John Carroll looks at the the first examples of this British icon, made from 1948-58.

A vehicle that was to become a ubiquitous sight on farms the length and breadth of Britain and beyond was, like many other war babies, conceived almost by accident.

Rover, blitzed out of Birmingham by the Luftwaffe, had relocated to a new factory in Solihull and, at the end of hostilities, was looking forward to resuming the production of saloon cars, instead the Series One land Rover was born.

In those first days of peace, steel was rationed but aluminium was not, and the amount of steel allocated to Rover was insufficient for the mass production of cars.

In parallel the Wilks brothers, Spencer and Maurice, senior mangers at Rover owned an example of the famous '4x4 that won the war', an ex-military Jeep which they used at an estate and holiday home on Anglesey.

The story goes that the duo realised that as the war had seen advances in automotive technology there would be a market for a British-built lightweight 4x4 that would appeal to farmers.

With this in mind, development of the yet to be named Land Rover began using a Willys Jeep as the basis for the pilot versions.

Rover's engineers opted for an aluminium body in order to save precious steel for the chassis and bulkhead.

The body would be angular to obviate the need for expensive pressing tools, each leg of the chassis would be a steel box section made from four steel plates for similar reasons.

As it was to be a utility machine for agricultural use it would have a tractor-like centrally positioned steering wheel.

Rover would use as many already extant parts as possible to keep costs down.

The 4x4's gearbox would be suitable for driving farm machinery via a power take off (PTO) and most importantly, it would merely be a stop gap until Rover could get back to the important business of making luxury cars. Things would be slightly different in the end but development of the idea led to the production of what is now generally referred to as the centre-steer prototype with an 80in wheelbase Jeep chassis, axles and wheels, but a Rover engine and gearbox and other parts.

By the time a batch of 50 pre-production models was made the vehicle featured a more conventional steering position in both right and left hand drive configurations.

Rover had an eye on exports as this was a way of ensuring more of the precious steel supply and it was the era of export or die. The first batch of vehicles was powered by a 1595cc Rover car engine and had a four-wheel drive transmission system that differed from that in the American Jeep.

Passenger seats, types of roof and suchlike were optional extras and the new Land-Rover was launched at the Amsterdam, Holland, motor show in April 1948 and soon exhibited at British shows.

Farmers and soldiers were soon using the British 4x4. It was a hit and, it would be easy to say, the rest was history. There was much more to it of course, gradually the lightweight 4x4 was refined; it soon received a bigger engine to give more power.

In 1954 its wheelbase was stretched by six inches to create nine more inches of room in the load bed and a long wheelbase version was made available in both pick-up and station wagon forms.

In 1957 the wheelbases were stretched a further two inches to create 88in and 109in vehicles in order to make room for a new diesel engine under the bonnet.

Production boomed, exports boomed especially to Australia and Africa and, although Rover did return to car manufacture, the idea of the Land Rover solely as a stop gap was gently forgotten.

The Land Rover proved versatile indeed and its PTO was used for a multitude of tasks, powering winches, pumps and binders to name but a few and in two wheelbases with a choice of petrol and diesel engines truly became a vehicle for all seasons. In 1958 it was time for a facelift and the Series II Land Rover was launched so retrospectively naming vehicles from the first ten years as Series Ones although the story was far from over, indeed the Series II would consolidate the Land Rover's position as the farmer's friend.