1948-58 Land Rover Series I 4×4 Review

Read our concise review of the 1948-58 Land Rover Series I 4x4...

1948-58 Land Rover Series I 4x4 Review

by Calum Brown |

Rover’s first major redesign of the original 80-inch Land Rover, the 86-inch was launched in mid-1953. The 86in and later 88in retained the simple, slab-sided look of the 80in but have more load carrying space and a less cramped driving position.

They’re great vehicles, but buying something this old needs a lot of care.

Rotten bulkheads, decaying chassis, expired engines and bodged repairs separate the project vehicles from the concours specimens, as restoration is expensive…

Everyday use: ★★★☆☆

Off-road ability: ★★★★☆

Spares: ★★★☆☆

Kit & accessories: ★★☆☆☆


Here are our top tips on things to consider when buying a Series I. Discuss prospective buys on our message boards and for the definitive view, get an LRO buying guide. See below for details.


Smoke. A puff of smoke on start up is common, but this should clear quickly. A constant stream of blue smoke might indicate worn valve stem seals.

Filler/breather caps. ‘Mayonnaise’ may either mean water in the oil, or the vehicle never gets up to working temperature and needs a good long run.

Rattling/tapping. The camshaft lobes and followers are prone to wear and become noisy. Most engines have a little but excessive noise needs attention. New parts are expensive.

Oil traces. Check the radiator for oil traces.

Petrol engines are a good design, well suited to the vehicle. Diesels are best left to experts. Both types may well be worn and rebuilds are expensive.


Shifting. Should be quiet and easy, not noisy and difficult. The louder/more difficult, the more worn.

Oil leaks. All old Land Rovers leak oil, but they don’t have to. Look at the ground where the Land Rover is usually parked to get an idea of how bad the leaks are. A drip is okay, a massive patch isn’t.

4WD. Make sure it engages and disengages correctly, both in high range and low range. Press the yellow knob down to engage 4WD High Range, then pull the red lever back to engage 4WD low range. This should cause the yellow knob to pop-up smartly. Drive on a loose surface in both modes to check drive works correctly.

Differentials. They shouldn’t whine, though they can often run like this for ages. A bit of kangarooing (on/offer on the accelerator in second gear) will show up excessive backlash in the diff slop in the drivetrain nicely, but be gentle.

Propshafts. Grasp each propshaft near the sliding joint and push/pull sideways, to reveal spline wear.


Free play. Steering shouldn’t feel woolly or stiff. While stationary, pull the steering wheel from side to side to reveal any free play. With so many links, it is going to be a lot more vague than a modern car. More than two-three inches of movement on the wheel is considered excessive.

The 88-inch model’s recirculating-ball steering box will hold your desired line quite well, while the 86-inch worm-and-nut unit needs constant corrections.

Chrome swivels. If they’re pitted and weeping oil, it’ll cost £500-plus for decent quality parts for a full rebuild.


Springs. Check for worn leaves at their ends. Rust bursting out between the leaves is not a good sign either. Check all the bushes for integrity.


Rot. The newest are nearly half a century old. There is going to be rust, the question is how much. A project vehicle must have a good chassis. If there’s a lot of repair work you can bet the un-repaired bits will be next to rot. New chassis are available through the Land Rover Series One Club.


Straight lines. It’s easy to see if the chassis or body is twisted by looking along the galvanised capping. Look along each side, if rear crossmember and bulkhead outriggers have been replaced and the bulkhead pillars have been mended, panel alignment could be wayward (and hard to sort). Alloy panels don’t rust like steel, but it still corrodes.

Rusty bulkheads. Check the top rail beneath the windscreen, the door pillars and especially the footwells – they aren’t always as simple to fix as people would have you believe.


A very simple system, but one that may have been bodged over the decades.


Maintenance. Mostly as basic as it gets but sometimes on ‘restorations’, not everything has been restored. Check everything carefully.


Though prices are up now, there were many years when you could buy a Series I for next to nothing. Enthusiasts would gather several non-runners and create one good vehicle. It was also common for a log book and build plate to be swapped from one vehicle to another. So buying a Series I is not like buying a newer vehicle – it’s no good worrying about paintwork or tyres if the vehicle you’re looking at isn’t ‘proper’. Anyone thinking of buying a Series I should take a look at direct.gov.uk/en/motoring (refer to the section ‘Registering A Radically Altered Vehicle’) which explains that your vehicle must retain a certain number of original components to keep its original identity. Legislation is likely to regulate this more closely in future.


Rover Co. build plate. Screwed to the driver’s side of the bulkhead just ahead of the high/low lever. The vehicles build number (chassis number) will be stamped here. This should match up with ‘VIN/chassis/frame no.’ on the vehicle’s V5C registration document. Some series Is have a number DIY-stamped on an odd bit of aluminium or brass – walk away!

Next, check the actual chassis, to see if the numbers tally. The number should be stamped on the right-hand front or left-hand rear spring shackle bracket (ie, part of the chassis).

Then check the main components, the engine number should match the number on the V5C document.



For detailed pricing info see the latest issue of Land Rover Owner International magazine



0-60mph: Best part of a minute, downhill

Top speed: 50mph, comfortably

Petrol engine: 1997cc, 52bhp at 4000rpm; 101lb ft at 1500rpm

Petrol fuel economy: about 23mpg

Rover diesel engine: 2052cc, 52bhp at 3500rpm, 87lb ft at 2000rpm

Diesel fuel economy: about 28mpg


APPROACH ANGLE: 59° (88in), 55° (86in)


RAMP BREAKOVER ANGLE: 142° (88in); 135° (86in)




LENGTH 86-inch: 3574mm (141in)

LENGTH 88-inch: 3624mm (143in)

WIDTH: 1590mm (62.6in)

HEIGHT: 1930mm (76in) to 2121mm (83.5in)

WHEELBASE: 2184mm (86in) to mid-1956, 2235mm (88in) after

WEIGHT Petrol: 1365kg (3009lb)

WEIGHT Diesel: 1375kg (3030lb)

LOAD SPACE: 1194mm x 1448mm (47in x 57in)

FUEL TANK: 54.5 litres (12 gallons)


VED: Historic vehicle, no charge.


NB: Some statistics were never published by Rover and have been measured or estimated.

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