Land Rover is a luxury SUV manufacturer that has its roots in England. Many of its vehicles are replete with the sort of leather-lined comforts that call to mind hunting lodges and high tea. Land Rovers are also known for being stellar trail-busters, endowed with the moxie to get down and dirty when the road gets rough. Currently owned by Tata Motors, Land Rover is one of just a few automotive brands in the United States to solely market SUV products.
After World War II, two British brothers, Spencer and Maurice Wilks, were impressed by the rugged and versatile nature of the U.S. Army's Jeep. They worked with the British automaker Rover to create the first Land Rover in 1948. Called the Series I, this truck was equipped with permanent four-wheel-drive, a canvas roof and optional doors. These early Land Rovers were crude but extremely well-suited for operations in the field.
The 1950s saw Land Rovers moving toward increased power and refinement. Launched in 1958, the Series II offered added horsepower and a somewhat less rudimentary exterior, with sills designed to disguise the exhaust and chassis. The first diesel-powered Rover was also produced during these years. The Series IIA came next, in a production run that lasted from 1961-'71. As the '60s drew to a close, Rover was acquired by Leyland Motors Ltd. (which would later become British Leyland).
Land Rover's storied Range Rover made its debut in 1970. Equipped with a V8 engine and a body made mostly of aluminum, the stylish vehicle was more consumer-oriented than its predecessors. In the mid-'70s, British Leyland was nationalized; by the mid-'80s, the company — renamed the Rover Group — had been acquired by British Aerospace.
The automaker officially entered the U.S. automotive market in 1987 when the Range Rover made its debut on American shores. It was followed in 1989 by the Discovery, which was initially offered only in two-door form. The Discovery was the first all-new Land Rover in 19 years.
In the 1990s, the sudden popularity of the burgeoning SUV segment placed the brand in an enviable position. In response, Land Rover's vehicles, while still retaining their go-anywhere attitude, became more luxurious, particularly after BMW bought the company in 1995.
The Land Rover family of vehicles has continued to grow. The late '90s saw the introduction of the Freelander; the compact sport-ute held the distinction of being the first production vehicle to offer Hill Descent Control. The latter optimized maneuverability on steep descents by automatically braking to keep the vehicle's speed in check.
BMW's control was short lived, however, and in 2000 Land Rover was sold to Ford. Ford worked hard to improve the reliability of Land Rover's vehicles, but by 2008 Ford's financial instability resulted in Land Rover being sold again, this time to the Indian automaker Tata Motors.
Today, Land Rover is still well known for its luxury SUVs, including the ritzy yet rugged Range Rover as well as smaller and more affordable models like the LR4 and Evoque.