It was at the end of the war, when we still had directed labour. I was in my early 20s and I had been working for the Aero Engine research lab with Alvis, when a vacancy opened at Rover. I had the experience for the job, so they sent me there as assistant chief engineer. Once things had calmed down with the war and you could work where you chose, I had settled in at Rover, so I stayed.
What was the catalyst for the design?
The idea arose because of the number of second-hand Jeeps being sold around the world at the end of the war. My chief engineer had one and found it useful on his farm, and there was demand for a similar vehicle for the British army. So the idea came from him. I was brought onto the project later, and put in charge of design and manufacturing. I became the youngest engineer, by about 20 years, to be responsible for a complete vehicle.
Did you ever think the Land Rover would become the international icon it now is?
We were still manufacturing other cars, but yes, the development of the Land Rover was an effort to increase exports. We originally aimed for 200 a week, but before I left we were running over 1000 exports a week.
What’s your opinion of modern Land Rovers?
They make a whole range now, of course. They still manufacture the original one, but they also make ones for taking the kids to school in – we never thought anyone would buy a 4X4 to take kids to school in!
I visited the Land Rover factory in the UK last year and had a look at the new models. They showed me a design drawing of the original Land Rover I was responsible for, and the one from today. They laid one on top of the other, and there was very little difference – everything correlated; the steering wheel, the wheels. It had hardly changed at all, except that everything on the current model is modern, of course.
What about the new concept Defender?
I was impressed. It isn’t as crude as the vehicles I did, but we didn’t have the time or the presses they do now. We had to work with what was in the factory, which was why manufacturing and engineering worked so closely. We did, however, have a completed product within 12 months of concept – about two years faster than what they do today!
Is it true that the first Land Rover prototype was built on a WWII Jeep chassis?
No. We had two or three Jeeps that we took to pieces, but the Jeep was never designed for agricultural use. The Willys Jeep was purely a military vehicle. It had features we wanted, but it wasn’t complete.
What was the idea behind making the Land Rover body panels from aluminium rather than steel?
We used to call the Jeeps rust buckets. They rusted away until you could put your foot through the floor, so we learnt from Jeep’s mistake.
Today you work at the family business, Vehicle Components, in Brisbane. What does your work there involve?
I am responsible for the design of new products. I work about 30 hours a week, but nowadays it’s because I want to, not because I was directed to!
The full story of Arthur Goddard’s role in the conception of the original Land Rover can be read in They Found Our Engineer: The Story of Arthur Goddard by Michael Bishop. Available from Angus & Robertson for $43. Signed copies are also available from http://260ac.co.uk/.