, aboard two identical Land Rovers 86-inch Series I, set off on The Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. Flagging off from Hyde Park in London, headed through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, before arriving in Singapore from Thailand and Malaysia. After six months and six days, the team returned to London in August 1956 having logged over 32,000 miles. This was one of the longest overland journey during that time and no one or no vehicles has ever done it.
Tim Slessor, a member of the expedition, is still alive today to share their amazing stories. He has also published his book and DVD “First Overland – London to Singapore by Land Rover” He also mentioned in recent Land Rover Magazine, my last thought would be when I “move on”, take me off in a Series I please!
My first reminder of the 86-inch Series I is when it appeared in the all-time favourite classic comedy “THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY” where I watched with my parents. The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1980 South African comedy film. Set in Botswana, it follows the story of Xi, a San of the Kalahari Desert whose tribe has no knowledge of the world beyond, a biologist who analyses manure samples for his PhD dissertation, and a newly hired village school teacher. Xi did some hilarious things with the Series I.
The 86-inch Series I created countless milestones for Land Rover and touched the lifes of many. It is the first vehicle that most of our grandparents and many rural communities around the world have ever seen. After it’s introduction to the the world during the First Overland Expedition in 1955, sales bookings came in immediately from the countries they visited and the Land Rover Company has never looked back since.
The Land Rover Series I has 2 pre-production and 2 production models. This original Land Rover saved one company and created another. It helped Britain’s auto market back on its feet after the deprivations of WW2. Britain’s manufacturing industry was hampered by shortages of material; even jam was rationed. The government then has rationed limited supplies of steel to those companies that could export their products and the Rover Company was not one of them. Rover needed a salable vehicle with worldwide appeal.
Inspired by the ex-WW2 Jeep, the head of design team Maurice Wilks sketches the first design on sand at a beach and the Series I was born! No steel was available at the time so Rover made use of an abundance of aluminium that was left over from the war and a design minimal tooling was used.
The first pre-production Series I model was the centre steer with the steering located in the centre so it would appeal to both left and right hand drive market. The idea was shelved due to requirement for a major design to the mounting of the engine. The centre steer Series I was built only as prototype in 1947. The original centre steer, regarded as the Holy Grail of Land Rovers is lost and cannot be traced. Only pictures and replicas are available.
48 units second pre-production Series I model were hand built in 1947 and sent to farmers around Britain for testing. The most famous and desirable Land Rover now is Land Rover Production No.1 with the registration plates HUE 166 placed now at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon in Warwickshire, UK. This unit is the true forefather of the Land Rover Company and Defender which saw the end in production in 2015 ending a 67 years of legacy for this model.
The first production model were the Early 80-inch Series I models. This is where it all began. The original 80-inch Series I Land Rovers were built from 1948 to 1953. From 1948 to 1951, it was fitted with a 1.6 litre four-cylinder petrol engine generating 55 Hp and 112 Nm of torque. It has a four speed manual gear box with two-speed transfer box with permanent four-wheel drive (later selectable). Later between 1951 to 1953, it has a new 2 litre engine with 52 Hp and 134 Nm of torque. The distinct difference in this model is the front grille which covers the head lamps and has no external door handles. The front windscreen panel do not have ventilations where it can be opened by the occupants by flipping a level.
The Early Series I were imported into the island of Borneo during the North Borneo Company’s rule and traces of the Early Series I can still be found in Sabah. You just need to look for them in the small towns in some shed or under a tree which makes a great restoration project!
The second production model, the Later 86-inch Series I Land Rovers were built between 1953 to 1958. The chassis was increased to 86 inches and it has many more refinement than the 80-inch Series I. First off, longer chassis means they are more comfortable to drive and many design flaws of the 80-inch models which were based on the wartime jeep were fixed. The 86 inch was properly redesigned with properly thought-out, sensible, capable vehicle. It still has the same 2 Litre petrol engine and with slab-sided body panels. The 86-inch Series I still have that wonderful 1950s simplicity and appeal, but they drive better, have more load space, weather seals and driving position is not so cramped. Distinctive difference from 80-inch Earlier Series I is the front grille do not cover the head lamps, has external door handles, larger and tougher windscreen frame.
THE RESTORATION PROJECT
I stumbled upon this 1956 86-Inch Series I last year from a Land Rover parts specialist in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia while looking for parts to convert my Defender 90 pickup to a station wagon. I felt an immediate connection and was inspired to do a restoration project of this 60-year-old Series I Land Rover.
Documenting restoration project for Series I is not new, especially in the UK. However, documenting the first Series I restoration project in Sabah, Borneo is something else. More interestingly is to discover the origins of this Series I bearing registration no B 160 S. Only the 160th car registered in Beaufort, the original and first owner of this car is still alive to tell the stories!
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2! …
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