August 19, 1904
Automotive and aeronautical engineer Maurice Wilks was born on Hayling Island, which is off the southern coast of England. Wilks worked for the British automobile manufacturer Hillman Motor Car Company from 1922 to 1926 and then spent two years in the United States at General Motors. He returned to Hillman in 1928 as a planning engineer.
Wilks was hired as chief engineer of another British automobile manufacturer, the Rover Company, in 1930. He and his brother Spencer, who became Rover’s managing director in 1934, did much to rejuvenate the struggling company through the production of exclusively high-quality luxury automobiles.
During World War II, Maurice Wilks took the lead at Rover in developing gas turbine aircraft engines pioneered by British Royal Air Force engineer air officer Frank Whittle for England’s fight against the Axis powers. Wilks became Rover’s technical director shortly after the war ended.
It was during that immediate post-war period that he and Spencer came up with the plans for an innovative vehicle still very much in demand today. Maurice Wilks regularly used a U.S.-built army surplus Willys Jeep for work on his farm on the island of Anglesey off the northwestern coast of Wales, and he and his brother were inspired to create a similar utility four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicle to be used by farmers. This vehicle, developed by Maurice Wilks and a design team at Rover, was introduced in 1948. It was named the Land Rover, and proved to be a huge and instant success – selling better than even the company’s luxury automobiles.
The Land Rover has been used extensively both off and on the road and not only by farmers, and ultimately shifted the company’s focus to producing light commercial vehicles. Wilks died at his farm in 1963 at the age of 59.
Photo Credit: Land Rover MENA (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)