Farewell to a Great British Icon: The Land Rover

It was the end of an era when the last Land Rover Defender manufactured in Britain left the factory.


| September 2016



1951

The Land Rover has provided a wealth of memories for many people. Off-road enthusiasts, farmers, soldiers and even the royal family have used these iconic vehicles. Series 1 Landies like this 1951 model are instantly recognisable by the centrally positioned headlights.

Photo by Josephine Roberts

On Jan. 29, 2016, the final Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Land Rover’s factory in Solihul, England. It was a sad moment for everyone who loves these sturdy, no-nonsense vehicles. The Land Rover name will continue, of course, but fans lament the fact that this type of vehicle will never again be produced in Britain.

The Defender was practical, workmanlike and simple(ish) to work on. It was available in a multitude of styles: truck cab, crew cab, soft top, pick-up body, safari, long wheelbase and short wheelbase, to name a few, plus there were also specialist options available, such as cherry pickers and snow ploughs. It might have been a noisy, slow, dated old boneshaker of a thing, but so many of us loved the strength, the quirkiness and the durability of our old friend, the Defender.

Strengths couldn’t overcome challenges

The Land Rover Defender name was introduced in 1990, but the design evolved from the first Land Rover, which was built in 1947. Although there have been many significant changes since then, the Defender was still instantly recognisable as being from the same stable. Land Rovers are as British as can be. Winston Churchill drove a Land Rover, as has virtually every member of the British royal family. Old black-and-white photos of Her Royal Highness the Queen pottering around her estates in a Land Rover are commonplace. Our armed forces and all of our emergency services use Land Rovers, as of course do most of our farmers.

So what went wrong? Well, as is the case with most disasters, there wasn’t one simple cause. Since the 1990s, there have been an increasing number of comfortable, user-friendly and comparatively affordable 4-wheel drive Japanese vehicles on the market, and many people have turned to those. Land Rovers might be built to last, but they don’t come cheap, and their sturdiness has given them something of a tank-like quality, which is not what every driver wants. Some aspects of the Land Rover’s design are quite dated. They can be noisy, their seating position doesn’t suit every size driver, they have poor locks; their radios, heaters and wipers can be a tad pathetic. They are almost impossible to climb into whilst wearing a tight skirt, they can be damp and leaky, and they are known gas guzzlers.

I could go on and on. On the plus side, the Land Rover has two brilliant features that have always stood head and shoulders above the model’s Japanese rivals: pulling power and durability. These have huge appeal to farmers, and no one I have ever spoken to has found any similar-size vehicle to be as strong as a Landy when hauling a heavy trailer up a steep slope. For that job, the Land Rover is second only to a tractor, so it is easy to see why farmers who live and work in the mountains here in Wales have long been loyal to the Landy.

However, Land Rover as a firm knew full well that they couldn’t make a profit by selling vehicles to farmers alone. A huge proportion of people who own and drive 4-wheel drive, rough-terrain vehicles never go anywhere near fields and mountains. Most of them just want the reassurance of being behind the wheel of something that will go through a puddle unharmed, something that will come off well in a collision and something that is capable of mounting the occasional curb. This is where the money really lies.