History of a Legend: Series II

The second instalment of our six-part series tracing the lineage of our beloved Defender begins in April 1958, ten years into Land Rover production.

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Our ‘History of a Legend’ series traces the lineage of our iconic 4x4. Part 1 charts how the Series I went from stop-gap to must-have. Read it here.

By 1958 the Land Rover had been in production for ten years, and Austin planned a copycat rival with its Gipsy. So the Series I (not named as such until the release ofthe Series II – until 1958 it was simply known as the Land Rover’), was given a comprehensive makeover to become the Series II. It was launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1958, a decade after the original’s debut at the same event.

The design team under David Bache, who would later be responsible for ground-breaking designs such as the Range Rover and the Rover SD1, ‘styled’ the Land Rover for the first time. The project was completed in six weeks and was a subtle masterpiece. The car’s basic forms survive into today’s Defender and its ‘rounded shoulders’ in particular became another Land Rover design hallmark. The Series II also gained deeper sills that concealed the chassis members and gave it a less utilitarian look, and distinctive curved glass at the rear corners of the truck cab.

The petrol engine received a major upgrade, the capacity increasing to 2286cc and the power jumping by almost half to 77bhp. Related in design to the advanced diesel introduced in 1957, this much-loved engine would remain in service until the mid-1980s. The diesel was itself upgraded to the same capacity and 62bhp in 1961 with the introduction of the Series IIA. In 1967 Rover’s 2625cc straight-six petrol engine was also offered, with between 81 and 85bhp, depending on how good the petrol was in your part of the world. In 1969 came perhaps the most striking visual change of all, as the front headlamps moved out from the grille and into the wings. Regulations required it, and the design was more handsome as a result.

Transporter full of Series II Land Rovers for Export

A Land Rover could perform almost any task you could think of, and the Series II saw an even broader range of body styles and conversions than the original. There were mobile cinemas, armoured cars and crop sprayers, as well as the more obvious ambulances and fire engines. The ‘Forest Rover’ used vast tractor tyres to straddle tree trunks, and for truly extreme conditions, engineering firm Cuthbertson could replace the wheels with tracks.

The ‘Forward Control’ first introduced in 1962 placed the cabin high and forward over the front wheels to create a longer load-bed, capable of carrying 30cwt. It looks more like a lorry than a Land Rover, until you notice Bache’s doors with that hallmark ‘shoulder’,and the curved rear glassfrom the pick-up. 1968saw the introduction of theLightweight, designed forthe British Armed Forceswith its simple, narrowerbody which could be stripped down and made light enough to be air-portable.

Rover needn’t have worried about the Gipsy, around 20,000 were sold, and it was finally killed off when Austin and Rover merged to form British Leyland in 1968.

The Series II powered on: 1959 saw the 250,000th Land Rover roll off the production line, and by 1966 Solihull had made half a million. Annual production peaked in 1971 at 56,000 each year, and in total more than half a million Series II models were made over 13 years.