Curbside Classic: Land Rover Series 1 – After 67 Years, The Night Watchman Comes Back To The Pavilion*


(First Posted October 28, 2015)  In 1972, an expedition led by then-Major John Blashford-Snell, of the British Army’s Royal Engineers, was the first vehicle based expedition to traverse both American continents from north to south—from Anchorage, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, through the Darien Gap—using two of the then-new original Range Rovers, one of which is now preserved in the condition it finished the journey. There is just one important detail that is not always mentioned.


To actually cross the Darien Gap, Blashford-Snell had to resort to using a Land Rover Series 1, sourced from Panama and flown in to a remote airstrip, to lead the way through the swamp and forest. What is also overlooked is that a Land Rover had crossed the Darien Gap in 1960, and was the first vehicle to do so.


Nearly 70 years since it was first seen on and off the roads of Britain, the Land Rover it is still an inherent part of the British landscape, urban and rural, and we can expect it be for many more years yet. It went into production in 1948 and, after a series of development milestones that perhaps provides a parallel to the VW Type 2, production of the latest iteration will end in the next few weeks. Over 2 million have been built, all in Solihull near Birmingham and close to the heartland of the traditional motor industry, or from kits shipped out from the UK. It has been used by the UK military for 67 years and counting, and by every profession from farmer and head of state to app creator.


The origins of the Land Rover are well known but bear a repeat hearing. Prior to World War Two, Rover had been building solid and stolid upmarket saloons for a conservative clientele, selling around 10,000 cars a year. The company, which had grown out of the J K Starley Company that is credited with the invention of the chain driven bicycle (or safety bicycle), had just managed to survive the 1920s and settled into this groove in the 1930s, under the leadership of brothers Spencer and Maurice Wilks, who were managing director and technical director respectively into the 1960s. Cars were sold almost exclusively in the UK, with only a few exports to the traditional British Empire (and right hand drive) markets in Australasia and southern and east Africa.


Civilian car production at Rover had stopped in 1940 and was not resumed until late 1945. Prior to the war, Rover had participated in the Government’s shadow factory scheme along with other motor industry groups such as Rootes, and built a large new factory at Lode Lane in Solihull, on the edge of Birmingham, to supplement the main factory in Coventry. The company spent the war building aircraft fuselages, aero-engines and components, and led the development of the jet engine before this task was assigned to Rolls-Royce in 1942 (to this day, Rolls-Royce produce engines with the RB prefix for Rover Barnoldswick, the town in northern England where this was work was carried out). Rover had grown to employ, either directly or in factories controlled by the company, over 20,000 people.

After the war, Rover were faced with using the new, large, empty factory in Solihull, and a second new factory in Acocks Green in Birmingham dedicated to engine production, but with a limited market for their premium cars, no real export network to build on and severe limitations on production through the limited access allowed by the UK Government to raw material, principally steel, as this was controlled for use by producers who could build export products.

As Britain was being exhorted to “Export or die!”, Rover were given approval in December 1944 to build a total of 1,100 cars in 1945. Wilkes had planned for a capacity of 20,000. Rover needed a product that could be built with the available materials, could secure export orders to help obtain the materials and would be available quickly. And as the company was still independent, there was not huge pot of gold to fund a major investment.

Rover m type

1947 Rover M Type protoype


The first major proposal was a small car, to be sold below Rover’s existing cars, known as the M-type. This was a 699cc, 77 inch wheelbase four seater (just) and, for 1945, a sophisticated suspension set up, with coil springs, front wishbones and rear Panhard rod, and bore a strong similarity to the original 1936 Fiat 500 Topolino. The chassis was constructed using light alloy pressings rather than steel, to avoid the steel shortages and as a bonus saving weight.

The M-type was overtaken by events, including changes in taxation and government pressure for the motor industry to focus on fewer models, ideally one model from each producer. Export potential was also a key criterion, of course. By the spring of 1947 that project was cancelled, and Rover had to think again.

Land Rover chassis 1948.1

1948 Land-Rover chassis


The next step of the story has been told many times, such that the popular account may have been distorted through retelling and its accuracy may therefore be hard to prove absolutely. But certain facts are confirmed. Maurice Wilks did have a farm on the coast of the island of Anglesey, off the coast of north Wales, he did use a Bren gun carrier to move equipment around it and did replace this with a war surplus Jeep.  One account is that his brother allegedly asked what he would use when the Jeep gave out, as this was not a long term solution, given its “pre-owned” condition, .

