Land-Rover: British-made models of one of Great Britain's Best Ever Vehicles

Posted by: TalesofToyCars in Member Blogs

By Brian Willloughby

A little more than 50 years ago, on a rural Welsh farm, the idea was born of necessity and desperation. In a time of rebuilding and forced austerity, the durable goods industry in postwar Britain quickly found that it would not be able to survive purely off the scant purchases that were being made by British patrons. Consequently, several manufacturers, particularly those of automobiles, concluded that their futures, at least for the moment, would be dependent upon exportation. While this presented no problem for the sports car makers that had found favor with American GIs, the reserved Rover Company Limited, long accustomed to building respectable cars for the British upper middle-class, appeared to be drifting toward imminent doom as long as it relied upon its traditional products and clientele.

To encourage its automakers to export as much product as possible, His Majesty's Government imposed rations on steel whereby those companies that sold more goods outside of Britain received more raw materials from which to build its products. In the meantime, a Rover engineer named Maurice Wilkes had purchased a surplus World War II Jeep that he had discovered to be ideally suited to any multitude of tasks on his farm in Wales. As with most decommissioned items, the Jeep had had its best miles driven out of it years before, leading Wilkes to ponder what he would do, other than buy another, when it required replacement. Suddenly, it all came together: he was an automotive engineer, he had found several areas where the Jeep's design could bettered and expanded upon and Rover was in dire need of a product that would increase sales abroad. Thus was born the Land-Rover.

Featuring body panels of aluminium alloy to circumvent the British government's rationing of steel and razor-edged styling to prevent the need for complicated (and costly) dies and pressings, the Land-Rover was introduced to the public at the 1948 Amsterdam Auto Show. Although Rover initially planned for the Land-Rover to be made until both the British economy and demand for its customary products restabilized, this simple vehicle originally intended for agrarian use was soon seen going where no other vehicle had gone before and conquering the most remote reaches of the British Empire. Unexpectedly, the Land-Rover was an instant success very soon after it debuted and plans to discontinue the vehicle were soon abandoned in light of the hefty rosters of backorders. Rover simply could not produce enough Land-Rovers; in fact they never really have caught up with customer demand even to this day.

After ten years, the restyled and slightly more rounded Series II appeared to replace the already venerable and slab-sided Series I. With hundreds of options available, a buyer could essentially order or build their Land-Rover to suit their particular needs and everything imaginable, from police vehicles to ambulances and fire trucks were being constructed on the rigid Land-Rover ladder frame. 1968 brought another stylistic change: the formerly well-protected headlamps were relocated outboard into the wings to satisfy various legal requirements in some of Land-Rover's many markets. However, the biggest news on the Land-Rover front was the introduction of the more upscale Range Rover in 1970 with its four-wheel disc brakes and 3.5 litre all-aluminium V8. For 1972, Land-Rover introduced the Series III which better integrated the styling changes made in 1968 while also upgrading the interior with more comfortable seating and gauges remounted to behind the steering wheel rather than in the center of the dash. After the Series III, Land-Rover development largely stagnated for the better part of a decade and in 1974 the plug was pulled on sales of Land-Rovers in the United States.

In 1985, Land-Rover finally introduced a replacement for the Series III: the 90 and 110 featured an all-new coil spring suspension replacing the previously used leaf springs, front disc brakes to replace the four-wheel drums and even the option of power steering. While a great product, the new "coilers" simply could not stop the steady erosion the Japanese had wrought throughout the 1970s to the market once dominated by Land-Rover. Perhaps sensing the sport utility craze that would come to fruition during the 1990s, Land-Rover introduced the Range Rover to the United States after 17 years of production; in spite of its advanced age, it was still the best vehicle of its type in the world and it quite literally became an "overnight sensation" in car-crazed America. Not long thereafter, the Discovery and Defender joined Land-Rover's American product range to provide more market coverage and further penetration within the competitive SUV field.

To document the history of the Land-Rover, several British toymakers have produced a variety of diecast models through the years. The text that follows serves as both an introduction and survey to those interested in collecting 1:64 scale Land-Rover toys.

MATCHBOX


Lesney Products would be the first of many British diecasters to offer a tiny model Land-Rover. Introduced in 1955, Lesney's #12-A Series I was a cute albeit somewhat crude model that featured no door lines and a yellow-painted driver forever seated behind the wheel. In spite of the simplicity of this model, it was also a bit delicate as evidence by its front bumper. When Matchbox decided years later to produce a historical series of models under the "Originals" name, the Land-Rover (which was a new although nearly identical casting) was one of only 18 models honored.


