After World War II, while England was still struggling to restart is bombed out automobile factories, a new vehicle appeared. It had an aluminum body because steel was still rationed and hard to get. It was originally designed for agricultural use, but it rapidly became a symbol of the British determination to overcome the ravages of war.
It didn’t hurt that Queen Elizabeth II was pictured riding and waving to crowds in London’s Hyde Park from the back of a Defender in 1957 and again during a visit to Melbourne, Australia in 1977. The Defender was also a favorite of Paul McCartney and Steve McQueen. It’s reputation for endurance and toughness made it a favorite vehicle for the vast, trackless areas of Africa and Australia. It even had a starring role in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy.
But now, production of the Land Rover Defender has ended. More than 2 million of the tough little trucklets have been sold since 1948. Land Rover is now owned by Tata Motors, which bought Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008. “Any conventional vehicle would have been replaced many times over in the lifespan of Defender,” a Jaguar Land Rover spokeswoman tells Automotive News. “We now have the technology, pioneering engineering capability and design expertise to evolve the Defender.”
Neil Watterson, deputy editor of Land Rover Owner International magazine, say the vehicle was successful for so long because it appealed to so many types of people. “It’s always been a classless vehicle,” he says. “It could be driven by the gamekeeper on the estate or it could be driven by the landowner, or the garage-owner with the breakdown truck and the fire brigade.” In this instance, “classless” means one thing to a Brit and something else entirely to we colonials.
The Defender is a victim of advances in manufacturing technology. It was largely hand built at the Solihull factory in central England, where each one required 56 man-hours to construct. Building such a labor intensive vehicle was simply no longer feasible. Its replacement will probably need about 5.6 hours to build.
Jaguar Land Rover is keeping details about what sort of vehicle will replace the Defender a closely guarded secret. Rumors in the industry suggest the successor, whatever it is, will be assembled in a new Tata factory in Slovakia or outsourced to Magna Steyr in Austria. No timeline for the successor to the Defender has been announced.