ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST
Land Rovers and the Middle East go back a long way.
Imported into what were then the Trucial States, early Land Rovers were enthusiastically sought after by the royal households of the various emirates. The sheikhs particularly appreciated the Land Rover’s ability to reach every corner of their territory, even before there was ever a United Arab Emirates. Even Sharjah Airport may have had Land Rovers as early as 1948, while it was used as an RAF base.
In other areas of the Gulf, the Zayani family of Bahrain were importing Land Rovers as early as 1949, and Land Rovers were to become a staple of the Jordanian military machine.
Following the discovery of oil, much of the exploration for new deposits took place in remote locations, accessible only thanks to the unique abilities of Land Rovers.
In many ways, those early Series IIs and IIIs were instrumental in revealing the wealth of the region, and their contribution to its subsequent prosperity is perhaps one reason for their enduring popularity.
With oil came wealth, and the new economy created the ability to invest in roads and infrastructure. It was an important time for the Middle East, but also an important time for Land Rover. A new vehicle was being planned, and soon the luxurious new Range Rover arrived on the scene. Early 2-door versions were still sternly utilitarian in character, but more luxurious interpretations began to arrive, as did the more accessible 4-door version. The region had a new favourite.
In time, another new type of Land Rover entered the Middle East. Early pre-production prototypes of the Discovery were brought to the UAE for hot weather testing, and some of them never went back to Solihull.
Just as Land Rovers helped to define and develop the Middle East region, so the region has also helped to shape and refine the Discovery and subsequent generations of both Land Rover and Range Rover models, a fitting tribute to the marque.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, at the wheel of his converted Range Rover in 1976, inspecting equipment for off-shore oil exploration.
Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ra’s al-Khaimah, meeting with men of the Habus tribe during a journey into the mountains of his emirate in 1954.
Sharjah Airport was internationally important as a refuelling station en route to India and on to Australia. Land Rovers were used both on the airfield and off to ensure passengers reached their destinations. This image is from 1962.
The first prototype of the Series I was centre-steered like a tractor, but production versions were switched to right- or left-hand drive. Things have since moved on a bit.
Due to the post-war shortage of steel, aluminium was used for the bodywork, and the resulting low weight was a key element of the Land Rover’s off-road ability.
Back in 1949 distribution for the Gulf was introduced and coordinated via the Bahrain dealer, Al Zayani. The GCC region now has seven separate dealers to serve the sales network.