Long before it was turned into a model name, the thrill of discovery had become a fundamental piece of the Land Rover story; if it was on this planet, you could probably get there in one of these. And while the English 4x4s have enjoyed a renaissance of popularity from the hip crowd as of late, for every pristine one parked in a spotless garage there’s an old workhorse being chucked through the mud, used as intended. Basem Wasef falls into the latter camp; his 1963 Series IIA cleans up quite nicely, but it looks much better fording than it does parked and polished.
As an automotive journalist, he’s used to getting used to new experiences in the front seat of different vehicles, but his work primarily revolves around the top rung of modern performance cars of which this 4×4 is emphatically not a part. He says you need a hill and a hurricane to get it over 60, but there’s a reason so many people pledge allegiance to Land Rover and it isn’t pace. You can outfit your new one with hundreds of pounds of seat massagers and multimedia kit, but the off-road capabilities are still there, still underpinning what the early ones did best: get you there. The first “Series” models were produced after the war in 1948, and their use of lightweight and rust-resistant aluminum (which was now in abundance) coupled with a simple design devoid of frill and full of rugged function meant that these machines were largely unchanged over the course of their production run, which finally came to an end in 1985. It wasn’t out of stagnation or laziness though, the Land Rover was just so pure and optimized from the start that it just didn’t need fixin’—in other words, it ain’t broke.
Even today the basic box shape full of right angles and rigidly straight lines leaves you wondering what the point of anything else might be. That’s the power of a Series Land Rover. They make anything that isn’t totally necessary seem totally frivolous. The Humvee is more capable, an AMG-ified G-Wagen is many multiples faster, but neither can offer the feeling of being in a Land Rover.
“It’s all noise, vibration, harshness—all the things that engineers usually try to weed out—but that gives it an element of mechanical honesty, and that’s what I really respond to with this vehicle.”
To get it across a trail or through a river without getting stuck or stalled or turned over the driver needs to be an active participant in its operation rather than just a warm body to fill the seat. When handling a Land Rover from this era on the street or trying to get the most out of its off-roading capabilities away off of it, there’s no choice but to become a piece of the process: the steering ratio is a wide one, and so lots of effort is needed to saw the large-diameter wheel back and forth in search of the correct vector; the brakes are drums on all four corners and as such require more thoughtfulness and planning than the relying on the abrupt saves made possible with modern discs; the gearbox is not a synchromesh unit, and the additional clutch work will be sure to give your left leg some exercise. You’re involved, not merely a passenger pushing a few pedals every now and then.
The Series Land Rovers were the result of simple, effective designs that weren’t really austere as they were just devoid of parts not serving the essential function. The ultimate in bare-bones utility and purpose. Beyond the ability to heave itself over and through just about any terrain that isn’t an ocean, you can also do almost any required work to the Landy with just a handful of basic tools.
We’ll be the last ones to call fast and pretty cars pointless, but when it comes to classic examples of purity not can follow the Land Rover.