Land Rover chassis 1948.2

“Get another, there’s nothing else” is reported to have been the reply. Another account has the idea coming to Maurice whilst on the beach in Anglesey and that he proceeded to sketch ideas in the sand, deriving a lot from observing the engineering of the Jeep.


1947 Land-Rover prototype with central driving position


What is definitely recorded is that the project was started in the spring of 1947 and the proposal was formally approved by the Rover board in September 1947, with full production approval being given before the prototype was completed. This was completed in October 1947, and the name Land Rover coined by a nephew of Spencer and Maurice Wilks and officially adopted. The vehicle was public knowledge from mid-April 1948 and formally shown for the first time in late April 1948.

1951-Land-Rover-series-1.10 with Jeep

The first Land Rover prototype, completed in the summer of 1947, was actually based on the chassis of a Willys Jeep. It shared, even after final development, the 80 inch wheelbase and 132 inch length layout of the Jeep, although its track was 2 inches narrower. Suspension was leaf springs all round, with no independent elements.


Subsequent prototypes used a Rover-developed frame, built up around box sections continuously welded together from flat strips in simple jigs, a design that has endured for 67 years. The driving position was set centrally, to avoid having to develop left and right drive versions, with chain drive from the steering column to the steering box.


1948 Rover 75 (P3 series)


The first prototypes were powered by 1389cc four cylinder petrol engine from the pre-war Rover 10 saloon, but this was soon replaced by Rover’s new 1.6 litre four cylinder, used in the post-war Rover P3 series saloon – after all, there was production capacity for it. This engine made 50bhp. Transmission was a four speed gearbox, again from the 1947 Rover P3, but with a low first gear, a different final drive and a low ratio box similar to the Jeep. Where the Land Rover differed to the contemporary Jeep was in having a freewheel between the front and rear axles, to avoid scrub as the axles tried to turn at different rates, and consequently cornering was considered to be better than the Jeep in 4WD mode. At this time, the LR’s four wheel drive was permanently engaged, unlike the Jeep’s system that was part-time and to be used only off-pavement.


Bodywork was almost considered a luxury that Rover would offer as an extra. To beat the steel availability issue, all the bodywork would be built in light alloy and, as the Land Rover was expected to be a stop gap whilst car production built up, Rover wanted to limit capital spending on tooling as much as possible. The lack of tooling also shortened the pre-production timescale and saved Rover’s limited capital for the vital 1948 P4 car range. Consequently, all the bodywork was designed to be built by folding and bending aluminium, and Rover planned that doors, side curtains and canvas roof would be extras. Things like passenger seats and heaters were even further down the list. HUE166 is recognised as the first production Land Rover, and is often seen like this, even now.


Trafficators seen on this 1950 example were another optional extra.


From the start, Rover saw the Land Rover as more than just a cross country vehicle. The mechanisation of farming, driven by the requirement for increased production during the war with a reduced labour force, and the availability of petrol tractors and the benefits these could bring, was bringing good business to companies like Ferguson and Rover saw a niche for a vehicle that could do most of what a tractor did and then get the farmer and his produce to market. Rover had prototypes driving threshing machines, pulling ploughs,  pulling down trees, driving saw benches through power take offs, as well winching themselves and others out of mud and up river banks.


The first public showing was at the Amsterdam Motor Show in April 1948 and then at the London Motor Show in October that year, although the first production vehicles were delivered in July 1948. Initial approval from the Board of Trade for the vital steel allocation was approval to produce 1,000 a year, though this was increased. Rover wanted approval for 5,000 a year, to match the volume the M Type was planned around. By financial year 1949/1950, Rover were building 8,000 Land Rovers, and just 5,000 cars.  The tail was beginning to wag the dog.


In 1950, Rover started the continuous process of development of the Land Rover. The transmission lost its free wheel device and gained a selectable (part time) four wheel drive controlled by a third lever on the central tunnel. The engine grew to 1997 cc in 1952, an engine that was unique to the Land-Rover and not shared with a Rover car and was much better able to cope with the overloading that was common on such vehicles. The feature vehicle is from this time, being a 1953 model parked Curbside with a Range Rover Series II for company.

