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Anyone who's seen old movies that take place within the depths of the African jungle or across the barren Sahara desert has probably seen an early Land Rover in action. Stark and strictly down-to-business in appearance, those first Land Rovers served as the grandfather of the modern four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle, which became so popular in the 1980s and beyond.
Land Rovers appeared in countless films, breezing their way through the most forbidding terrain, spare tire mounted atop the hood, headlamps peering out from behind a mesh screen. Headlamps became exposed before long, and the hood-mounted spare tire faded away; but the angular and upright Land Rover otherwise continued in its original form for several decades. Along the way, the British automaker also moved upscale with a batch of posher models, some nearly as capable as that earnest original.
Only a few years after World War II, the Rover company in Britain introduced a response to the American Jeep, which had served so valiantly in the military and become a lasting icon. In 1948, the first Land Rover debuted with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which grew twice in size over the next decade. Six-cylinder engines became available in 1967. Eventually, diesel engines and even a V-8 became available. But by 1974, original-style Land Rovers were no longer exported to the U.S.
Land Rovers became available in other configurations: pickup truck, van, station wagon; and wearing special custom bodies. All along, Land Rovers have been used by the British Army, as well as by local fire departments. Of course, they've also carried plenty of visitors on jungle safaris and jungle tours.
That original Land Rover was clearly a practical workhorse with an unadorned appearance. To attract customers who weren't so enthralled by that picture, Land Rover introduced a far more upscale Range Rover model during 1970. Though the Range Rover was developed as a passenger car, not a truck, it could handle off-road treks nearly as well as the original Land Rover.
Borrowed from British Rover sedans, the Range Rover's initial V-8 engine was actually adapted from a General Motors design, which had powered compact models in the early 1960s. By 1987, Range Rovers were able to meet U.S. specifications, and could be sold in the American market.
Land Rover's limited-production Defender 110, offered only in 1993 and descended from the original, remains a favorite of hardcore four-wheel-driving enthusiasts. A different Defender, with a convertible body, continued into 1997.
A conventional midsize Discovery model emerged for 1994, going through two generations before it was replaced by an bigger, heavier LR3 in 2005. For 2002, Land Rover launched its first compact SUV, the Freelander, destined to serve for four seasons. Redesigned in 2003 for only the third time in 32 years, the already-posh Range Rover grew longer, taller, and narrower, and used a stiffer body with an integrated chassis. Supercharged engines have been available in the Range Rover since 2006, and in the smaller Range Rover Sport that appeared that year. Both Range Rovers were redesigned for 2010.
Meanwhile, a compact LR2 debuted for 2008, with standard all-wheel drive but no low-range gearing. Two years later an LR4 replaced the LR3, to serve as the seven-passenger model. Latest entrant is the Evoque, the smallest family member, introduced as a 2012 model with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive.
Riders in early Land Rover products might have complained about the ride, but modern-day versions are considerably more genteel, if no less capable. Stripped-down or plush, most Land Rover vehicles easily instill desire in sport-minded people to embark upon some off-road treks-though many owners never venture into any jungle other than the urban variety.