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Little Classics Feature: 31 January 2016

Defender: The End of an Era for Land Rover

The last Land Rover Defender

Land Rovers hold a special place in the Little Classics heart, as it’s the vehicle in Series IIA form (below) that kicked off the entire classic vehicle passion. And after 68 years, this month marked a sad moment as the last of the current Defenders was produced at its famous Solihull production facility.

1963 Land Rover SIIA APB 366A

To mark the occasion Land Rover invited more than 700 current and former Solihull employees involved in the production of Series Land Rover and Defender vehicles to see and drive some of the most important vehicles from its history, including the first pre-production ‘Huey’ Series I as well as the last vehicle off the production line, a Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top.

The last Land Rover Defender January 2016

At the same time, Land Rover announced a new Heritage Restoration Programme, which will be based on the site of the existing Solihull production line. A team of experts, including some long serving Defender employees, will oversee the restoration of a number of Series Land Rovers sourced from across the globe.

Series Land Rover celebration

Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Today we celebrate what generations of men and women have done since the outline for the Land Rover was originally drawn in the sand. The Series Land Rover, now Defender, is the origin of our legendary capability, a vehicle that makes the world a better place, often in some of the most extreme circumstances. There will always be a special place in our hearts for Defender, among all our employees, but this is not the end. We have a glorious past to champion, and a wonderful future to look forward to.”

Series One Land Rover HUE 166

More than two million Series Land Rovers and Defenders have been built in Solihull, UK since 1948. What began as simply a line drawing in the sand has gone on to become one of the world’s most iconic 4x4s, earning the accolade of being the most versatile vehicle on the planet, capable of taking owners to the places other vehicles couldn’t reach.

Series One Land Rover KBP 654

In 2015, a unique milestone Defender – the ‘Defender 2,000,000’ sold for a record £400,000 – a far cry from the original £450 the first Land Rover sold for at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.

Series I Land Rover Fire tender HFB 821

In 1948, the Series I went into full production at Solihull. Post-war Britain was struggling with a shortage of steel, though aluminium was in plentiful supply for the bodyshells and the country had vast manufacturing capacity. Inspiration came from Spencer and Maurice Wilks, two brothers who had helped return the Rover Company back into profitability during the 1930s. They had devised the Land Rover as a vehicle primarily for farming and agricultural use. They could not have predicted the global impact their vehicle would have.

Land Rover Series II BXC 975G

Changes followed and in 1958 the Series II brought about a new design and engine updates, including an advanced diesel engine which remained in service until the mid-1980s. Sales had reached half a million by 1966, while annual production peaked in 1971 with 56,000 units. During the 1970s, the Series III continued to sell as well as its predecessor, a testament to its enduring appeal.

Land Rover SIII

The vehicle earned a new name in 1990 – Defender. By this time, the Land Rover portfolio included the Range Rover and the newly-launched Discovery. A new name was fitting for a vehicle previously only referred to by its wheelbase length and Series number.

Land Rover Series line-up

Part of the Land Rover’s appeal came from the endless variants that were created off the basic platform, including models as diverse as fire engines, lorry-like Forward Control vehicles, cherry pickers and even an amphibious car capable of floating on water. Over its 68 year history, it has been a vehicle driven by everyone from farmers and famous explorers, to royalty.

Land Rover series line-up

The closure of the Solihull production line will also bring an end to Land Rover’s Celebration Line exhibit, although this too will live on. The replica 1948 production line has attracted more than 10,000 visitors in the last 12 months and charts the life of the Land Rover Defender from its origins in 1948 to the present day.

Enthusiasts will now be able to undertake the full Defender production line tour via a new online 360 degree virtual tool, here: defendertour.landrover.com



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