15 November 2022
The evolution and expansion of the Land Rover club scene over the last 65 years is a fascinating story…
I've often thought that the Land Rover marque has more owners’ clubs than any other motor vehicle on the planet, and a recent conversation with Tony Hutchings led to a fascinating discussion about how it all began, the creation of the very first Land Rover clubs, and how things have evolved over the past 60 years and more.
Tony is a bit of a legend in old Land Rover circles. In 1976 he founded the Land Rover Register 1947-1951, which we think was the first model-specific Land Rover club. The Register was initially dedicated to researching the origins and development of the Jeep-based Centre Steer and the pre-production Land Rovers, but quickly embraced the early production 80-inch vehicles up to 1951, later changing its name to Land Rover Register 1948-1953 when it extended its focus to the year when production of the 80 ended.
Much was done in the early years of the register to raise awareness of the pre-production cars and many were identified and saved as a direct result. In 1983, Tony became the fourth chairman of the Association of Rover Clubs, a role he served for four years. He remains a keen enthusiast, but how he became a fan in the first place is worth re-telling.
1960s off-roading attire could be very stylish. Note the Regent Newcraft tyres which were very popular at the time
Tony’s initial exposure to Land Rovers was in the mid-1960s when he bought a Series II 88-inch. “I needed something that could tow my vintage cars,” he says, “so it was very much a tool and was excellent at what it did, but I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about it at first.
“When the time came to replace the Series II in 1970, I ordered a new long-wheelbase vehicle but was unimpressed when the dealer told me that what I’d be getting was a Series III which, according to the dealer, had trim that was more like a car. I made my views clear – it would be a Series II or nothing – and I was pleased to be told some months later that my Series II was ready, although for some reason I ended up with a six-cylinder engine rather than the more economical four-cylinder that I’d ordered.
“At one point I needed a new windscreen wiper and when I called my dealer I thought it was odd that he was asking me for the chassis number, which he said he needed because Land Rover used a variety of suppliers and he wanted to make sure he ordered the correct part. The big surprise came when I discovered that my Series II was actually a Series III chassis with a Series II body.
Factory-registered vehicle at an unknown event in the mid-1960s
“I knew that before the war it was fairly common for car manufacturers to use stocks of older parts when they introduced new models, but I was astounded to discover that Land Rover seemed to be doing the same thing in the 1970s.This triggered a heightened interest in Land Rovers, and I tried to find out more about them. Nowadays there is an amazing range of reference and history books available, so for the younger generation it’s hard to imagine that in 1970 there was not a single book dedicated to the Land Rover.
“The late Graham Robson wrote the first such book and it came out in 1976, the same year I launched the Land Rover Register and completed my restoration to concours condition of JRW 67, which was a pre-production Land Rover R29. It’s interesting to recall that in those days very few Land Rover enthusiasts were particularly interested in restoring vehicles to factory specification. The focus was on modifying your vehicle for off-road trials, expeditions or caravanning.
“There weren’t really any Land Rover shows back then, at least not as we know them today, so I and a couple of like-minded friends used to take our restored Series Is to vintage car shows where the organisers really didn’t know what to do with them, so they’d put them in the commercial vehicles category. There was always a lot of interest, and we even won a few awards. It amazes me how far things have moved on since the 1970s.’’
Tony Kempster of the Southern club was one of the leading triallers of his day. INSET: The first issue of the Review, published by Rover in September 1957
In fact, the dawn of the Land Rover club scene was 20 years earlier, in the mid-1950s, when a small group of Land Rover enthusiasts thought it would be a good idea if The Rover Company set up a club that was dedicated to Land Rover owners. Their suggestions were well-received, and the result was the founding of the Land Rover Owners’ Club Ltd which was owned by Rover and had its headquarters at the company’s Meteor Works in Solihull, nowadays more usually referred to as Lode Lane.
The club produced an excellent newsletter called Land Rover Owners’ Club Review and the first issue came out in September 1957. Initially there were three issues a year, but this later increased to four. Today, they are very collectable and a wonderful resource for researchers and historians. Within a few years the Review had grown into what was actually more like an embryonic Land Rover magazine, with news, new product information, travel features, stories about Land Rovers in use around the world, and adverts from all sorts of companies offering conversions and accessories.
