The Probus Club of Stokesley and District
Minutes of the 334th meeting held at 10.00 in Stokesley Town Hall on Tuesday 18th August 2015
Speaker – Graeme Aldous – Stop Gap. History and Development of the Land Rover
Graeme’s talk was about the birth of the Land Rover and some of the myths and legends.
He is a freelance audio visual producer and a lifelong fan of the Land Rover.
Graeme introduced himself by reminding the audience that he had spoken on Nell, the
sheepdog in 2004 and he was pleased to be invited back. He gave a fascinating talk
illustrated with clips from a DVD he had produced. It was the story of the midwife of a legend
who has been living on the other side of the world for more than 40 years.
Maurice Wilks was chief engineer at Rover and after the end of the Second World War, he
had borrowed a jeep to use on his farm in Anglesey. He was very impressed with its
versatility. There was a severe shortage of steel at the time and the government allocated
the metal to car companies building vehicles which could be exported. Wilks and his brother,
Spencer saw the export potential for a vehicle similar to the jeep and gave it the name Land
Rover. Arthur Goddard was the development engineer. After the early success of the Land
Rover, he emigrated to Australia and set up his own business making trailer axles.
The Land Rover was a huge success, but in his absence on the other side of the world and
with the passage of time, Arthur’s name and contribution became almost forgotten. It was by
chance that a young Australian, Alex Massey, who had a passion for restoring early Land
Rovers, met Arthur outside his factory. Together with Mike Bishop, another Australian
enthusiast who was working for Land Rover, they rediscovered the only man alive who had
been involved in the development of the vehicle.
In 2010 when Arthur was in England on holiday, an event was put on by Land Rover and the
DVD showed him on a tour of the factory. We saw him being driven on roads around
Meriden where the original testing was done. We also saw a clip of an early Land Rover
being driven in water at Packington. At the MIRA testing ground near Nuneaton, a section of
road was constructed by Rover with the same characteristics as Belgian pave. This was
modelled on a section of road near Antwerp. This bone shaking surface was used in testing.
Arthur led a great team which developed the Land Rover from an idea to a vehicle on the
market in only 10 months. He was the driving force in making the thing work. On his return,
he was able to set the record straight over some of the myths which had grown over the
years. The original centre steer model was not designed to be like a tractor. It was an idea to
avoid having to build both left and right hand drive models. Aluminium was not obtained from
spare aircraft material and the green paint was ordered from Bergers and not army surplus.
It may have been called a Stop Gap, but the commitment made to the programme makes it
clear that this was a serious undertaking with the expectation of success.
The original Jeep was not intended to last, but the Land Rover had a strong chassis and
there is a continuing myth of the high percentage of all those built still running (70%, 90%?).
One of its advantages over other vehicles was that it could be easily repaired. It did not need
to go into a workshop as the Champ did. It did have quirks and weaknesses though, some of
which have endured for more than 60 years. They still leak oil and it is all too easy to bruise
an elbow on the door. Graeme told a story about having to drive one after the gear stick
broke – a not uncommon problem. He removed the floor and used a Mole wrench as a
temporary lever until he was able to weld a permanent replacement.
The Land Rover had power take-
remembered one being used to pull a plough at Tanton. Many Members had happy
memories of using the vehicle and shared stories of rusting chassis and oil leaks. The
Defender will end its life on 15th
December this year and its replacement will not have a
chassis. It will be like the Range Rover and the Discovery with a rigid body shell. It will no
longer be possible to remove the bodywork and drive the vehicle!