News : Land Rover builds replica of 1948 Series 1 production line at Solihull

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

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Land Rover has re-created history by building an authentic replica of the production line used to manufacture its first 4×4 in 1948. The ‘Defender Celebration Line’ re-creates in detail how the first Series I Land Rover was built at the Solihull manufacturing plant just after the Second World War.

The new visitor attraction, which opened to the public today, forms part of a new Defender tour and showcases replica models in various stages of production, each one meticulously built using identical parts and in precisely the same way as the original Series I.

The display gives an insight into life on a car production line in the late 1940s using original tools and a draftsmen’s drawing board where visitors are also asked to wear authentic overalls known as ‘cow gowns.’ The attraction boasts an area dedicated to telling the story of the creation of the original Series I by Land Rover founder Maurice Wilks using previously unseen video footage provided by his family.

The Celebration Line is located in the heart of the Defender production line which is housed inside one of the original production buildings at Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull factory.  The opening of the attraction marks the start of a year of celebration as the Defender enters its final year of production in the UK.

Jaguar Land Rover Heritage Director, John Edwards, says the heritage line will take visitors back to the beginning of the world’s most famous 4×4 manufacturer. He said: Land Rover has a rich heritage based around the Series I and Defender models, and we wanted to create something extra special that would give visitors and enthusiasts a unique insight into how it all started back in 1948.

“It has been a huge task to recreate a production line from almost 70 years ago, from sourcing original parts for the Series I models, to authentically re-creating the working environment and uniform of employees who were here. The team involved has been meticulous in their research, planning and creation of what is a fitting tribute to the legendary heritage of Land Rover.”

The company turned to one of the world’s leading Land Rover enthusiasts and restorers and curator of the famous Dunsfold Collection of historic Land Rovers, Phil Bashall, to help create the vehicles for the production line. Phil built his first Series I Land Rover at the age of 13, but admitted he was shocked when Land Rover told him of plans to build a full replica 1948 production line.

Phil admitted: It’s been a struggle at times, but a real labour of love to source all of the original parts needed for vehicles that stopped production so many years ago.”

Phil had a large number of the ‘nuts and bolts’ he needed tucked away in his own ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of Land Rover parts – he has amassed over 8,000 original parts but it was still a long and painstaking search to find all the brakes, clutches, gaskets and pedals required for the exhibit. He enlisted the help of skilled craftsmen and the Land Rover Series I Club to build a replica chassis for the Series I models, along with some of the aluminium bodywork for the vehicles.

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Once Phil had collected all of the parts over a period of months, it took him and his mechanic five weeks to build the five Series I models. His guiding light in the challenge and the man who co-ordinated the Celebration Line project is Roger Crathorne. Roger, known simply as ‘Mr Land Rover’, was born in Solihull and joined Land Rover as an apprentice in 1963. He retired last year having completed more than 50 years’ service.

For Roger, seeing the completed exhibit line is a dream come true and the perfect illustration of what makes Land Rover unique in the world of motoring. He said: “No other car maker in the world has anything as authentic and with such meticulous attention to detail as our heritage line. It has taken months of searching and dedication to put this project together, but it has been worth it.”

The new Defender factory tour lasts approximately three hours. The tour begins at the beginning of the production process – the body shop. Here bodies are manufactured prior to being shipped to paint. The tour then continues in final assembly where visitors can see the engine and gearbox lowered onto the chassis and watch as the labour intensive process of assembling the painted body panels begins.

Today, the tour welcomed its very first visitors, the Writtle family from South Gloucestershire [pictured above]. They said: We are huge enthusiasts of this iconic vehicle and own 11 between us. It feels like we have won the lottery as we have secured one of the few Limited Edition Heritage vehicles from the recently announced Celebration Series.

“We were amazed how little the Defender manufacturing process has changed in the last six decades with individual craftsmanship still at the heart of each vehicle produced. We also witnessed Jaguar Land Rover’s rigorous quality control processes, including testing in the monsoon chamber where vehicles are subjected to 343 high-pressure water jets for 14 minutes to ensure there are no water leaks.”

A total of 450 people are currently employed on the Defender production line, including a family which has seen three generations dedicate themselves to the manufacture of these iconic vehicles.

Tours cost £45 per person. To arrange a visit to the home of the Land Rover legend during its final year of UK production, visit the relevant page of the Land Rover Experience website here or call: +44 (0)121 700 4619.

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Clive Goldthorp

Clive claims that his interest in the BMC>MG story dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when the family’s garage premises were leased to a tenant with an Austin agency. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s, his grandmother was one of the country’s first female Garage Proprietors so cars probably run in his genes! Admits to affairs with Alfa Romeos, but has more recently owned an 06/06 MG TF 135 and then a 15/64 MG3 Style… Clive, who was AROnline’s News Editor for nearly four years, stood down from that role in order to devote more time to various Motor Racing projects but still contributes articles on as regular basis as his other commitments permit.

19 Comments

  1. As long as nobody says “when Land Rover first started making these….” I’ll be happy. There was no such company as Land Rover until 1978. The Land Rover was a Rover Company invention, but as ‘Rover’ appears to be a dirty word they’ve re-written history.

    • Has anybody actually said that?

      Either way we have to be realistic, this is all about creating brand image to sell modern metal. If they have to quietly ditch the association with the original company brand because of what it got nailed onto after the P6 then so be it.

      • There are a few LR documentaries I’ve seen that mention Land Rover as the designer and builder of the original Range Rover. They are very good at remembering the people that designed the cars (Wilks’s, Spen King, Gordon Bache etc) but patchy at remembering the innovative company (at that time) for whom they worked.

        • I see your point, Land Rover was just a product and not even a distinct brand of the Rover company at the time.

          However you could be pedantic Leyland enthusiast and point out that Rover was then owned by Leyland / British Leyland at the time so Leyland bags the claim.

          Looking at it another way, Land Rover inherited the Solihull factories and work force that did this work whilst Rover brand became a badge nailed into products of the Austin Morris factories. To those who do not know their Rover history it could be argued you get a better understanding of the Range Rovers origins by thinking that it came from the Land Rover team than a Rover team.

          Whatever way you want to take it, I appreciate the need for Land Rover to protect the brand and so not mention the “R” word.

  2. ‘To arrange a visit to the home of the Land Rover legend during its final year of UK production’… so where will production take place from next year, dare I ask?

    • I’ve heard it mentioned (possibly by LR themselves?) that production may continue overseas on a limited basis. Great if so!

  3. There was a little rumour when we were at Solihull a few months back that the entire line was being lifted and moved to India (along with Freelander 2) and it will continue to be built there, however, there will not be ANY brought back to the UK, not even under limited production rules, the landie will continue production and the Freelander will get a makeover and be rebadged TATA.

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