Snowy Land Rovers
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 17 October 1949, was a little over a year after the launch of the Land Rover.
The hydro-electric scheme was to be built in some of Australia’s most rugged and inaccessible country, where there were few rough tracks and even fewer made 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.
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.
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. Between 1950 and 1952 some 96 Land Rovers were in use on the Scheme.
Backbone of the Fleet
The vehicles were extremely successful and quickly became the backbone of the Snowy Mountains transport fleet, being used by every department, from engineers and hydrologists to the pay clerks and medical officers. 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.
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 (see next issue), another LNC company, to assemble CKD Land Rovers from late 1956 or early 1957.
By 1958, The Snowy maintained around 300 Land Rovers, representing by far the largest single make of vehicle on its nearly 1,000-vehicle fleet, most of which were locally assembled.
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 total number of Land Rovers operating in the Authority’s fleet at any one time was over 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” 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.
There were also a number of special purpose Land Rovers that were imported Completely Built Up (CBU) for use on The Snowy, and some that were locally modified by the SMA workshops in Cooma.
According to Land Rover enthusiast, researcher and former owner of the featured Firefly (previous story), Anthony Maeder; “In June 1950 a vehicle equipped with a Lincoln Arc Welding unit and DC generator was obtained, followed by a second unit in October and another in March 1953.”
In October 1948, according to James Taylor in Original Land Rover Series I, Land Rover had released a special Station Wagon model, with a coachbuilt aluminium over timber frame body by Tickford.
Rover felt that as its history lay with more luxuriously appointed executive cars, so too there would be a market for a similarly appointed luxury version of the Land Rover. However, the Tickford-bodied Station Wagon proved expensive and was discontinued in mid-1951, with only 651 sold.
However, three were bought for the SMA, primarily for the use of the Commissioner and visiting dignitaries, but occasionally by senior engineering or administration staff.
Around eight factory-built fire engines and five Firefly models, as described in the previous story, were also used between 1953 and 1989.
There was also at least one fire tender on a Land Rover tray-top utility, converted at the SMA workshops in Cooma.
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The BMC Experience Issue 17. Apr-Jun 2016 Magazine
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