31 March 2023

Land Rover mania about to descend on Cooma

| Gail Eastaway
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Land Rovers

Organisers of the Land Rover 75th anniversary celebrations in Cooma on Easter Sunday are hoping to set a record for the street procession. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

Cooma is getting set to welcome thousands of Land Rover fanatics over the Easter weekend.

This will be the vehicle’s 75th anniversary and a repeat performance for Cooma which hosted the 60th and 70th anniversaries.

Five years ago, the street procession highlighted more than 700 vehicles, from all eras and all designs. This year, organisers are hoping to set a record.

The celebrations will begin on Thursday 6 April and run until Monday 10 April. The weekend’s events will include club day trips, as well as the 75th Special Land Rover Mystery drive.

There will be a display of the vehicles at Cooma Showground on Saturday and Sunday, the street procession on Sunday and a farewell breakfast on Monday.

Land Rover 75th Cooma sets out to showcase the best examples of the Land Rover in all its guises, from renovated to restored, rare conversions, military derivatives, bespoke conversions and much more.

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The star of the show will be Oxford, the Series 1 Land Rover from the first Overland Expedition in 1955, which will be on the Classic Land Rover stand along with many other unique Land Rovers from around Australia and the world.

Special guests this year include Mike Bishop from Jaguar Land Rover Classic UK, Nick Dimbleby, worldwide motor sport photojournalist and Bob Ives, winner of the 1989 Camel Trophy Amazon Jungle event for the UK.

Two gala dinners will be held on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Bookings are essential.

So why is Cooma the home of Land Rover’s Australian celebrations?

If one car can claim to have tamed and opened up The Snowy Mountains, it is the Land Rover. It was good timing that the launch of Australia’s largest ever engineering project, at the alpine township of Adaminaby on a cold and windy morning on October 17, 1949, was a little over a year after the launch of the Land Rover.

In 1953 alone a further 132 Land Rovers were purchased, according to the sales records of Grenville Motors, which thankfully have survived. Grenville Motors, a division of Larke, Neave & Carter, was the NSW master distributor for Rover cars, and supplied all the Land Rovers to the SMA, through their entire time on the scheme.

The hydro-electric scheme was built in some of Australia’s most rugged and inaccessible country, where there were few rough tracks and even fewer roads.

The first surveys were carried out on horseback, but the sheer distances involved meant motorised transport would be required as soon as possible.

Initially, the SMA used war surplus Willys Jeeps which, although capable and able to meet many of the requirements, were found to be fragile in the extreme conditions of the Snowy Mountains.

Many Land Rovers were assembled or partly assembled by Grenville Motors, from completely knocked down (CKD) kits, as well as other interstate master distributors, but as build quality varied from state to state, Rover (UK) contracted Pressed Metal Corporation, another LNC company, to assemble CKD Land Rovers from late 1956 or early 1957.

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By 1958, The Snowy maintained around 300 Land Rovers, representing by far the largest single make of vehicle on its nearly 1000-vehicle fleet, most of which were locally assembled.

The first Land Rovers arrived in the Cooma area, supplied via the local dealership P.D. Murphy to a couple of farmers, in early 1949. Not surprisingly, Bill Hudson, the SMA commissioner, got to know some of these farmers, who bestowed the virtues of the Land Rover to him. Hudson ordered an immediate trial of the Land Rover for Snowy surveyors and engineers.

Bert Knowles worked on The Snowy as officer-in-charge of the main workshops in Cooma. Writing in Noel Gough’s tome, Mud, Sweat and Snow, Knowles, who had worked in Rover’s Experimental Department during the development of the Land Rover, said: “The total number of Land Rovers purchased by the authority from November 1949 to December 1966 was 715 vehicles.

“The first three of these arrived in The Snowy on 16 November – only one month after the scheme’s official start – and were allocated to surveyors.

“The total number of Land Rovers operating in the authority’s fleet at any one time was more than 300, which by any standard is large and they certainly played a very important part in the development and construction of the Snowy Mountains scheme.”

Originally, all were 80-inch basic versions with full-length canvas hoods, but as longer wheelbase versions and metal hard-top canopies became available a wide range of models was bought.

Information from the BMC Experience Magazine Issue 17.

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