For the millions of people who have been touched by and who almost universally had their life changed or affected by a Land Rover this has to be a very emotional day. Today will see the last ever Land Rover Defender roll off the Solihull production line after no less than 68 years. It really is sad to see production come to an end but truth be told, is a miracle that we are still seeing production into 2016. Unfortunately there is practically nothing workable about the defender in this current day despite it’s enduring suitability to thousands of different motoring tasks.
Consider how much has changed since Maurice Wilks etched his early concept sketches into the sand of Red Wharf Bay in Anglesea with a stick. He kept an ex US Army Willys “jeep” on his farm and its practicality appealed to him but as an engineer he knew it fell short of the mark and under achieved. Wilks set to work developing the Series 1 Land Rover and what evolved was revolutionary. For it’s time it was a perfect fit and the world really needed a robust utility vehicle, an affordable work hourse and the Land Rover was it. This was the late 1940’s and early 1950’s so the materials he engineered into the Series 1 Land Rover, the production processes and the frankly non-existent safety or environmental regulations were as benign and normal as the Land Rover itself but are simply not compatible with 2016. Time for a clean sheet of paper at Jaguar Land Rover!
Some commentators will quote hardly believable statistics such as “For over half the population of the planet, the first vehicle they will have seen is a Land Rover”, possibly true but thought provoking either way. The fact is two million of the vehicles were produced and they were designed to work hard and last a long time. The result of these factors was the most incredible diversity of tailor made applications across the planet. Whether the climate was Arctic or desert or the appointment was with a flock of sheep on a hill-side or a champagne party between polo chukkas, a Defender would never provoke a double-take. If the VW Beetle was “the people’s car” then the Defender was, well, the people’s utility vehicle; like a car but more and without frills of course. Troops crossed deserts concealed by camouflage while Royals met their subjects in regal finery, hell even Lara Croft drove her Defender wearing practically nothing at all but the common denominator was the way their Defenders were the logical choice for each instance, QED!
So having given thought to the universality of this odd little creature, let’s have a little look at what ingredients gave it the Bentley appeal yet the practicality of a country Vet? A lot has to do with it’s simplicity. Yes it had suspension articulation that was mind-blowing in 1948 and four wheel drive and locking differentials yet for all these amazing innovations it was light weight, robust, reliable and above all easy to maintain. It was simple despite it’s complexity meaning it could survive life on a Welsh hill-side or a sub-Saharan dust bowl, it’s low parts count made life easier again. It was stable and reliable and with it’s aluminium body panels it had a low centre of gravity and it just worked. Throw anything at it and it just worked. It is hard to comprehend but a small number of hand tools allowed a Land Rover to be serviced and maintained irrespective of it’s specification; an ambulance, a safari bus or a trans continental explorer, the same few spanners, screw drivers and pliers was all that was needed. The sort of hand tools that were already in the farm shed in fact so hardly a surprise to see the Land Rover become a staple?
Today is the last production day in the West Midlands plant but the P45’s ran off the printers in Solihull some time ago. Yes, the lines are busy and still operating and the Defenders have been rolling off but mostly collector’s pieces these days. The two millionth Landy off the lines sold at auction for £400,000 last December accruing quite a purse for the Red Cross charity, themselves a regular customer of the marque, how ironic. The sentimental draw to the Defender at this end of life stage has overtaken the regular utility customer’s bullet pointed specification as a motivation to purchase but hey, that’s allowed. Two million vehicles later, trans-global markets and 68 years of imprinting on the lives of rich and poor alike it will take a long time for memories to fade.
At OTTO we embraced the Land Rover some time ago and this is simply a new chapter for us. We are specialists in the automotive after-market and we love our Defenders meaning the future is bright for Land Rover here in Ireland. Why not click through to our Web Shop to have a look at our range of OEM and upgrade parts?