An old Land Rover is still the best off-roader money can buy, believes James Ruppert.

Maurice Wilks, chief engineer for Rover, bought an ex-US Army four- wheel-drive Jeep for use on his estate in Anglesey in 1945. When asked by his brother Spencer, also a Rover director, what he would replace the Jeep with when it wore out, he replied: "Another Jeep."

In the "export or die" post-war climate of steel rationing, there was a world-wide need for farm machinery. The Wilks brothers realised that a Rover version of the Jeep could satisfy this demand and provide the company with much needed funds.

Born out of necessity the result was a vehicle with a corrosion-resistant aluminium body, supported by a simple chassis and powered by a gutsy engine. The first 25 Land Rovers rolled off the production line in late 1947. Fifty years later the company could not have strayed further from its utilitarian roots with the luxury specification Range Rover, urban estate car Discovery and recreational Freelander. However, an old Land Rover is still the best off roader that not too much money can buy.

Although the Land Rover story has been one of constant development, the Series 1 and 2 are too crude for most practical, non-farmyard purposes. Now regarded as classics, they are for die-hard enthusiasts only. Series 3s are the models that took Land Rover into the 20th century. A proper dashboard, decent heating and ventilation, even space for a radio. Mechanically, a synchromesh gearbox and heavy duty clutch made life easier and a galvanised chassis promised a long and useful life.

With the 90 and 110 in 1983 the most basic Land Rover got comfortable coil spring suspension, just like Range Rovers. The body also received the biggest revamp since the 1940s with reshaped windows, slatted grille and plastic wheelarch protectors, before a name change to Defender.

Appraising a Land Rover is not for the faint hearted. At the very least take an owner, or hire an expert to go with you. The other principle to grasp is that there is no such thing as a cheap Land Rover, only one that will cost a fortune to restore. A serviceable one is unlikely to drop below pounds 1,500, and realistically pounds 2,000 to pounds 3,000 is the ideal amount to pay at the lower end of the scale.

Because the Land Rover has been around since the beginning of time itself, there are thousands to choose from, but don't worry if you can't find exactly what you want. A good used Land Rover must have three things: a good gearbox, a sound chassis and minimal rust. The rest you can change.

But if you don't fancy hard work someone like Keith Gott will do it for you. He buys ex-MoD and public service Land Rovers, which have been maintained properly, then rebuilds them to your specification. Prices can start at pounds 3,000. You can also turn up good examples from the newspapers. I found a Series 3 petrol version with a full year's tax and MOT, rear seats and a very healthy sounding set of mechanicals for pounds 1,600. And I bet it will still be running as sweetly in 50 years.

Keith Gott 01420 544330. The Association of Rover Clubs - 0161 4568224.