End of an Era (almost): Land Rover Defender

The Land Rover Defender is a classic

The Land Rover Defender DC100 is arguably the most anticipated car launch in years

When its first iteration, the DC100 Concept, was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show back in 2011, the uproar was such that Land Rover’s design head honcho, Gerry McGovern had to issue a statement pointing out that it was just the beginning of the re-design journey.

Besides, it wasn’t so much anything to do with the new Defender (likely launch in 2018) itself that was the cause of so much ire as what it represented: the end of the old Defender.

So why are Defender fans freaking out when out a new, presumably better one, isn’t far off?

The Land ROver Defender an all time Classic

“It’s the anticipation of change – because the original Defender is so familiar, because it’s been around for so long, it’s like an old pair of slippers,” says McGovern, acknowledging that the love of the old makes the delivery of the new much more than the usual design challenge.

“The Defender has a certain charm. It’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s got that simple, elemental shape that a child can draw. As such there’s a huge number of people who love it and who think it’s sacrilegious to change it.” said Rover design head, McGovern.

That’s hardly surprising. This iconic utilitarian vehicle has barely changed since it was conceived back in 1947 by Maurice Wilks, then Rover’s chief engineer, inspired by the Jeep he used on his own farm in Anglesey.

If the Jeep had been the iconic US-conceived and built ‘general purpose’ vehicle of World War Two, the Defender was the very English definition of all-terrain transport – under-powered, noisy, uncomfortable, compensating with abundant character but only improved over the years begrudgingly in the face of competition.

Land rover Defender great off the road

On the road it was pretty awful. Yet off the road it was unsurpassable. Here was a vehicle driven across estates by the Queen, over fields by agricultural workers, through deserts by soldiers and adventurers.

It’s very rudimentary nature – in stark contrast to today’s demand for cosseting comfort and all-singing dashboards – was its very appeal, not forgetting the ease with which that also allowed any fault to be fixed. Here was a car you didn’t wash, but which you could wash out.

So when the last of the old-style ‘Landys’ rolled off the production line at the end of 2015, outward bound autophiles rightly shed a tear.

Limited supplies left of the original Defender

And this has also created something of a rush to buy the remaining high quality nearly-new 2015 stock: hurry and a Defender with, say, just 1000km on the clock can still be had for around £55-60,000, though prices might well be expected to creep up as the model enters classic car status.

Those who really want instant classic will seek out the 2015 Land Rover Defender 90 TD Heritage Edition, which is about as gorgeously retro as a ‘modern’ car can get. If you miss out though, such are Defenders’ longevity that you will still see them around probably for decades to come.

As for those looking forward, early teasers of the new Defender suggest a vehicle that’s equally desirable, if in a different way. It looks to be akin to a slightly squared off Land Rover Discovery.

Aluminium Architecture to lower weight and costs

Land Rover has confirmed that it will share that car’s aluminium architecture – which should help keep the price down but also provide strength and make it cheaper to run. And, well, that is about all we know about it.

“But we have to do a new one – the current model was produced a long time ago,” McGovern stresses. “It’s out of date – technically and in terms of manufacturing processes.

It doesn’t meet the legislation of some markets. And it has to be made relevant again – more fuel efficient, lighter, more streamlined. But you can retain that essence of durability,  said McGovern.

“If, since launch, we had brought out a new Defender every 10 years, which we didn’t, what would it look like now? That’s what it’s going to be,” McGovern said.

Of course, other companies have successfully updated much cherished cars without entirely losing the personality of the original: VW with its Beetle, Fiat with its Fiat 500, BMW with its Mini.

The Original will always have Drivers’ affection

But perhaps none of them have succeeded in actually compensating for the affection felt for the original – and, for all of the respective owner’s clubs and rallies these cars inspire, arguably that affection is dwarfed by what’s felt for the Defender.

In large part this is because that Land Rover Defender has remained on the roads, visible, in daily use for what feels like our entire lifetimes – while the period Beetles and Minis that survive have been tidied away for polishing at the weekends, prompting a smile as they pass precisely because of their rarity.

But it’s also because the Defender expresses in metal, vinyl and heavily-treaded rubber the essence of its purpose in the way so few things, and certainly few cars, now do. It is, in a way, the father of all 4x4s, before 4x4s became to be seen as something useful for doing the shopping in rather than for climbing mountains and conquering continents. ML