The car that launched Land Rover spent almost 30 years hiding in a garden

Even in today’s world of online media, the first glimpse most people get of a new car involves an auto show. Whether they see a new car perched on an auto show stand, or just see photos taken at said show, that’s how first impressions are often made. But what happens to those show vehicles once their 15 minutes of fame are up?

Land Rover made its public debut at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, displaying three preproduction versions of its first model, the Series I. To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Land Rover has located one of those three show cars, which was missing for 63 years. The automaker is planning a full restoration of this long-lost 4×4.

Brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks envisioned the first Land Rovers as an improvement on the Jeeps commonly used in the United Kingdom immediately after World War II. After building a prototype (which featured a steering wheel in the middle of the car), the production-ready Series I debuted in 1948. The Series I not only launched Land Rover, but vehicles based on it remained in production for 67 years — right up until the last Defender rolled off the production line in 2016.

Following its public debut in 1948, the hero of our story spent most of that timespan being shuffled from one U.K. owner to another. Now that the vehicle has been repatriated, Land Rover has pieced together its ownership history. In 1968 it was sold to an owner in Wales, who used it as a static power source. When its engine seized in 1988, it was sold to a new owner in Birmingham, England. It wasn’t seen again until 2016, when it was spotted in a garden a few miles from Solihull, where it was originally built.

The vehicle bears the distinguishing features of the first batch of 48 pre-production Land Rovers, including thicker aluminum bodywork, a galvanized chassis, and a removable rear tub. Like all early Series I Land Rovers, it’s also got headlights mounted behind the grille. The lack of creature comforts make it a far cry from today’s Range Rover, Discovery, and Velar.

The restoration will be handled by Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works, a dedicated division set up by the automaker to restore vintage cars for customers. We’re guessing this particular car won’t be for sale, though.


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