Since the launch of the Series I in 1948, Land Rover has been there alongside the pioneering and visionary individuals who shaped the landscape of the Middle East. Today, however, Land Rover is no longer just for people who like sand inside their boots and prefer their coffee brewed over a campfire, with a mountain range or stunning vista as a backdrop. We take a look back at how this iconic British brand has evolved to become the preference for Royals around the Middle East, and how it spans across the wide ravine as the car of choice for everyone from NGOs and racehorse trainers to big name celebrities.
65 Years Of Land Rover
Born of the Sand: The Inspiring Journey of Land Rover in the Middle East
In the early days, Land Rover provided an essential mode of transport, connecting people and states when few roads existed. In fact, as the only vehicle that could handle the harsh environment, for many people a Land Rover was the first car they ever saw. Then, during the oil boom of the 1970s the company introduced the Range Rover, adding a touch of refinement and comfort. Since then, the Middle East has gone on to become home to some of the most sophisticated consumers in the world and some of the best loved brands have evolved in their offerings to keep delivering new and interesting products to this market. The latest, and perhaps the best, expression of the Land Rover evolution was unveiled at The Royal Ballet School in Richmond, London in September 2012 with the global reveal of the All-New Range Rover. Showcasing the brand’s luxury, design and performance all wrapped up in a lightweight package, this icon of luxury and refinement continues a tradition of building vehicles that truly ‘belong’ in the Middle East. In March of 2013, Land Rover claimed the spot light and revealed to the world its latest product, the All-New Range Rover Sport in a star studded event in Manhattan, New York. Showcasing the ultimate premium sports SUV, the All New Ranger Rover Sport is the fastest, most agile and responsive Land Rover ever produced.
The brand remains one of the world’s most instantly recognisable automotive offerings, with more and more customers and enthusiasts drawn to its outdoor, can-do attitude. Head off into the wilds, or any corner of the globe and you will find people, either for work or play, pushing their Land Rovers to the very limit of what a car can do. You’ll find Land Rovers and Range Rovers up to their axles in mud and snow. You’ll find them inching inexorably up improbable inclines, cresting dunes and fording rivers. Sometimes they are standard cars, sometimes they are heavily modified specials built by passionate owners.
An Icon is Born:
More than sixty-five years ago, in 1948, Rover’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks, was keen to build a light agricultural and utility vehicle to replace the old World War II Jeep that he used on his family farm. Rather than sketch out his idea on paper, the designer simply picked up a stick and drew his outline in the sand. Without realizing it, Wilks had created an unbroken line that would encircle the planet with go-anywhere cars that would break records, forge new paths and open up previously isolated communities. Had he known the enormity of what he had started, he would have probably kept the stick.
It is a little-known fact that Land Rover as a company has only existed since 1978, despite building cars since 1948.
By the end of the 1960s, parent company Rover was absorbed into the Rover-Triumph division of British Leyland, but the production and success of the Series vehicles continued unabated. Following the launch and subsequent popularity of the Range Rover, it was decided to create Land Rover as a brand in its own right and the legend that exists to this day was born.
The Land Rover brand would later pass through BMW and Ford ownership, and finally to Tata Motors, alongside sister company Jaguar. The move would bring the stability the brand needed to accompany its world-renowned product line and to introduce new models to the world of luxury 4x4s. Land Rover is now enjoying its best ever period in terms of sales, brand awareness and profitability, with more models and innovation in the pipeline, with the glitterati, sports heroes and luxury car enthusiasts all keen to get behind the wheel of every model.
“Everywhere I’ve been people just seem to love their Range Rovers. It is one of those few cars that seem able to become members of the family, rather than just a mode of transport. The enthusiasm for the brand and what it stands for just continues to grow at an incredible rate.” Mr. Land Rover Roger Crathorne, Engineer with the company since 1963
1959 – 2013: The Land Rover Challenge
Since its inception, Land Rover has been associated with exploration, adventure and going to far flung lands no-one had ever thought possible. Throughout its history, the brand has challenged, and conquered, much of the world’s toughest terrain.
