It’s an overused phrase, but it will truly be the end of an era when the final Land Rover Defender rolls off the Solihull production line this Friday.
Production of the original Land Rover started 68 years ago. It was conceived by the Rover Company’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks, who thought he could come up with a better all-terrain utility vehicle than the thousands of army surplus Jeeps that were knocking around. He was right, and the Land Rover was an instant hit.
Some will tell you the Defender is more-or-less the same car as the original, but that’s not actually the case. Though it remains true to the spirit and engineering principles of that first Land Rover, the Defender is actually a very different machine. Still, it has been around in one form or another since 1983 (the Defender name was adopted in 1990) and emissions and safety legislation have finally caught up with it.
Land Rover originally planned to end Defender production in December 2015, but demand was so high that it was extended for another few weeks into January. It’s not just enthusiasts and collectors keen to snap up one of last Defenders, either. It’s understood utility companies have bought large numbers to stockpile, which should mean they have Defenders on tap for another 10 or 15 years at least. And tuning specialist Twisted bought 200, such is the demand for modified Defenders these days.
Land Rover is planning a replacement for the Defender, but exactly when it will be launched – and where it will be built – isn’t known yet. It’s thought the new car will use an aluminium monocoque chassis, rather than a separate steel chassis as on the outgoing Defender. Other than that, details are scarce.
Enthusiasts have voiced concerns that the new Defender might not be as capable off-road as the old car but Land Rover has sought to allay those fears, suggesting that with technologies like the brilliant Terrain Response system, it may actually be more capable. LR also points out that the Defender has always been about versatility first and foremost, both in terms of the places it can go and the uses it can be put to. Over the years, the various versions of the Land Rover have been put to – probably literally – every single use there is for a four-wheeled vehicle.
The Defender’s demise has been coming for over a decade. That it lasted as long as it has is a minor miracle. It’s going out with as much fanfare as possible; in the last 12 months, there have been three limited-run special editions, all of which sold out almost immediately; a factory tour that attracted 10,000 visitors; and production passed the 2 million mark. That 2,000,000th example was sold at auction last month for £400,000, making it the most valuable Land Rover in history.
We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds for the Land Rover Defender, but the important thing is it does have a future. It may be the end of an era, but it’s far from the end of the story.
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By Only Motors