The January 1967 edition, for example, ran to 24 pages and included ads from the likes of English Electric for its PTO-driven generating system that could power a mobile workshop, electric chainsaws, cutting discs, and communications and radar equipment; Bostrom for its fully adjustable shock-absorbing suspension seat; Fuller Lucas & Co Ltd for its capstan winch; and Aeon Products Ltd for its hollow rubber springs which were guaranteed to ‘Improve Your Performance’ if you fitted them instead of the standard rubber bump-stops. The main difference between the advertisers in the Review and those that you find in a magazine today, is that everything in the former had to be approved by Land Rover. It’s interesting to think about what might happen to the advertising content in the magazine you’re holding in your hand now, if every advertiser’s offering had to be approved by JLR…
The Land Rover Owners’ Club had also established a number of self-governing regional clubs, or ‘sectors’ as they were called, and the January 1967 issue of the Review included news from the Scottish, Northern, Midland, South Eastern, South Western, Overseas, Southern Africa and Australian clubs. Although these regional groups had a degree of independence, they all complied with the rules set down by the Rover-owned Land Rover Owners’ Club Ltd.
Brian Bashall trying to unravel the speedo cable which had wrapped itself around the handbrake drum on his trialler
It was around this time that the company decided to change the club structure to cater for the owners of Rover cars, and the various regional sectors were given autonomy and were required to become self-funding. They were also asked to rename themselves as Rover Owners’ Clubs and would become affiliated to a new governing body known as the Rover Owners’ Association (ROA), which continued to be owned and funded by the company. The quarterly newsletter was renamed Rover Review and was meant to address the interests of both Land Rover owners and Rover car owners.
I have a Range Rover Owner’s Pack in mint condition dating from 1975 that I bought at an autojumble years ago. It contains a form for the ROA which reads: ‘A Rover owner is no ordinary motorist. His approach to motoring is considered and selective; he is a man who wants something better, just as the man who buys a Land Rover or a Range Rover wants something more than an ordinary car. Both are connoisseurs, and between all connoisseurs there is a bond of common interest’.
I don’t take issue with being labelled a connoisseur for my interest in Land Rovers, but I’m not convinced there was ever much of a shared interest between Rover car owners and Land Rover or Range Rover owners, other than in the dreams of the company’s marketing people or its accountants, hoping to meet the demands for two clubs by spending money on one. As for the assumption that all the owners would be men, well, let’s just put that down to a sign of the times, shall we?
The LROC Pennine Trial, August 1965. The nearest vehicle was owned by Mike New and now resides in the Dunsfold Collection
The 1975 ROA Application Form also has a list of Member Clubs, and what’s interesting is how some had retained the Land Rover name – the Scottish Land Rover Owners’ Club, the Pennine, the Peak & Dukeries, the Staffordshire & Shropshire, the Breckland, the Welsh, the Land Rover Owners’ Club of Australia, the Land Rover Owners’ Club of Southern Africa – while some had chosen to become more generic and retitled themselves simply Rover Owners’ Club. These included the Midland, the Anglian, the Southern, the South Western, the North Eastern, the Yorkshire, the Wessex, the Lancashire & Cheshire, and the Rover Owner’s Association of North America.
In the late-1970s things changed again when the suits at British Leyland decided to withdraw from active involvement in the club scene, no doubt in a short-sighted effort to save a few pennies, and publication of Rover Review ceased soon afterwards. The clubs that had been affiliated to the ROA decided to create a new organisation, and that is how the Association of Rover Clubs Ltd (ARC) came into being.
Most of the Land Rover clubs that aligned themselves with the new ARC were regionally focused, as they had been since the mid-1950s when the Land Rover Owners’ Club was formed. But single-model clubs were already emerging, led by Tony Hutchings and the Land Rover Register 1947-1951 with its focus on the prototypes and the 80-inch production vehicles. This was followed by the Land Rover Series One Club in 1979, and many more would be created over the following years.
LROC North Wales Safari in the mid-1960s
In 2006 the ARC became the Association of Land Rover Clubs Ltd (ALRC) following the departure of the last Rover car club from the ARC, thereby perhaps confirming that the ‘bond of common interest’ between Rover car owners and Land Rover owners set out in 1967 by the people behind the Rover Owners’ Association was never as strong as they had hoped it would be.
The ALRC’s website lists its current member clubs as 29 UK regional Land Rover clubs, seven UK single-model clubs, and 14 overseas clubs from countries as far afield as Norway, Botswana, Brazil and Australia. Over 10,000 individual members are represented in the UK alone.
Meanwhile regional clubs, single-model clubs and even clubs that focus on models-within-models, continue to proliferate around the world. Nowadays, many exist primarily as informal communities of like-minded enthusiasts on social media – such as Facebook – who might come together a few times a year to attend events. Most of these groups don’t bother with membership fees, newsletters, magazines, elected officials or committee meetings.
I tried to see if I could come up with even the vaguest estimate of the number of Land Rover clubs around the world, but it’s such a difficult question even your favourite internet search engine will struggle with it. I’ve tried counting but gave up after an hour, and I’m not even going to hazard a guess. What we can say for certain is that it is a very different club scene to the one that Rover decided to involve itself in back in the 1950s, but it is a scene that is without doubt as vibrant and successful as ever.
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