In 1959 a small private group of adventurers set off with their Land Rover to cross the infamous Darién Gap in Panama, the last unpaved section of the Pan-American Highway. The 100-kilometre trip through dense jungle took them an incredible 136 days to complete.
In 1972 Land Rover arranged for a team to attempt to drive two Range Rovers from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina, via the Darién Gap. Both cars made it through in 100 days and shortly afterwards the group claimed to be the first vehicle-based expedition to traverse both American continents.
Less than a decade later in 1981, Land Rover sponsored the Camel Trophy. The off-road expedition has crossed a range of feared terrains over its twenty-year history, including Borneo, Madagascar, Siberia and the Amazon. Over the course of the these twenty years, the full Land Rover vehicle range has been used, including the Range Rover, Series III, Defender, Discovery (LR4) and Freelander (LR2). The Trophy and Land Rover have become intrinsically linked, with Land Rover releasing a number of special edition cars to celebrate the expedition. Decked out with all the equipment needed for the event, these sand-yellow cars are now much sought after by collectors.
Racing Range Rovers
For sixty-five years, Land Rover has been building vehicles renowned for their capability and versatility. From the first Classics of the 1970s, through the addition of extra legroom in the rear of the LSEs in 1992 and the launch of the second generation in 1994, the Range Rover name has stood for luxury and off-road capability, two rather unusual bedfellows.
By 1979, Range Rovers had found their way into all forms of off-road competitions and a Range Rover won the car category of the inaugural 1979 Paris-Dakar rally, with the vehicle featuring in almost every running since.
Privately entered Range Rovers have also featured prominently in various UAE Desert Challenges, and in 2011, Fady Melki drove a Range Rover during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Since the launch of the Series I in 1948 the Land Rover brand has proved popular with a vast array of owners. Although originally targeted at farmers; politicians, sportspeople, rappers and royalty have all been charmed by one of the few brands that remain true to its original off-road concept.
Notable Land Rover owners include the Pope, Sir Winston Churchill, HRH Queen Elizabeth, Mohammed Ali, Margaret Thatcher, Johnny Cash, Madonna, and of course H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, who took delivery of the world’s first All-New Range Rover late last year.
Land Rovers have not just been employed as the vehicle of choice for those in the spot light however. They’ve also been the stars themselves and have taken leading roles in many major film productions, driving the likes of James Bond, Lara Croft, Ethan Hunt, Judge Dredd and Charlie Croker from The Italian Job, to name but a few.
Land Rover in the Middle East
Land Rovers and the Middle East go back a long way. Imported into what were then the Trucial States, early Land Rovers were enthusiastically sought after by the royal households of the various emirates. The Sheikhs particularly appreciated the Land Rover’s ability to reach every corner of their territory and several were specially set up for the sport of falconry, whilst others were converted for desert hunting.
Even before there was ever a United Arab Emirates, it was Land Rovers that accompanied the British Coastal Force around the Trucial States, and served as support vehicles at Sharjah International Airport as early as 1948, when it served as a refuelling station en route to India and on to Australia. In fact, as the world developed over the second half of the twentieth century, Land Rovers were usually in the vanguard, forging new routes into undriven territory. In other areas of the Gulf, the Zayani family of Bahrain were importing Land Rovers as early as 1949, and Land Rovers were to become a staple of the Jordanian military machine.
Throughout the years, the region’s Sheikhs and rulers were swift to appreciate their Land Rover’s unprecedented ability to travel to any corner of their territory, no matter how remote and the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, owned several Land Rovers during his lifetime. It was also Land Rovers that helped to discover the oil wealth that underpins the region. Following the discovery of oil, much of the exploration for new deposits took place in remote locations, accessible only thanks to the unique abilities of Land Rovers. In many ways, those early Series IIs and IIIs were instrumental in revealing the wealth of the region, and their contribution to its subsequent prosperity is perhaps one reason for their enduring popularity.
