The Last of the Legend—Land Rover ends DEFENDER production
The last Defender, a 90” Heritage Green soft top, drove off the production line at Solihull with its horn tooting and lights flashing on January 29, 2016. The applause from hundreds of current and former Land Rover employees gave due honor to this legendary vehicle.
For Land Rover, the Defender lineage traces itself back to the very first Land Rover built in 1948. All told, Land Rover built and sold over two million of these iconic vehicles. Their amazing variants, from fire appliance to artillery launchers, enabled Land Rover to produce custom vehicles that met the needs of farmers and royalty, builders, expeditioners, scientists, squaddies, explorers, equestrians
and sports enthusiasts worldwide.
For those men and women who built Defenders every day, the end felt bittersweet. Roger Crathorne, who has spent 50 years with Land Rover and is a longtime friend of Rovers North, shared his thoughts on January 30th, the day after the formal ceremony. “I have mixed emotions. It’s a sad time for enthusiasts, but it’s important to remember that when it was created in 1947, and manufactured in 1948, it was the right vehicle for the right time. To feed Great Britain, the farming community was given priority for equipment. Maurice Wilks knew that the WWII surplus Jeeps left behind were built to last for one battle, not for the long term. He felt he could create something better. As it gained in popularity, it became a people carrier more than a farm implement.”
“Why does everyone have this affection for the Land Rover? So many people in a British family have owned one—it’s part of family history. Decades ago, it was more rare for a family to own a car. For many doing National Service in the military, their first driving experience was often in a Land Rover.”
“It’s true that the older Land Rovers were like Meccano sets; wherever you were in the world you could repair or rebuild a Land Rover. They actually have the best sustainability of any vehicle. In the 1960s, I bought a 1951 Land Rover, a real basket job. It arrived at my parents’ house on a trailer. I rebuilt it and sold it. Recently, talking to a chap, I realized that he had bought my ‘51 and had rebuilt it a third time!”
Roger ordered a 2016MY Defender, built as the 11th from the last one. In honor of his first Land Rover it came with a windowless canvas top [“the first off a Solihull production line since the Series III”] and in Keswick Green. “I was so busy doing interviews that last day that I never saw it come off the line, but my Defender became the model for the very last one built.”
“Back in 1972-74 I was involved in a world study on future of the Land Rover. Customers I met in Europe and the US said ‘make it better.’ The original Land Rover was a tool box on wheels; it’s time for one for today’s needs.” Roger couldn’t comment on the upcoming Defender replacement but promised “Land Rover will never compromise on off-road performance. A future model will do everything off-road like the ones in the past.”
Meanwhile Rovers Magazine readers keep the Defender spirit alive. Last summer Alaska enthusiasts worked together to reunite three British adventurers with their Land Rover Series II 109”. Beginning in 1960 It had travelled over 14 months from Tierra del Fuego on its way to the Arctic Circle, when circumstances forced the end of their quest, only 500 miles from their intended finish. Imagine their shock when they discovered that Alaskans had revived the Land Rover and invited the remaining expeditioners to complete their journey. Rovers North was honored to assist in the rebuild of the historic vehicle and we’re delighted to share their stories in this issue.
Land Rover enthusiasts in the southwest and California banded together to create the inaugural Western Land Rover Rally, at which a refurbished Discovery I was offered as a raffle prize. We also had the pleasure of working with the indefatigable volunteers of the Rovers Owners of Virginia on the annual Mid Atlantic Rally, one of the nation’s longest-running events. And we returned for a long overdue visit to the Old North State Land Rover Society’s Uwharrie Rovers Expedition.
We hope that this issue’s regular columns will give you some entertaining moments in between your Land Rover drives. Rovers North remains committed to helping every enthusiast keep their Land Rover in the best condition for its daily use, whether on or off-road. We thank you for reading Rovers Magazine and for letting Rovers North be a part of your Land Rover experience.
Editor, Rovers Magazine