1953-land-rver-series1.8I suggest you can see this as the date that Rover accepted that the Land Rover was there for the long term, rather than as a gap filler whilst car sales recovered, and by when the vehicle had fully established its credentials as the off-road vehicle of choice for everyone from the farmer to the military.

1991 Land-rover defender and 1978 S3

1991 Defender and 1978 Series III


The military soon took to the LR, receiving its first batch in December 1948, and even now it is still in full service with all the main UK forces, at home and overseas. Indeed, it has been used in every UK forces deployment since the Korean War, including the recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Land-Rover gunshipThe uses the military put them to inevitably form a long list – from ambulance conversion to missile transport and launching and all points in between. MCE is the advertisement above is Marshall of Cambridge, one of Britain’s leading aerospace and defence equipment companies, who converted many thousands of Land-Rovers for the British and other armed forces, alongside designing and building the droop nose for Concorde, including the aircraft built by the French.

Land-Rover series fire fighter

It has been just as much an integral of part of civilian officialdom as well, with every police force, ambulance service and fire service having used a Land Rover at some point, and still doing so.


Likewise, the Coastguard service, the Post Office, the breakdown recovery organisations, the telecommunications and power industries, the water and sewerage people, the BBC, the construction industry, agricultural and land management organisations, the lifeboat and mountain rescue organisations (and the boat owners and mountaineers they were helping) and the royal family. These things are even used underground in salt mines in north west England.


1951 Series I


The development continued; in 1953 the wheelbase was extended to 86 inches with all the addition being ahead of the rear wheels and behind the front seat, and three inches were added to the rear overhang, extending the load bay considerably. At the same time, the 107 inch wheelbase option became available, with either a longer load bed or capacity for a second row of seats ahead of the inward facing seats in the rear of what was known as the 107 inch Station Wagon, with seating for up to 10 people.

Land-Rover Tickford Station wagon

There was always an estate version of the Land Rover, although early versions had bodywork built by Tickford, famous for pre-war Aston-Martin and Lagonda coachwork , and built around a wooden frame with aluminium panelling. Partly because of the expensive construction and partly because of the taxation applied in the home market, only 700 were built and most were exported. Taxation standards play a large role in the format of Land Rovers, with examples such as the first 7 seat Tickford station wagon being taxed as cars and the later, longer and larger 10 or 12 seaters being taxed as minibuses, at a lower rate. The resemblance to the Jeep Station Wagon is obvious.

In 1956, the wheelbase grew by two inches, to 88 inches and 109 inches, all ahead of the front bulkhead, as seen in this promotional film,  to accommodate the car’s first diesel engine. This was a four cylinder, 2052cc engine designed and built by Rover, and was always exclusive to Land Rover – no Rover car had a diesel engine until the 1982.


Photo courtesy of CC contributor Big Paws


By this time, the major export markets for the Land-Rover were Australia,  New Zealand, French West and Equatorial Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya in eastern Africa and across southern Africa. The Land Rover is still seen frequently working in Africa – these contemporary Defenders for example are used for wildlife safaris in Namibia.


Photo courtesy of CC contributor Big Paws


Although the modern grille no longer permits its use as a BBQ, it can be still serve useful purposes…..

series 2.1

1964 Series IIA


After 10 years, Rover made the most significant changes yet to the Land Rover. David Bache, the stylist behind the Rover 2000 and Rover 3500 (SD1) was let loose on the car, and the style he created is perhaps the definitive Land Rover to many. In what was known as the Series II, Bache added some subtle changes – more profile to the bonnet, the distinctive ledge on the doors and rear quarter below the window line and the sill panel to cover the chassis rail more effectively. The new 2286cc 4 cylinder, 70bhp, 124lbft petrol engine, built on the same dimensions and production line as the diesel, was installed to create the Series IIA, in 1961.


1960 Series II


Door trim panels and adjustable seats made an appearance, though by no means did every buyer want them. This early 1960 Series II is quite typical. The red topped lever is the high/low range selection and the yellow topped is the differential lock. There is no need for a parking brake warning light in a Land Rover, as the lever when applied is hard against the driver’s leg any way. Sales responded to the Series II– by 1960, 34,000 a year were being built.