Keeping its line up to date with the changes witnessed in the actual Land-Rovers, Lesney gave the world a new #12-B Land-Rover in 1959 based on the new Series II. A much more complicated and detailed model that dispensed with the driver, this miniature was almost perfect save for incorrectly positioned rear taillamps. Offered only in an accurate olive drab, this model was produced in several wheel variations.


Six years later, Lesney unveiled one of the best toy Land-Rovers ever made: #12-C, the "Safari Land-Rover" was a knockout model. Wonderful proportions and an authentic "look" made this model 

appear as if it had been pulled directly off the Serengeti Plain; nevertheless, it was let down by unfortunate color choices. Early versions were painted in an acceptable dark green; however, later versions appeared in a bright blue which was later augmented by the metallic gold Superfast version. Needless to say, Series I, II and IIA Land-Rovers were not offered by the factory in metallic colors; however, special customers, such as members of the royal family, would have been able to request any color they desired. Even in light of this fact, the blue and gold paint schemes ruin the model's authenticity.


Only one year after introducing the Safari Land-Rover, Lesney turned up with a rather surprising model numbered 57 and named "Land-Rover Fire Truck." Patterned after Carmichael, forward control conversions of the period, this miniature has to be one of the most unique Matchboxes ever: on the base is a small slider which actually adjusts its suspension between high and low settings. When the model was converted to Superfast wheels in 1970, this feature was eliminated and the "Kent Fire Brigade" labels changed from decals to adhesive stickers. Happily, it carried a roof-mounted, removable ladder throughout its production life.


During the mid-1970s, Lesney switched from producing Land-Rovers to the new Range Rover with model #20 which never carried a name other than "Police Patrol." To the surprise of many Americans, the Range Rover was extensively used by constabularies throughout the United Kingdom, making this particular Range Rover, at least in police guises, both accurate and authentic. Police Patrol also included a novel gimmick that was all the rage with Lesney during the period: a "Rola-matic" model, the roof-mounted beacon revolved as the model was pushed along.


By 1982, Lesney was facing bankruptcy due to rising production costs in the United Kingdom yet it still managed to muster up one last Land-Rover: #57, the Carmichael Commando was a fire/rescue vehicle based on a heavily modified Range Rover chassis. An accurate model, it serves as a one-of-a-kind of the popular Carmichael conversions. Unfortunately, this miniature was never sold in the United States, making it very difficult and expensive for collectors to acquire.

After a too long hiatus, a Land-Rover model finally reappeared in the Matchbox lineup in the mid-1980s. A model of the new coil-sprung 90, the model was sharply cast and featured a front bull bar. Unfortunately, the Alpine Lights in the white-plastic roof were blanked-off. Still available, this model has been produced in a myriad of color, tampo, interior and roof variations.


With the introduction of the new Land-Rover Freelander, everyone knew that a miniature would not be far behind. While not the first model of the Freelander, Matchbox's is the first small scale miniature offered by anyone. A delightful model of the short wheelbase, opened top Freelander, it is a model worth seeking out despite its current limited availability in the United States.

Dinky


Known mostly for its large scale delights, Dinky did offer one small scale Land-Rover in its Dublo series of models. Numbered 072, the Dublo Land-Rover was one of few models ever made of the pickup cab 88-inch wheelbase Land-Rover Series II/IIA. Always sold as a set with an accompanying horse box, this excellent model is very hard to find today in any condition. Intended to be used with Hornby Dublo trains to create realistic rail-side scenes, the Dublo models were all scaled to 1:72 and priced higher than the similar small-scale competition from Matchbox. Due to their higher price and inability to attract any significant interest when they were in production, the Dublos were branded a failure and the entire range was quietly discontinued with little lament after only a few years of production.

CORGI
After producing a multitude of variations based upon the same couple of castings, it may seem somewhat curious that same company's Husky and Corgi Juniors divisions would make several different small scale Land-Rovers. The first of these was one of the most bizarre Land-Rover models ever produced: the Forward Control Land-Rover was a modest success for Rover which sold mainly to specialized markets, yet Husky offered two variations of the vehicle for a number of years. Earlier castings are decidedly better since they include the tiny wrap-around windows at the rear edges of the cab (later eliminated) and because their baseplates were cast rather than plastic

The next Corgi Junior Land-Rover to be offered would be a much more conventional 109-inch wheelbase, late Series IIA Pickup. Produced in civilian, military ambulance and tow truck versions, this model remained a mainstay of the Corgi Juniors range for years.


