End of an era?

At 9:15am on 26 January a Great British icon was laid to rest. Fortunately it wasn’t another living, breathing legend like David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan or Lemmy. But its loss will be just as deeply felt.

The final Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull at the end of January, a month after it was scheduled to be scrapped due to increased demand from enthusiasts clamouring to own a piece of British engineering history. And, what a history.

The Defender has been manufactured in the UK for 68 years. According to legend, Rover’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks, drew the outline of the vehicle into the sand at Red Wharf Bay in Wales in 1947. He was trying to come up with a better British version of the American Willys Jeep. His brother, Spencer – Rover’s managing director – quickly put the design in motion and less than a year later the Land Rover Series I, was born.

The chassis was hand built from lightweight aluminium panels as there was a lack of steel after the Second World War. The ‘go-anywhere’ 4x4 was an instant hit in the agricultural, industrial and military sectors as it could traverse virtually any landscape.

Rover had a success on its hands when all it needed the Series I to do was get it through the lean after-war years. The popularity of the vehicle led Rover to produce the Series II in 1958, Series IIA in 1961, Series III in 1971, the 110 and 90 followed in 1983 and 1984 respectively, and in 1991 it was finally given the name Defender.

The various iterations only slightly changed the body shape, instead opting to make the interiors more comfortable and the engines more powerful. It remained an instantly recognisable design and at the core possessed the same ideology: a multi-purpose vehicle that could go anywhere and do anything, from driving to the shops to completing the gruelling Camel Trophy.

Its charismatic looks even helped it get starring roles in Bond films and the Fast and Furious franchise among others. Even the Queen has been known to make public appearances waving from the back of a Defender.

Sadly, tightening emissions regulations, and the fact that each one takes around 56 hours to build by hand, have forced the Defender into obsolescence. Happily though, Jaguar Land Rover is going to provide a Heritage Restoration programme for old Defenders.

Jaguar Land Rover says that it will be designing a model to replace the Defender, but as anyone who has ever driven one will tell you, you can’t replace such an iconic vehicle, much less design something approaching the classless appeal that attracts farmers, Hollywood directors and royalty.

Defenders are built to last; astonishingly three-quarters of the 2,016,933 ever built are still in regular use. In which case, you can be sure you’ll see them chugging along on the roads and fields for many years to come.