What's the Story?
The Rover company’s idea for a Forward Control Land Rover must have seemed a stroke of genius at the time. Buyers were happy with their standard utility models, except for just one thing – not big enough, not enough payload. Weight limits printed in the handbook were simply ignored, as users crammed the back of their Land Rovers – piling things up and lashing them in place until no more would fit. Then they drove their Land Rovers over some of the world’s worst terrain until halfshafts broke, bearings disintegrated and axle casings bent. And then they complained. It was a perennial problem – the short wheelbase was expanded from 80 to 86 then 88 inches, and the first long-wheelbase 107-inch grew to 109, requiring beefed-up suspension and axle components along the way due to endless user overloading.
Australian users fitted their own ‘traybacks’, to carry yet more stuff. What some buyers wanted was a small 4x4 lorry. And in 1962, that’s what they got: the Land Rover Forward Control. Problem solved?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Due to the Rover Co’s insistence on using standard components, the Forward Control IIA’s narrow track and high load-bed gave predictable results – it fell over sideways. Even when upright, the 2.25-litre petrol engine (standard for UK models) was desperately underpowered. Unsurprisingly, it got a bad reputation and few were sold.
In 1966 the company tried again with the Forward Control IIB – wider track, anti-roll bar, 2.6-litre engine as standard. A much better proposition – but the earlier model’s reputation still put a downer on sales. So, the Forward Control was never a common sight. That’s a pity, because for some jobs it’s ideal.
That’s exactly what Fred Walker thought, when he heard of a FC for sale: ‘I’d just always wanted one.’ And he picked well when he bought this vehicle. Its build date is 1970, but apparently it sat in a GPO warehouse for the first three years of its life, finally hitting the road in 1973 complete with Luton back body and bright yellow paint job.
Eventually sold off, it received a standard FC dropside rear body and the paint was returned to grey, as the vehicle passed through Dunsfold DLR and into enthusiast hands. When it turned up on Dunsfold’s website again, this may well have been the best surviving example of a Forward Control – just needing a little work to make perfect.
Our Favourite Bit?
Fred hasn’t skimped. ‘I’ve spent about £2000 on it,’ he tells us. ‘The big job was a rear crossmember. I decided to send it back to Dunsfold. The crossmember was made by Richards and there was a three-month wait, but with a vehicle like this it’s better to do the job properly. Then, the signwriting – it’s properly painted on, not stick-on lettering.’
That new crossmember was necessary, because if you’re dumping a load of weight into an FC’s load-bed you don’t want to be worrying about the rear of the chassis collapsing. This is one of the nicest Forward Controls around. It boasts the upmarket DeLuxe Cab trim – door cards, engine cover and much else are covered with very-1970 black vinyl. Everything is still in great condition.
And there’s fuel consumption: it’s got the Rover six-cylinder 2.6-litre petrol engine. I’ve never bothered to calculate miles per gallon; I don’t think it’s a figure I’d like to know.
And the Verdict form LRO?
If you’re old enough to remember back to the Sixties – how many did you see then, signwritten or not? That makes the Forward Control better than an advertising hoarding and more effective than a business card. Customers can’t help but look – and once seen, never forgotten.
Driving along, there’s time to admire everything. Rover’s six-cylinder engine is essentially the same unit used in its upmarket saloon car range, so you’d expect smoothness – even so, between the seats and with engine cover off, you’d expect it to be noisy. Not so: just mechanical sweetness.
The cab interior is great too, despite all that Seventies blackness – the trim looks smart and workmanlike, and keeps down noise levels. All in all, we can't help but fall in love with it. Ten out of ten!
This feature appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.