Much debate rages about Huey's provenance. Some claim it's the first 'production' car built after an initial batch of 48 prototypes, but Land Rover's technical communications manager, Roger Crathorne, is adamant. "Huey is the first of the prototypes, no doubt," he says. "The chassis number is LR1 and the comprehensive records we hold tell the whole story. HUE 166 first rolled out of the factory on March 11, 1948." Roger joined Land Rover as an engineer in 1963 and has never left, so if anyone should know...
Production commenced in June 1948, with Rover still viewing the model (costing 450 pounds Sterling) as nothing but a short-term fix. Eighty-five-year-old Bert Gosling was there right at the beginning and remembers the early days with great fondness: "The only tools we had were those on the shop floor; hammers, saws, simple folding presses. The designs were all sketched on scraps of paper-they didn't even have measurements on them and we were told to make what we could, but without press tools. We made them up as we went along and none of those first cars were identical."
Ironically, given that the Land Rover was born from a desire to secure supplies of steel, the car was (and still is) mostly made from aluminum, a metal in bountiful supply thanks to its use in aircraft manufacture during the war. The Land Rover's bulkhead was made from steel for strength, as was its chassis, but the rest was aluminum alloy-no doubt the reason for so many old Land Rovers surviving to this day.
Within a month of building the vehicles for paying customers, it was obvious Rover had a major hit on its hands. Production was ramped up from 100 vehicles a week to 500. Since then, almost two million of these 'stopgap' models have been built and sold, with an estimated 65 percent of all examples still in use.
The reason for its success, reckons Crathorne, is obvious: "A Land Rover, unlike any other vehicle, gives its occupants a sense of adventure. You really do feel as though you could go anywhere. It's a classless vehicle too... equally at home in the urban jungle or in the wilds of Borneo. Land Rovers give their occupants an enormous sense of well-being."
Another reason for Land Rover's success is that while the brand has diversified with a range of vehicles that spans from the humble Defender and Freelander to the ubiquitous Discovery and the mighty, SUV-inventing Range Rover, none have ever been compromised when it comes to off-road ability-something that cannot be said for their rivals.
And here with Huey, on this sodden, hallowed ground, we have a brand-new supercharged Range Rover V8. Loaded to the gunnels with every refinement and luxury imaginable, it's like a Bentley you can drive through fields and rivers, over mountains, anywhere. It shows how far Land Rover has been able to evolve that original idea. When I write that the Range Rover invented the SUV, I wasn't exaggerating: it was the first vehicle to combine comfort with proper off-road ability and it still reigns supreme 38 years after the first one emerged.