Aussie Arthur Goddard, the first ever Land Rover engineer, has turned 100. To celebrate, LRM’s Jack Dobson takes him out to lunch in a very early Series I
The story of Arthur Goddard is a remarkable one. Arthur joined the Rover Company towards the end of the Second World War and was responsible for the design and launch of the first Land Rover. In 1957, Arthur left Rover to join Lucas Girling, where he played a leading role in developing the company’s disc brake system.
In 1970 he moved to Australia, and that was the last Land Rover enthusiasts heard of him until 2009, when he was famously rediscovered by a young Land Rover fan named Alex Massey. Alex shared the news with another Australian Land Rover historian, Michael Bishop, who wrote the now-famous book about Arthur entitled They Found Our Engineer. For those who want a shorter synopsis of the Arthur Goddard story see the April 2018 issue of LRM as Arthur is featured in the Land Rover Legends series.Fast forward to the January 31, 2021, exactly 100 years to the day that Arthur was born and I am sitting beside him while I drive a 1950 Series I. We are accompanied by Arthur’s son, Chris, as we head to a café in the suburbs of Brisbane for lunch and a chat.
How did all of this come about? A few weeks earlier I had received a call from Michael who told me that Arthur would be turning 100 at the end of the month and, like me, he too lives in Brisbane. Michael wanted to know if I would be interested in a meet up? Absolutely! Next, a call with Alex of CKD Shop (ckdshop.co.uk), who had a Land Rover of the right vintage I could use, although it had been sat in his dad’s garage for a while. I was afraid to ask how long, but with fresh fuel, a top-up of oil (quite a bit actually), we were in action and bowling along the Gateway Bridge, which skirts the eastern suburbs of Brisbane.Arthur is smiling, clearly pleased by the vehicle choice, and he recollects how smoothly the 80in moves through the gears. I share with him how much fun I had been having and how surprised I was by how well it keeps up with modern (albeit urban) traffic. I say to him that lots of older Land Rovers have been fitted with six-cylinder Holden engines to which he replies: “I bet they move quickly!”. Over lunch, with the Land Rover parked side-on to us, I ask what his thoughts are on the 80in wheelbase. With enthusiasm he responds: “They were certainly lacking in the space department – especially for soldiers sat in the back with all their gear!” He had been keen to expand the wheelbase and, of course, subsequently variants of the Series I included the 86in, 88in, 107in and 109in, which offered much more useful payloads – but do they look as well-proportioned as the 80in?
Arthur recounts some of the mechanical issues experienced during the development of the first protypes. Initially they used a Rover car differential on the front and rear axles. The differential proved unsuitable for the front because of the displacement of the gear oil. “After 30 minutes driving the front differential would seize solid and several of the testing engineers ended with bloodied noses from the subsequent abrupt halt. The issue was addressed by installing a Perspex window in the axle casing so we could understand what was going on.”With lunch over its time to take Arthur home, and although the offer of an air-conditioned ride is put forward, he is keen to get back into the Land Rover for the return leg.
The word legend is an often overused, but in the case of Arthur Goddard it’s wholly justified; for me it was an absolute honour to meet him and celebrate his incredible 100 not out.