Thursday 28 January 2016 was a sad day in motoring history as production of the iconic Land Rover Defender stopped. Why, we hear you cry? The answer is sadly because of modern emission regulations! Yes, the bureauocrats have won. The Defender couldn’t meet the world regulations on exhaust emissions and crash safety.
Tough and endurable the Defender has traversed some of the world’s harshest environments including Artic lands and deserts, fought in wars and been dropped from planes but it couldn’t survive the bureaorcrats. Farmers, the Army and even motor stars are die hard Defender fans. Bear Grylls said “The Defender really is part of British automotive history and for me it stands for that no nonsense practicality, that rugged reliability”. So true, but no more.
So to celebrate the Defender let’s delve into its history. In 1946 brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks came up with the shape of the car and had a vision that it would be the British version of the Willys Jeep, used by the US Army and would be useful for framers. Both brothers worked for the Rover car company, Maurice as chief engineer and Spencer as Managing Director so they certainly had the right experience to build the Land Rover. In 1947 the prototype for the Land Rover was unveiled; revealing a square upright shape in aluminium and with green paint. The car performed brilliantly in tests, no terrain was too difficult. Pretty soon Land Rover won a Royal Warrant and the Queen has used Land Rovers many times. The police, army and even football managers have all been seen in Land Rovers. The Defender is a movie star in its own right. In Skyfall the Defender was used in a car chase sequence in the opening scene. Defenders have also featured in Born Free and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
OK, so older Defenders had oil leakage issues and there is even an old joke that Defender owners would move their vehicle to ensure even application of oil on the ground. However, it is iconic and the fact that is beloved of farmers, movie stars and royalty over the years proves its enduring appeal. The fact that it can drive anywhere and doesn’t have fancy brand associations make it useful and totally accessible. What vehicle can claim to have been owned by the Queen, Winston Churchill, Jane Fonda, Steve McQueen, most armies and farmers? OK, the price tag is a good reason.
Before production ceased a new Defender rolled off the production line every four minutes. It didn’t provide the best modern driving experience. Although it had power steering the worm and roller mechanics created a wedge between the driver’s work on the steering wheel and what the vehicle actually did beneath the driver. Once you’d rounded a corner you still had to turn the steering lock back off. The basic gear change and heavy clutch pedal could leave you with aching thighs, awkward driving position and twist to open sunroof and other basic controls didn’t offer easy driving or modern creature comforts. However, for old school drivers who like to feel like they are actually driving and have to concentrate on it the Defender was a joy to drive. We will miss it! Goodbye Land Rover Defender!