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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-offs in the front, rear and in the centre. A Member

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!