This is a 1976 Land Rover Series III 88 with the optional canvas hood. And this (or perhaps this punctuated by a large, encompassing gesture) is the city of Dublin, Ireland. Dublin was settled in 837 AD, when Vikings sailed up the River Liffey and decided that they needed to get away from all the hubbub and stress of boating, and that they fancied pillaging some churches in order to properly relax and unwind. Their little vacation didn’t last long, because the city was then conquered by the Normans, and then it was not conquered by the Scottish, but they destroyed it in the process, and then the Black Death happened, which as you know, was a whole thing. What I’m getting at here is that Irish history is brutal, and it speaks to the downright toughness of the land and the people who live there. Which brings us, neatly, to Land Rover.
The Series 1 Land Rover was first shown to the world at the Amsterdam Auto Show in 1948, and was completely different from the plushy Land Rovers that soccer moms chauffeur their little angels back and forth to oboe practice in today. The Series Land Rover was bare bones. Early prototype Land Rovers were based on the Jeep (USA! USA!) and featured center-mounted steering, seating for three, and aluminum alloy body panels left over from the war, primarily because steel was in short supply. The drab green paint offered on the originals was off Royal Air Force planes. It also featured part time four-wheel drive, which we’ll talk about in a hot second. I am of the belief, and I’m not alone, that Land Rovers are literally the best off road vehicles that money can buy. And I use “literally” here in its most common sense, meaning without exaggeration or inaccuracy. As in: the morning radio presenters on Q102 are literally the most shallow, loud, soul sucking wastes of air-time in the business and should have their vocal chords removed and donated to science.
So, four-wheel drive: whatsa deal with that, son? (That was P Diddy filling in there, a special thanks to him). If you’re a regular reader, you may be aware that a car’s engine, in the Land Rover’s case a 1.6 liter gas or 2.0 liter diesel four cylinder, routes its power through the transmission. The four speed manual then pushes the power directly into something called a transfer case, which then divides the energy in half between the front and rear axles via two long, metal rods called driveshafts. Here’s a picture. Now, when four-wheel drive is engaged, the front and rear driveshafts lock together, allowing the front and rear wheels to spin in unison, making this little truck it capable of driving over just about everything. Couple this with a separate chassis and bolted-on body panels, and the British had themselves a very special truck.
This is a Series III, the last of the Land Rovers under the “Series” name (it was changed in 1983 to Defender). This meant that the grille was changed from metal to plastic, much to the dismay of many Land Rover enthusiasts, because that meant that it could no longer be used as a grille. In case you haven’t gathered, these people are outdoorsy folk. The compression ratio was also increased for the Series III (7:1 to 8:1), allowing for a slightly higher horsepower rating: 61 for the diesel, 70 for the gasoline. If you think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for updates that came with the Series III, you’re right. The thing about Series Land Rovers is that, despite 67 straight years of production, the truck really never changed. Sure, they moved the headlights around a bit and you couldn’t barbecue a rack of ribs on the grille after a certain point, but ultimately it always featured pretty much the same engines, it always had four wheel drive, and it was always, unashamedly square-looking. I think it’s gorgeous.
It has been said that the first car seen by 60% of the developing world’s population is one of these Land Rovers. It also gave birth to the Range Rover, one of the most hilariously unreliable cars on the road. But Series Land Rovers are too simple to be unreliable. They’ll go until the job is done, and then they’ll unquestioningly move on to the next task. It’s kind of like that Chevy from way back. And for all that work, this old Series III looks great. Really great. But you know where it’d look even better? Out in the Irish countryside, herding sheep or climbing dales or towing farm equipment. Or maybe even defending Dublin against another Viking invasion.
- About 70% of all Series Land Rovers built are still on the road today.
- Power take-off mechanisms were also offered on this car, which is yet another testament to its versatility and allowed it to be used as a welder, tractor, and even a fire pump.
- “88” in this particular Series III’s name is an indication of the length of its wheelbase, which is, shockingly, 88 inches. You could also have a Series III 109, which had a wheelbase of 115 inches. No wait, I’m wrong. It was 109 inches.
- In 1998, the Queen of England (God save her) scared the pants off a Saudi Arabian King in- what else?- a Land Rover. Here’s the full story.
- Some sad news: Land Rover has announced that December of 2015 will be the last month of production for the Defender, the most modern iteration of this car. A shame, certainly, but they have said that there is a new model on its way, which should be on sale by 2019.