Of course, everyone wanted to have a model of the new Range Rover in its livery and Corgi Juniors curiously selected a police conversion made by Vigilant. A nice miniature of this vehicle, it was offered in a number of variants over the years and near the end of its life was modified into a conventionally-roof Range Rover van with rescue/rally gear mounted on top.

Originally available in metallic brown with an accompanying horse trailer, Corgi Juniors' second Range Rover casting was a unique promotional model for the James Bond film "Octopussy". For those who cannot recall our hero's daring escape in the film's opening sequence, Bond jumps from the open top Range Rover to the horse box where a miniature jet is hidden. As the horse trailer remains stationary, a fake horse rump is lifted out of the plane's path and 007 flies to safety while saving the entire world one more time. Not widely available at the time of its release, an intact James Bond set is even rarer today. Fortunately for Land-Rover completists, Corgi later released the Range Rover convertible in red as a single model without the horse box. As one of the most intriguing models ever produced of a Range Rover (and yes, a few, real-life coachbuilding firms did actually produce RR convertible conversions), either version of this model is definitely worth seeking out for one's collection. It is shown above with the Series II pick-up.


Finally, the last Corgi Junior Land-Rover would be a model of the 110 Van, or as they are known in Britain, "the Blindside." Perfect for promotional use, this miniature was offered in a variety of paint and tampos schemes and made in both Wales and China. Eventually, dies for this casting were acquired by Mattel who offered it as a member of their Hot Wheels line-up. It is worth noting, however, that Mattel simplified the die and deleted several details found on earlier, Corgi-badged versions.

The Minor Makes


Outside of the "Big Boys", several smaller British companies also produced models of Land-Rovers. Benbros offered a delightful model of an early Land-Rover Series I van which is often found with metal wheels. Rare today, these models are some of the best, not to mention charismatic, of their period. Selling a very similar model in three different scales were the interconnected brands of Morestone and Budgie; sadly, all of this firm's fine models are extremely scarce today. Only the small scale, approximately 1:64 scale Land-Rovers were marketed as Budgies and two main variants exist: those with the cast bonnet-mounted spare tyre and those without.

And not to be forgotten, Impy made one of the most accurate Range Rover models ever offered. Although it had no interior, Impy's little Rangie was nearly perfectly proportioned and with it's dark-tinted window glazing, it looked almost exactly like what might be seen parked in front of Harrod's. Sold in civilian and police versions, this is one obscure model not to be overlooked.

And here we end the Land-Rover tale for this month. In the near future, expect the story to continue with articles featuring models made by companies outside of the UK.

1:64 Scale Diecast Land-Rover models produced in Great Britian

Benbros 34 Automobile Association Land-Rover
Benbros 35 Royal Army Land-Rover
Benbros 36 Royal Mail Land-Rover
Budgie 3 Automobile Association Land-Rover
Dinky Dublo 073 Land-Rover with Horse Trailer
(Note: these models were always sold as a set)
Corgi Juniors 9 "Vigilant" Police Range Rover
Corgi Juniors 16 Land-Rover Pickup
Corgi Juniors 31 Land-Rover Wrecker
Corgi Juniors 42 "Vigilant" Mountain Rescue Range
Rover
Corgi Juniors 79 Royal Army Land-Rover Ambulance
Corgi Juniors 184 Range Rover Convertible
Corgi Juniors #? Land-Rover 110 Van
Husky 11 Forward Control Land-Rover
Husky 21 Army Forward Control Land-Rover
Impy 71 Range Rover [3-door]
Impy 75 Range Rover Police Car [3-door]
Matchbox 12-A Land-Rover [Series I 80"]
Matchbox 12-B Land-Rover [Series II 88"]
Matchbox 12-C Safari Land-Rover [Series IIA 109" Station Wagon]
Matchbox 16-G Land-Rover 90
Matchbox 20-E Police Patrol [Range Rover 3-door]
Matchbox 57-C Land-Rover Fire Truck [ForwardControl Carmichael Conversion]
Matchbox 57-F Carmichael Commando [6-wheel Range Rover Conversion]
Matchbox 61 Land-Rover Freelander [3-door Open Top]

References:

Force, Dr. Edward. Corgi Toys. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1984.
Mack, Charlie. Lesney's Matchbox Toys, The Regular Wheel Years, 1947-1969. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1992.
Mack, Charlie. Lesney's Matchbox Toys, The Superfast Years, 1969-1982. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1993.
Mack, Charlie. Universal's Matchbox Toys, The Universal Years, 1982-1992. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1993.
Ramsay, John. John Ramsay's Catalogue of British Diecast Toys, Fifth Edition. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England: Swap Meet Toys and Models Ltd., 1993.

Tags: Tales of Toy Cars, Vehicles

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