From movie villains to exploration legends to offending the purists.
Inspired by the military Jeep, the first Land Rover was born in 1947 as an agricultural vehicle. It soon moved beyond use by farmers, and the Series and Defender models became the ultimate utility vehicle; while the Jeep became a lifestyle and recreation vehicle, the Land Rover started going global as the go-to vehicle for explorers and the UK's military. Its applications grew and have been used in just about every area a robust off-road vehicle can be, including aid work, firefighting, mountain rescue, medical response, and just for good old fun as a recreational vehicle. While Land Rover went upmarket, it never lost its off-roading and practical edge, and the Discovery, Freelander, and Range Rover models have been used in almost as many applications as the original line of utilitarian vehicles. Along the way, there have been some amazing Land Rovers created. These are just some of them.
The Camel Trophy event spanned twenty years between 1980 and 2000 and was known affectionately as the Olympics of off-roading. The arduous annual competitive events took place in different places, including Mongolia, Madagascar, Siberia, Borneo, and Zaire. Originally using three license-built Jeep CJ5s exploring the Trans-Amazonian Highway, but between 1981 and 2000, every model was a Land Rover that got a heavily upgraded Camel Trophy version in Sandglow Yellow, and Land Rover supplied the support vehicles.
The harshest and most legendary event was the 876-mile Amazonian trek in 1989, won by British explorers Joe and Bob Ives in a Land Rover 110. The pair negotiated the route from Alta Floresta to Manaus in the rainy season, where the previously dusty roads turn to soft clay. "There were stretches where we put two anchored cars pulling another one and nothing happened. We had to dig for half an hour [...] to try to get the car out of that hole and thirty meters later fall into another one," explained team member Ricardo Simonsen.
Land Rovers have long been a component of the James Bond universe, but the most spectacular so far are the ten built by Bowler in the UK for the 2015 movie 'Spectre.' It's thought that seven survived making the movie, including one that's road legal as it was only used for drive-by scenes. They're crew-cab Defender 110s modified with massive 37-inch tires, heavy-duty roll cages, toughened suspensions, Bilstein rally dampers, a hydraulic handbrake, and Recaro seats. Some, including the one below, were built specifically for the snow chase scene in the movie and one was tuned for a high-speed road chase.
The British SAS (Special Air Service) has a fine reputation as an elite force, and one piece of SAS history produced a legendary version of the Land Rover Series II - The Pink Panther. From 1971 to 1976, the SAS fought in a guerrilla war in south Oman, and the perfect color for camouflage in the Middle East was gauged to be pink, particularly at dusk and dawn. These were kitted out by Marshalls of Cambridge with four fuel tanks, a heavy-duty chassis, heavy-duty suspension, front and rear differential plates, sand tires, and a front-mounted spare tire. The roof, doors, and windscreen were removed, and spotlights were added. To survive in a warzone, the Land Rovers were also fitted with grenade holders and carried rifles, smoke canisters, a general-purpose machine gun, and an anti-tank weapon.
The small SAS group defeated the communist rebels in Oman, but only twenty of the 72 "Pinkies" survived the action. They're now the most sought-after Land Rovers in the world.
Land Rover went to Bowler for the Camel Trophy vehicles, but expedition vehicles aren't the British company's specialty. The Bowler Bulldog is the third in a line of Land Rover-based rally raid vehicles built on a custom chassis and using modified Range Rover Sport subframes and specially-made Bilstein shocks. Each Bowler Bulldog is handbuilt ready for competition, complete with an integrated FIA-approved roll-cage, but is also road-legal. It's wider than a stock Defender, has more suspension travel, and comes with a tuned version of either the petrol or diesel V6 engine from the Range Rover Sport. These may look old, but they're the best competition LR off-roaders out there.
If you need a vehicle to go absolutely anywhere, it needs tracks. This one was built in 1958 by conversion specialist James A Cuthbertson Ltd., which built "conversions specifically for farmers forced to work in an uneven, hostile landscape." However, the British Army bought some for land mine clearing as they're lighter than tanks. The army didn't buy many, though, and it's believed that Cuthbertson built less than 20 in total. It has a top speed of 20 mph, a custom power steering unit, and is designed to be converted quickly back into a wheeled vehicle.
The Flying Huntsman 6x6 Pickup was designed by Afzal Kahn and his design and engineering team for his Chelsea Truck Company. The British firm specializes in bespoke takes on Land Rovers, Jeep Wranglers, Mercedes G-Wagens, and Mercedes X-Class models, but the Flying Huntsman 6x6 Pickup is a standout model. The bodywork is hand-formed with aluminum, and the donor Land Rover Defender 110 is extended by a further 34.6 inches for the extra axle. A rear roll bar is added, and it also gets a bespoke interior. Completing the transformation is a 6.2-liter GM-supplied LS3 V8 engine making around 430 horsepower.
This one is downright hated by the purists even though it's not actually a hacked-up 1948 Series I Land Rover. It was originally built by a Brit called Steve Dyer, who had a bunch of Land Rovers but wanted to build a hot rod. American cars in the UK are expensive, so he did the logical thing and took a 1948 LR and started building. However, the chassis isn't from a Land Rover, but rather from a 1980 Rover P4 series car, as are the disc brakes. Under the hood is a 3.9-liter Rover V8, and in front is a grille from a 1948 Series I Land Rover, as is the rear tub. The rest of the bodywork is a mix of Land Rover parts. It sits on 15-inch steel wheels and has been lowered by a few inches. It's been sold on a few times, but once in a while, it gets spotted and photographed on British roads, so we know it's still out there making people smile/wince.
In the early 1970s, SUVs were not yet a huge market. However, more and more Americans were being drawn to rugged off-roaders like Chevy Blazers and the Ford Bronco for recreational use. Knowing America is a vast market, British Leyland poked Land Rover's PR team into doing something spectacular. The result was two 1971 Range Rovers, upgraded to traverse the 18,000 grueling miles of Pan-American highway and taking the British Trans-Americas Expedition from Alaska's frozen frontier to the sub-tropical tip of Argentina.
The trek was punishing enough, but the two Range Rovers needed to cross the Darién Gap as part of the journey. The rivers, swamps, mountains, and jungles of the gap are graveyards of travelers and equipment that have tried to pass the Pan-American Highway's missing link. Land Rover only added a few upgrades that couldn't be optioned from the factory, and the 250-mile stretch was completed in three months (half the allotted time) with help from 64 British army personnel drawn from the Royal Engineers and expeditionary officers.