As 2016 draws to a close, so too does the history of the most iconic vehicle of it’s kind. Borne out of necessity after World War II, the Defender’s life has included starring roles in countless films, including its ‘epitaph’ performance in the latest James Bon epic, ‘Spectre’. The landmark vehicle has also ushered royalty and won rallies around the world.
The last Defender rolls off the assembly line this month to cap a run that began as the Land Rover Series I in 1947. The Series I single-handily saved the Rover Company. A builder of pre-war luxury cars, Rover was hard pressed to build vehicles after the war due to the rationing of raw materials. Metal and aluminium for vehicle production were limited to those manufacturers who built construction, industrial or agricultural equipment.
Lines in the Sand
Legend has it that Maurice Wilks, technical chief for Rover, drew the original concept for the Series I in the sand of Red Wharf Bay on the Welsh island of Anglesly. That simple etching foreshadowed the simple design and construction that gave the Defender its staying power throughout its history.
But simplicity might also have been the vehicles downfall. Unable to be economically updated to suit the needs and wants of today’s urban drivers, the vehicle that was originally intended as a light agricultural workhorse became a victim of the times.
While sales of the Defender peaked at well over 50,000 units per year in the early 1970s, they hit their lowest level since their first year of production when just over 15,000 vehicles were sold in 2012.
As the 2,000,000th Defender rolled off the assembly line earlier this year, it was remarkably similar to the first Series 1. From the flat, barley tilted windshield to the boxy design and the spare wheel, either hood-mounted or hanging from the back door, all are almost indistinguishable between the last Defender and the first Series I. About the biggest design difference between the two is that the Defender’s grill is flush with the fromnt headlights and fenders, where as it was previously recessed.
The 2,000,000th Defender was auctioned off to raise money for charities. One of them, the Born Free Foundation, is named after the Academy-Award-winning film “Born Free”, in which a Land Rover Series II enjoyed an early starring role.