Seismic surveyor Edward Cox vividly recalls travelling the length of the UAE, studying oil-bearing rock formations, venturing deep into the wadis, prospecting far into the desert in search of likely structures. Their surveying journeys took the team from Abu Dhabi inland to Liwa, all the way North to Umm al-Qaiwain and Ra’s al-Khaimah, across the Creek in Dubai and up into the mountains around Hatta. There was no part of the country they could not eventually reach, and the Land Rover wheels were often the first to make tracks in the sand in these places.
And where Land Rovers crossed deserts and reached villages once accessible only by camel, so came community and trade. With oil came wealth, and the new economy created the ability to invest in roads and infrastructure and tracks became roads and the nations of the Middle East grew in prosperity. It was an important time for the Middle East, but also an important time for Land Rover. Little wonder then that the region remains a favourite market for Land Rovers of all shades, from the simple workhorses to the most stylish urban SUVs and the most noble of all, the Range Rover.
There is a long and noble connection between Land Rovers and royalty. The late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum was often seen in a Land Rover as he toured the Emirates inspecting developments, and he later used Range Rovers for both government business and leisure purposes. Another ardent Royal patron is HRH Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Land Rover’s home. She owns a number of vehicles, including a specially-equipped 1954 Series I Land Rover. The rear section of the car was converted so the Queen and Prince Philip could stand and wave to crowds. It was painted in the official royal claret and finished with hand-painted red pinstripes. Many members of the Jordanian Royal family are also well-known Land Rover owners, along with many other regional leaders.
But it’s not only Royal Leaders who have a passion for Land Rovers; the popular UAE chapter of the Land Rover Owners Club has long served as a convergence of fans who meet, compete, share knowledge, parts, expertise and adventures in equal measure. The experience of owning and driving Land Rovers is a thread that unites many people around the world. Legend has it that more than half of all Land Rovers ever built are still being driven today. This is due to a unique combination of their inherent durability and the knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication of the owners themselves. If there is a more loyal and committed fan club, they are yet to be found. Certainly, Land Rover owners are a diverse group, from those who drive them purely for their utility, to those who treasure the image it conveys. Whether it is preserving the unique patina of an aged but still operating original Series I or Series II, or creating customised versions in carbon fibre and chrome, a unique passion for the brand unites them all.
In the Gulf, the UAE Land Rover Owners Club is very active with off-road trips, camping expeditions and journeys into the many mountain ranges around the region. To the club members their Land Rovers are more than just cars. For these people, their Land Rover is part of the family. One such Land Rover fanatic is Ahmad Bin Ghanim, whose passion for the brand was so strong that it led him to set up Classic Safaris, a tourism adventure company enabling visitors to experience the thrill of desert exploring in original Series Is.
Arif Al Yedaiwi is another Land Rover collector, whose late father inspired him to start his collection with a modern Defender 90 TD5. Spurred by happy childhood memories of his own family’s history with the brand, he has since added earlier classics to his growing collection of Land Rovers.
South-African born and raised, Mark Powell grew up with Land Rovers and the passion remains undiminished. In the UAE, he started competing in off-road races in a 110 pickup, and then bought an ex-Camel Trophy car.
Despite association with sand, mud and dust, Land Rover has always been intrinsically linked with luxury. This association has served the brand well and created links with many other luxurious brands and events where the company is the official car. Across the Middle East, Range Rover has a long history of supporting glamorous, high-end events, cementing its place as 4×4 brand of choice for the well-heeled. Land Rover has in particular strong links with all things equestrian, including prestigious polo tournaments and internationally renowned horse races such as the world’s richest horse race, The Dubai World Cup.
Taming the Sands
Although many of the Land Rovers seen on the roads of the Middle East spend most of their time in the city, Land Rover has always been about getting off the beaten track. In keeping with the company’s focus on pushing the boundaries, Land Rover has consistently headed off into the wilds of the region to explore new ground and support worthy initiatives.
In 2009, in typical Land Rover style, the company used a fleet of Range Rovers to cross the Wahiba Sands, a huge unending line of dunes in Oman. Despite the challenging dunes, Land Rover provided ‘5-star’ luxury tents for the guests, who all made it back to Oman’s capital, Muscat, despite the cars running on completely standard road tyres throughout the 520-kilometre trek. The Wahiba Sands stretches across the centre of Oman and features huge, towering sand dunes, some larger than buildings.
