End of an Era
Even though we're Toyota enthusiasts, we can appreciate the Defender.
Land Rover: the end of a legend
The world's longest-serving vehicle is to roll off the production line for the last time after a continuous run of 67 years.
The Land Rover, the world's longest-serving vehicle, is to cease production after an unequalled run of 67 years. "Production of the iconic and globally recognised Land Rover Defender will cease in December 2015, " Jaguar Land Rover told Telegraph Luxury.
So two years from now you will no longer be able to buy yourself a brand new Land Rover, a proper Land Rover, latterly known as the Defender. The last time there were no Land Rovers, George VI was in the Palace, Attlee in Downing Street, Independent India was just a year old and Harry Truman was about to approve the Marshall Plan.
The Land Rover was created in the shadow of World War II. Inspired by the American Jeeps that had flooded Europe during the war, it was made from aluminium, which was abundant thanks to the British public answering the Ministry of Information’s call to hand over their pots and pans. The Series I, launched in April 1948, came in various shades of military green.
But designer Maurice Wilkes never intended it to be driven exclusively by men in uniform. And so it proved to be. In 65 years it has become as synonymous with farming, adventure, life-guarding, life-saving, rescuing, exploring and endeavour as it has with combat. As British icons go, it’s up there with Paul McCartney, who predates it and the NHS, which doesn’t. There should probably have been a Land Rover in Danny Boyle’s Olympic show.
No vehicle has enjoyed a life as long or as full as the Land Rover. The CitroŽn 2CV, born out of a similar imperative in the same year, ceased production in 1990. The Volkswagen Beetle predated them both, but didn’t really hit its stride until 1945 and ended its production – on an entirely different continent from where it started – in 2003. Land Rovers have always been built in the same Solihull factory.
It has evolved of course. It now, for example, has air-conditioning where it once had two big flaps below the windscreen. A windscreen that used to fold, but which now no longer does, still has two big billets holding it in place where the hinges once sat. It is, to these eyes at least, quite perfect: a symbiosis of proportion and stance; of rubber, steel, aluminium and glass; the very definition of form following function.
With sales a consistent 18,000 a year, reports in the past of its death have been exaggerated, but this time it is for real; the last Landy will roll off the line on December 20 2015. It’s not through lack of demand, nor that Land Rover’s engineers have tired of adapting it to meet 21st-century safety or emissions legislation. In a world of connected, hybrid cars in whatever shape or size you want them, the Defender just no longer fits.
There will be another car and it will wear the Defender name, a name it was obliged to take in 1990 only when the proliferation of models it inspired (Range Rover, Discovery…) rendered the name Land Rover something of a communications minefield. Call it a "Landy", however, and folks still know what you mean.
Landys have a habit of going on forever. It’s said that 75 per cent of the two million built so far are still on the road. So chances are there will still be Land Rovers in 2070 when the rest of us are driving hovercars or Teslas. Its real legacy is Land Rover the company, now flagship for a resurgent UK manufacturing sector and selling over 300,000 cars a year. Though you will find precisely nothing in common between a Defender and Range Rover, there would never have been the latter without the former and its overwhelming sense that your car can be something just that little bit more magical than merely a form of a transport.
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"They say the test of literary power is whether a man can write an inscription. I say, 'Can he name a kitten?'" -- Samuel Butler