It is the end of the line for a piece of British motoring history as the last Land Rover Defender prepares to roll off the production line. National president Marcus Jones is an avid admirer of the vehicle that can be found all over the world and pays tribute to this legend of the road…countryside…desert…jungle…arctic!
There are not many icons that the whole world will recognise and also have a love affair with at the same time. My journey with this icon started over 15 years ago. I still have strong memories of watching the Saturday afternoon movie with my grandfather when I was a young lad and John Wayne would be using a MK1 in WW2 movies.
The Land Rover Defender, celebrated for 67 years, will see its journey come to an end this year.
Nothing is more British than the Land Rover Defender. Not warm beer, not even an understanding of cricket’s LBW rule or the baffling urge to have a lovely cup of hot, milky tea when the temperature is nudging 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Which is why the official retirement of this venerable, but much-loved, automotive fossil has practically triggered a bout of national mourning. So many orders have been placed for the last original Defenders that production, which was to end later this year, looks set to continue into 2016.
Working to the constraints of rationed metal, paint and fuel, Rover built the first prototype Land Rover in 1947. It was designed by Maurice and Spencer Wilks.
It used a Jeep chassis and a Rover P3 engine (ask your granddad), all of which was encased in hand-built aluminium panels. The colour? Green of course, but only because there was loads knocking about after the war.
Known as the Series I, it was the first incarnation of the silhouette we’ve come to know and love over the last seven decades.
Complete with power take-offs and four-wheel drive, the first production Land Rover hit the mud in 1948, and it was a winner from the off.
Full of patriotism, people bought them in their droves. Then they discovered they were rather good at traversing any landscape placed in front of them. That’s when Rover knew they were on to a winner.
In 1965 a more-powerful 67-hp 2.25-liter four-cylinder engine was introduced and it would power Land Rovers for the next two decades. Indeed, with shorter gearing, a louder engine, and mushier brakes, there’s little obvious change in dynamic progress.
The 1980 109-inch station wagon that Land Rover has provided has some non-metal interior surfaces and radical innovations such as column-mounted wiper and turn-signal stalks, plus a fully synchromesh four-speed manual transmission. The quality of the cabin plastics are as low as you would expect from a vehicle manufactured during the dark days of British Leyland, but despite being powered by the same 2.25-liter engine (now with 77 horsepower!) it felt considerably more modern to drive on-road.
Land Rover switched to a new, non-Series-based naming strategy in 1983 to mark the radical shift to an entirely new chassis with coil-sprung suspension components at each corner. Yes, the Series III successor is a Defender, but that designation came later, in 1990, not long before Land Rover tried another of its periodic relaunches in the States and the marketing department ordered names instead of numbers. Before then, the pre-Defender was just known by its wheelbases: 90, 110, and 130.
From Past to Present Day
And so to today…I am confident the three modern Defender Special Editions are faster and more agile compared to their predecessors. The steering is far tighter than in even the early Defenders, and the gruff-sounding Ford-sourced 2.2-liter turbo-diesel provides vastly more urge than even the V-8.
Three run-out models are being offered. The Heritage Edition plays most directly on the Land Rover’s long history, with a retro green-and-white paint scheme and Series-style front grille. The Autobiography gets two-tone paintwork, stitched-leather panels inside, and a modest power increase (from 120 horsepower to 148; zero to 60 mph is claimed to take “just” 12.7 seconds). Finally, there’s the Adventure Edition, with the radioactive orange of the car we drove channelling the spirit of the former Land Rover G4 endurance challenge. It’s the toughest looking, replete with a full off-road kit including sill guards and with an expedition-spec roof rack.
The basic Land Rover has long been one of the automotive cults the British seem particularly susceptible to falling under the influence of; each one is as proudly eccentric as any Caterham, Morgan, or TVR. If this Land Rover had evolved at anything beyond the very gradual rate it did then much of its charm likely would have been lost, an issue its lifestyle-focused successor will have to face head-on.
There’s a final twist to the tale. Although there’s no official confirmation will there be a new kid on the block supporting the D N A of a defender in 2018?