Land Rover Dealer Network
Despite being conceived on a beach in North Wales, over the last six decades Land Rover has grown into a truly global automotive company. As the brand has spread across the world, more and more owners have been able to enjoy their cars with the backing of a full dealer network and today, Land Rover has a presence in 177 markets across the world and, amazingly, over 80% of the company’s production is now exported out of the UK.
With the global shift to growing markets like MENA, Russia and China, the company’s geographical spread is constantly evolving. For example, MENA is now the seventh largest market in the world for Land Rover products, thanks to their ability to deal with the most challenging weather and road conditions. Land Rover recently enhanced their Middle East hot weather test programme with a new 1.5 Million dollar engineering centre in Dubai. The centre joins it’s four other global extreme weather vehicle test facilities located in Germany, Sweden, Phoenix and International Falls in the USA.
With its regional headquarters in Dubai, Land Rover has a presence right across the Middle East and North Africa.
Its network of thirty-one independent dealerships stretches from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the East, and from Sudan in the South to Azerbaijan in the north. In total, the MENAP dealer network covers eighteen countries with a wide variety of climates and terrain, from rocky mountain paths, towering sand dunes and green farmland, making it one of the world’s most testing environments for an automobile. Not only does this mean that you can order and receive the latest Land Rover almost anywhere in the world, but perhaps more importantly, no matter where life takes you, there will always be a Land Rover enthusiast with the parts, the equipment and the expertise to meet your needs.
Evolution and Revolution
Land Rover today is perhaps in a better position than it has ever been – backed by enormous resources, staffed by visionaries, proud of its uniquely skilled workforce, and with a world-beating product for every requirement. No one knows what the next sixty-five years will bring, but few brands can look forward to them with such eager anticipation and sense of optimism than Land Rover. And that, perhaps, highlights the secret of the brand’s success.
Robin Colgan, Managing Director for Land Rover in the MENA region, reflects on the success of the brand, saying; “The Land Rover came along with industrialists and early pioneers who came to the Gulf to help forward-thinking rulers build incredible cities and towering skyscrapers. Today, Land Rover owners and enthusiasts in the Middle East hold the brand true to the original ethos set out by the company’s design pioneers more than sixty-five years ago. And it is our ambition and objective as a brand, to keep pace and even surpass their expectations for the next 65 years.”
Timeline to Success by Car Model:
1948: Land Rover Series I
Production of the first Land Rover, Series I, started in 1948 in the UK and early cars were only available in army surplus green, painting an ongoing link to the military that continues to this day. The first cars came with a small 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, producing just 50 bhp and hitting a maximum speed of 48 km/h on the road. Over time the size and capability would evolve as customers demanded better performance both on-road and off-road.
1956: Land Rover Series II
In 1956 a popular 5-door version of the Land Rover became available with a choice of pickup back, wagon and van side models, bringing versatility to the Series I. Even the front radiator grille could be removed and used for cooking food over an open fire, before being refitted. The car’s occupants would then enjoy the smell of their food returning through the cabin as they drove along! The fact that everything on the original Land Rover can be easily removed with a simple toolkit made it perfect for exploring far from civilisation.
1970: Range Rover
Launched in June 1970, the Range Rover quickly became known as a design classic and a true go-anywhere vehicle. Early cars were designed to give farmers and outdoor workers a higher level of comfort than the then Series II Land Rover, but still retaining that rugged approach the brand had become famous for.
1981: Two Becomes Four
The first Range Rovers came with just two doors and the 4-door version would not be seen for another eleven years, turning up in 1981 and making the popular Range Rover even more practical.
1990: Land Rover DEFENDER
Ironically, it was the launch of the all-new Discovery in 1990 that lead to the creation of the name Defender, because the Land Rover 90 and 110 now needed a name to match. Though outwardly similar to the Series III it replaced, the original 110 was a significantly more modern vehicle. And so the 110 became the Defender. Along with the new name came a series of new engines, the 200Tdi, 300Tdi, and in 1998 the highly popular 2.5-litre five cylinder Td5. A full range of body styles were offered, including special extended-chassis 6-wheelers for military use and heavy loads. The 2012 Defender Special Edition may be its finest expression yet. Land Rover debuted the potential Defender of the future at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011: the Land Rover DC100 concept vehicle. This was joined by a surprise partner, the DC100 Sport concept.
