The classic Land Rover 4x4 is the acknowledged daddy of the 4x4 off-road vehicles. Originally conceived back in 1947 and inspired by the Willys Jeep, the Land Rover was designed to be a functional, hard-wearing agricultural vehicle.
By the early 1970s, they were into their third-generation Land Rover. Although little changed from the previous versions, the MkIII is the most common one found on the roads even today. The lights were moved to the front wings on the MkII to comply with Australian legislation, and this feature remained in the third-generation Land Rovers.
There were also material changes in the front grille, with the later models having a plastic one instead of the metal grille used in the first two generations. The design ran up until 1985, but later years saw increased competition in a market that Land Rover had dominated for so long. This forced them to make more stylistic and refinement changes to compete with the more family-friendly 4x4s that entered the car showrooms.
The shape throughout its history was pretty much the same – broad boxy construction. There were never any pretensions about sporty lines or aerodynamic styling; the Land Rover was designed to burst through the landscape. It is this ability that makes it one of the best off-roaders of all time.
The first Land Rovers were fitted with 2.0L engines, by the time of the popular MkIII series, Land Rover was kitting them out with slightly more powerful 2.25L petrol and diesel engines. The introduction of these engines gave the Land Rover more power, releasing 54kW and 46kW respectively. They were linked up with either a 2-speed automatic or 4-speed manual gearbox, and later updated with 5 bearing crankshafts, making them better equipped for heavy lifting.
As interest in more efficient, powerful engines arose due to increased competition, Land Rover developed the Stage One V8 version. These were equipped with the more dynamic 3.5L Rover V8 engines and fitted to the Rover LT95 drivetrain, making it the only true MkIII Land Rover with 4WD.
The last attempt to give the original Land Rover something extra came with the fitting of a 3.9L Isuzu 4-cylinder diesel engine. This slowed the sales decline marginally, but the market was craving a more family-orientated 4x4, with more power, comfort, and gadgets; simply being utilitarian was not enough anymore.
Fuel consumption on the Land Rover, depending on age and condition, varies between 10.5L/100km and 8.1L/100km. The mid-1980s vehicles’ engines were capable of producing a torque rating of 258Nm, and these were seriously equipped for pulling almost anything.
Although the Land Rover 4x4 was loved the world over, it was never renowned for its equipment options and trim. It was a working vehicle that found favour with active families. The interior was always listed as basic, and in early models, even features like canvas tarps and rear bench seats were considered optional extras.
One of the main internal design changes came when Land Rover installed a new format for the dashboard in the 1980s. These models were kitted out with warm, moulded plastic dashes instead of cold, metal panels. They moved the instrument cluster from its customary central position to behind the driver’s wheel and created a friendlier environment with headlining for soundproofing and fabric upholstery for seating comfort, along with tinted windows for privacy.
Australia always loved the versatility and attack of the Land Rover, although delivery of the vehicles was a lengthy process, and, even when supplied in kit form, there were still delays in production. In 1983, the Land Rover One Ten opened up the market to the Toyota Land Cruiser, that, within a short period, took over as the best-selling 4x4.
Quickly other 4x4s and station wagons joined the fray to capitalise on the off-road market. Vehicles such as the Nissan Patrol, Ford F100 Ute, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Toyota 4Runner, and Holden Jackeroo all had hopes of taking the classic Land Rover crown.
While many of these possessed reasonable off-road qualities and their interiors were more attuned to the needs of family adventurers, the Land Rover is still the best in its class when travelling off the beaten track. This is borne out by the fact that the MkIII Land Rovers, despite their age, are still very much coveted vehicles. With a Land Rover, you get exactly what you would expect – a revolutionary terrain buster with no frills.