The clock is ticking for a motoring icon. In January, the Land Rover Defender will come to the end of the road, in its current form at least. After 67 years, and two million sold globally, the car with the unmistakable silhouette, and known as the world’s most versatile vehicle, is going out of production.
The end has been coming for a while, first announced by Land Rover over two years ago, to the dismay of diehard enthusiasts who fear they will never see its like again. The Defender has ultimately been doomed by stricter EU safety regulations and tighter carbon emissions.
It is also scuppered by its slow decline in popularity. At its peak, Defenders were produced at Land Rover’s Lode Lane factory in Solihull at a rate of 1,250 a week, or some 50,000 a year. But last year production was down to just 14,000, although news of it stopping has this year caused something of a late surge in demand.
The Defender was famously created as a British answer to the American-made Willys Jeep, hundreds of which crossed the Atlantic with the US army during the last year. Many were left behind, prompting the idea that there might be a post-war demand for something similar, but home-bred.
It was in 1947 that Maurice Wilks, whose brother Spencer was then head of Rover, sketched on the wet sand of an Anglesey beach the outline of a vehicle he proposed they should make. This was the template for would become the first Land Rover, born a year later.
Over nearly seventy decades since then, the car that would later become known as the Land Rover Defender has undergone changes and updates, but it is still fundamentally the same. So much so, that the doors on today’s soon-to-cease current model are still interchangeable with those of a Series II model dating back to 1958.
It takes brawn
The car’s driving calibre has evolved, and over the years it has gained some comfort aids and also become a little less exhaustingly crude to handle, but not really that much. Its huge ground clearance means that it is still a mountainous heave up from the floor merely to get into the driving seat, and once there you need strong muscles and brawn to operates the pedals and haul on the steering.
The Defender is having a long goodbye. Earlier this year it celebrated its 2,000,000 production landmark, and also its 67th birthday. It was also honoured with a daily parade of some fifty vehicles around the historic Goodwood race circuit in West Sussex during the nostalgic Revival meeting last month.
For a car that was originally built with farmers in mind, and that became a darling of the Third World, the go-anywhere Defender has also enjoyed the bright lights. It has featured in Bond films and also in Tomb Raider ones, and even has royal approval – the Queen has long been a fan.
In homage to the very first Land Rover, registration HUE 166, Land Rover has produced a special commemorative Heritage edition of the current car, painted the same shade of pale Grasmere Green as the original. It wears 1948-2015 badges. Driving it is a time-warp experience, but there is nothing old-fashioned about the price, at nearly £31,000. That might be a good investment though, likely to go up in value when the Defender runs out of road.