1997: Freelander 2 / LR2 –
In 1997 Rover Group made the bold decision to enter the burgeoning compact SUV market with a new, small Land Rover. The new small Land Rover quickly became Europe’s bestselling small 4-wheel drive off-roader. Freelander also established the now familiar range of trim and specifications, being offered in S, SE, HSE, Sport and Sport Plus variants.
In 2006, a MK 2 version of the Freelander was introduced. Badged as an LR2 across the Gulf and in the United States, the car was powered by a 3.2-litre in-line six-cylinder engine, whereas the UK and Europe favoured a 2.2-litre diesel. The Freelander/LR2 offered many pioneering technologies, including Hill Descent Control.
When Land Rover set out to create a more accessible mid-size SUV, they did the eminently practical thing, keeping most of the Range Rover’s chassis and running gear, but designing a new body to go on top. That was in 1989, and the resulting Discovery was an immediate and resounding success. With its Conran-designed interior, it quickly became a favourite with the British public, and even won fans in the Royal family. Nearly a quarter of a century and four generations later, the LR4 continues as a backbone of the Land Rover range, and the millionth example of the car was driven off the Solihull assembly line in March 2012.
2002: Range Rover Facelift
The Range Rover underwent a major change in 2002, when under BMW ownership the third generation was launched. The car set the Range Rover as the benchmark for luxury SUV ownership.
2005: Range Rover Sport
When Land Rover developed their new integrated bodyframe, semi-monocoque chassis for the next generation, the results were so good the system was adapted for the new Range Rover Sport, launched a year later in 2005. In fact, the Sport is smaller in every dimension than the LR4 and brings a uniquely dynamic and nimble performance experience to the range. A range of engines have been fitted to the Range Rover Sport, including turbo-diesel V6s for the European market, but the ultimate expression is the supercharged V8. All variants have Land Rover’s patented Terrain Response system as standard, delivering a superb ride both on- and off-road.
2011: Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque is the smallest, lightest and most fuel-efficient vehicle Land Rover has ever produced. Since its launch in 2011, the Range Rover Evoque has won a raft of awards, and more than 100,000 cars have been sold around the world. Compact, modern and stylish, the urban-inspired Range Rover Evoque has confounded critics with the depth of its off-road abilities. The Range Rover Evoque is equipped with the latest version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, and is offered in both 3-door and 5-door body styles. Compact perhaps, but a true Range Rover at heart.
2012: All-New Range Rover
Though forty years separate the original Range Rover and this latest version, the lineage is direct and unmistakable.
More than four decades later, you can still clearly see the famous DNA in the All-New Range Rover, now a global status symbol, as fast on the road as a high performance sports car. Billed as the world’s most refined and capable luxury SUV, the All-New Range Rover is an achievement of epic proportion. In one move, the world’s favourite 4×4 brand took a quantum leap forward in design, engineering and performance. The new car is 420 kg lighter than the outgoing model; that’s more than the weight of a Harley Davidson Road King or an average racehorse!
2013: All-New Range Rover Sport
Developed alongside the highly-acclaimed All-New Range Rover, the All-New Range Rover Sport now delivers the brand’s best-ever on-road dynamics together with class-leading, genuine Land Rover all-terrain capability. The new, technology-packed, Range Rover Sport, presents customers with a more assertive and muscular exterior, more luxurious interior and the flexibility provided by the option of occasional 5+2 seating.
Exploiting Land Rover’s breakthrough lightweight suspension design and innovative dynamic chassis technologies, the Sport’s all-new, first-in-class aluminium architecture achieves a weight saving of up to 420kg*. This transforms the vehicle’s dynamic performance, enabling it to blend agile handling with exceptional comfort, offering a unique mix of sporting luxury and a dynamic, connected driving experience. This helps the V8 Supercharged vehicle to be propelled from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds.