On Friday 29th January 2016, the world’s longest-serving vehicle rolled off the production line at Solihull for the last time. The Land Rover Defender saw a continuous run of 67 years, with more than two million being made since its beginnings in 1948. It’s been over a year since the Defender ceased production due to stricter rules on new car emissions being put into full force in 2020, and we thought we’d take a look back at this extraordinary vehicle’s long and successful history.
The Land Rover was created in the shadow of World War II. Inspired by the American Jeeps that had flooded Europe during the war, the “Land Rover” launched in April 1948, and is now referred to as Series I. Using leftovers from the war, it was made from aluminium and came in various shades of military green, which gave it its iconic tough look. Designer Maurice Wilkes never intended it to be driven exclusively by men in uniform, which is why in its 66 years it has also become synonymous with farming, adventure, life-guarding, life-saving, rescuing and exploration. As British icons go, it’s up there with Paul McCartney and the NHS. It’s also been featured many times on the big screen, from James Bond to Tomb Raider, the Defender is epitome of adventure.
No vehicle has enjoyed a life as long, or full, as the Land Rover. The Citroen 2CV, born out of a similar imperative in the same year, ceased production in 1990. The original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle predated them both, but didn’t really hit its stride until 1945 and ended its production – on an entirely different continent from where it started – in 2003. Land Rovers have always been built in the same Solihull factory. Formerly a shadow factory producing the Rolls Royce V12 engine, the Defender building still has camouflage paint on the outside walls.
Of course, since its conception, the Land Rover Defender had evolved to become what it was in its final production. Where it once had two big flaps below the windscreen, air-conditioning had been put in. A windscreen that used to fold, but no longer did, still had two big billets holding it in place where the hinges once sat. Despite these developments, the Defender had to go, though not through lack of demand, with sales consistently at 18,000 a year. In truth, in a world of connected, hybrid cars in whatever shape or size you want them, the Defender just no longer fits.
However, the launch of the next generation of Defender is tipped for 2018, despite Land Rover struggling to find a viable way to ensure a profitable endeavour with the new Defender and making sure it delivers the same versatility as its predecessor. We can’t wait to see the reinvention of a British classic.