Some other luxuries became available. A locking fuel filler cap for example, by a combination of a factory option clasp and a hardware store padlock!


Rover now had a problem with finding, not filling, factory space. Under government policies that directed Ford expanded in Liverpool, not east London; Vauxhall on Merseyside, not Luton; and Rootes in Scotland not Coventry, Rover were unable to expand in Solihull. Rover’s response was to buy established factories in Birmingham, eventually owning something like eight substantial sites in the city, and one in Coventry in addition to the main Solihull assembly plant and the Acocks Green engine plant, This expansion policy continued until the formation of British Leyland in 1968.

romania 1971

In 1966, the 500,000th Land Rover was produced and Rover claimed to have sold them to every country in the world except Albania and North Vietnam. This distinguished gentleman is accepting a delivery for Romania in 1971.

series 2.3

Rover celebrated this milestone by adding a six cylinder option, when the 2.6 litre engine from the now-discontinued Rover P4 100 saloon was fitted (squeezed in like a sardine in a tin might be a better term), although this only sold in small numbers.

From some perspectives, the first twenty five years of the Land Rover can be broken down into three stages.

The first was the confirmation of its capabilities by potential and actual users, over perhaps the first five to eight years, establishing its profile and reputation, with many incidents reaching a peak with a court case in 1956 about whether the Land-Rover was a goods vehicle, and therefore limited to 30 mph. Lord Chief Justice Goddard ultimately ruled that the Land Rover was a dual purpose vehicle and exempt from the 30 mph limit. This film is from the mid 1960s,  and you can get a good sense of the uses Rover considered the Land Rover capable of.

Then there was what could be referred to as the expedition phase, with a long series of independently organised long distance expeditions, typically linking London with some outpost in the British Commonwealth. Rover even published a handbook, named “A Guide to Land-Rover Expeditions”, giving suggestions on how to ford a river, choose your tyres and tools,  guidance on off-road driving techniques and even how to wash your clothes in a moving Land Rover. Put them in closed bucket with some detergent, drive over some rough country and rinse, in case you need to know.


These got to an early start. In 1951, W. P . Mitchell in the The Autocar wrote an account of a 26 day journey from Kolkatta (then Calcutta) in India to Calais in France, through Delhi, than Pakistan, Persia (now Iran of course), almost into Russia, then Turkey, across into Europe at Istanbul, after 6270 miles. Greece was crossed, then to Belgrade and Zagreb, both then in Yugoslavia, Italy, Austria, Munich (where a pass from the US Army was still required) and then across Germany and France. Just one puncture though, fifty miles short of Calais, and navigation was by a one to five million scale US Army Air Corps map.
expedition 1954

Britain being Britain, there was a series of journeys undertaken by students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, such as the 1954 event from Tunisia to Cape Town and back, crossing Africa from north to south and back again. Nominally billed as a race, this was won by Oxford.

In 1956, a similar event was planned from London to Singapore, through France, Monaco, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaya and finally Singapore, another journey that seems designed to give a modern day diplomat a heart attack. This expedition was actually the first successful overland party to get from London all the way to Singapore, albeit crossing the English Channel by Silver City Bristol Freighters


In 1957, the selected area was South America. This is actually a Series I converted to the same specification as the 1957 adventure vehicles, and which completed the trip from Birmingham to Beijing in 2012, to mark the one millionth Land Rover Discovery being built.

series 3_johnh875

Series III posted on the CC Cohort by johnh875


The adventurer and explorer spirit has probably become more fully associated with the Land Rover than with any vehicle, and a sight like this is conceivable just about anywhere worldwide now.
 1956-Land-rover series1-107-tow truck

And thirdly, the 1960s were the heyday of the specialist conversions, from tow trucks to fire engines, to tracked vehicles and even a conversion to run on a railway.


Converters have added a third axle, to create a heavier duty vehicle, often seen as a fire fighter. The Scottish firm Cuthbertson puts tracks on to the Land Rover, to create an ultimate off-road vehicle.

Land-rover wsr

Or, supporting a World Speed Record attempt – seen here at Bonneville in 1960 with Bluebird and Donald Campbell.

2004 firefighting Defender

The uses, from postal delivery in rural Scotland to providing an elevated platform to repair the streetlights in central London, are too long to list. A hovercraft Land Rover, a tractor unit for a small semi-trailer, a vehicle for the Queen to use to inspect a military parade, they’ve all been done.


1969 Land Rover Light Weight for the RAF


There were two production derivatives in the 1960s that deserve special mention. The first is the lightweight Land Rover, built on the 88 inch wheelbase, and targeting a weight of 2500lb compatible with being transported under a helicopter.


1979 Land Rover Light Weight for the British Army

A new body was designed, with totally removable doors, screen and hood, and with the panels reduced to a very simple folded structure but built on the existing structure, resulting in a vehicle with a reduced weight and that could also be broken down further easily in lower weight sub-assemblies.

1963 Land-Rover FWD (1)

1962 Land Rover FWD

The other was a more dramatic development – the forward control (or CoE) Land Rover with a 1.5 ton payload capability.


It was built on a modified 109 inch wheelbase chassis and the cab had a distinct air of function over style and many recognisable components, including the doors and windscreens, although it was at a raised ride height. Power came from the 2.2 litre 4 cylinder, although later the six cylinder was squeezed in.


The FWD control version, though not sold in large numbers, was a popular platform for the converters. This 1966 example was converted in Austria by the respected Rosenbauer fire equipment company, and carried eight firefighters and their equipment for over 30 years before eventually finding its way back to the UK. It was stationed in the Alpine town of Bludenz, and is now in the care of British enthusiast who aims to fully recreate the 1966 configuration.

land rover fwd

The FWD version later went to a second series with an increased wheelbase, reconfigured suspension and increased ground clearance.


1976 Land Rover FWD Light Weight

From 1972 to 1978, Land Rover produced another forward control version, sold exclusively to the military, using a pared down version of the earlier forward control model on a 101 inch wheelbase. This made for an immensely capable piece of equipment when coupled to a trailer or gun carriage with wheels driven off the Land-Rover.

But, despite advertising like this, the competition was now catching up, and in many territories that had previously been Land Rover preserves, they were taking over. Vehicles like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol may not have been as fully capable off road in extremis as a Land-Rover but they were more than capable enough for many users, better on road and, crucially, sometimes more dependable.


Series II posted on the CC Cohort by Jim T

Market share, if not absolute sales, in places such as Australia and Africa fell sharply from the 1970s onwards. From within Europe, competition was much less wide-ranging. There were the super capable, off road focused products like a Unimog or Pinzgauer. Mercedes-Benz and Steyr Puch developed the G–Wagon for the German military and sold a civilian version with increasing success from the late 1970s.  Peugeot and FIAT both built vehicles of a similar concept, the P4, based on the Mercedes G–Wagon, and the Campagnola respectively, that were aimed at local armed forces especially, but no European manufacturer has competed with Land Rover across the full spectrum of farmer to military with one product.


1954 Austin Champ

BMC had a competitor in the Austin Champ, and later the Gipsy. A total of 11,000 (from an order for 15,000) were produced from 1951 to 1956 for the British Army, but was outclassed in service conditions by the much cheaper Land-Rover. The Gipsy, the steel body of which was visually an almost direct copy of the Land Rover, was a later attempt, with independent suspension (or the option of leaf springs) and was built until the Leyland – BMC merger in 1968. In total 21,000 were built, but it was not a difficult call to drop it and not the Land Rover.


With retrospect, Rover’s choice of  absorption by Leyland, rather than BMC, Rootes or a merger with Standard, can be seen as being driven by Leyland’s much wider reach for overseas distribution and CKD assembly for trucks, and what that could open up for Land Rover as much as anything else.

Land-rover series 3 brochure

In 1971, the Land Rover went to Series III, with an all-synchromesh gearbox, full width fascia (with a slot for a radio!) and a standard heater.

Series III Hannes

Land Rover Series III posted on the CC Cohort by Hannes

The headlamps were now mounted in the wings, not behind the grille, though this actually happened in 1968 under legislation.


Series III seen in Iceland and posted on the CC Cohort by LDoren

Overdrive became an option, operating on all gears in both high and low ratio, effectively making a Land Rover a 16 speed (with 4 reverse) vehicle. In 1976, the one millionth example was built.

1994 Land Rover 110

1994 Land Rover Defender 110

Land Rover was now part of BL, and eventually BL allowed (that is, was able to afford) Land Rover to make a major step forward. In 1983, the Land Rover 90 and 110, named for wheelbases of 93 and 110 inches were launched. Crucially, these had permanent (rather than selectable) four wheel drive and coil spring suspension, as well as restyled bodies with a larger single piece windscreen, a full width bonnet, distinctive flared plastic wheel arches (which farmers love for nudging gates open without damaging the aluminium panel) and a more modern interior.

1994 Land Rover series III 110.2

Engines were a much revised 2.5 litre version of the 2.2 litre 4 cylinder diesel engine with the option of specially tuned version of the Rover (ex-Buick) 3.5 litre V8. There was an option of a longer 127 inch wheelbase version, later known as the Defender 130, which could combine a crew cab with the longer bed of the 110 version.


1991 Defender 90


From 1985, there was an option of the turbo charged variant of the 2.5 litre diesel engine with much improved power (85bhp) and torque (150lbft), which continued into the 1990s, alongside a series or trim and equipment updates, as Rover sought to create an opening for the Land Rover in the leisure, as well as farming and industry, market.


1994 Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon V8

In 1990, these vehicles were again significantly updated, and adopted the Defender name tag. The engine was again significantly improved, using the new 200TDi diesel engine designed primarily for the new Land Rover Discovery, with an alloy head, intercooling and direct injection. Finally, the Defender could cruise with modern traffic. The Land Rover continued to be eased, if not up market, then to a place where its heritage and off-road reputation could be recognised, rather than just as a farmer’s or builder’s workhorse. By now, much of that role was being lost to the Japanese pickups.


The Land Rover has had an on-off relationship with the North American market. The Series II entered North America from 1964, and the Series III lasted until 1975, although the volumes were never high, and most common variant was the six cylinder petrol engine.  Sales reached 1500 or so each year. The Defender came back to North America in 1993, and sold around 7000 in seven years with 3.9 or 4.0 litre Rover V8s (based on the old Buick engine of course), before safety and emissions regulations overtook it. Importing an older example into the US is now fraught with difficulties, under the 25 year rule. The 1993 Defender 110 and 1997 Defender 90 are the only possible exceptions, but please don’t just take my word for it.


2001 Land Rover Defender 110

A brand new 2.5 litre five cylinder diesel, known as the Td5, and designed by Land Rover specifically for the vehicle was fitted from 1998. This was planned as part of a family of diesel engines for use across the BL/Rover Group product range, but in the event was overtaken by the availability of BMW engines when BMW bought Rover in 1994. By 2002, you could have heated, leather seats and air conditioning on a Land-Rover, though a “hose clean” interior was still available.

2010 Land rover defender 90.1

2010 Land-Rover Defender 90

In the BMW led break up of Rover in 2002, Land Rover and Range Rover were purchased by Ford for £1.8billion and five years later the last major product change came, with the installation of the Ford Transit’s 2.4 litre 4 cylinder diesel engine. Power was now 122bhp but torque reached 221lbft, and there was even a six speed gearbox.


The interior was revamped as well, and all evidence of parts bin sharing with the Morris Marina and Leyland Sherpa van was lost, as were the inward facing folding seats in the rear, to meet safety legislation.


2009 Land Rover Defender 90 on airfield patrol

The giveaway to spotting this model is the additional bulge on the (now steel) bonnet pressing, so no more spare wheels on bonnets, and that the under screen vents are now blanks, but still visible on the pressing. That was because the heating and ventilation system was by now actually reasonably effective, for the first time. But, even now, there are two parts that are common to the Series I – a stiffener under the rear seat and a cleat on the canvas hood.

But it is still so capable. Towing 3.5 tons? 300lbs on the roof? Climb a 45 degree slope? Traverse a 30 degree slope? Wade at depths up to the wheels hubs without any modifications? Wade at depths over the bonnet with simple changes? Climb a dam? The Land Rover can do all these things, though dam climbing capability is not actually standard. But even so, this is a great way to advertise something as capable as a Land-Rover, and not just because of the (highly appropriate and tongue in cheek) music that British readers will recognise.

Land Rover Defender 90 Station Wagon Heritage Limited Edition (2015) Interior

Driving a Land Rover is still very much a 1940s experience. The cabin may have changed, but the driving position has not, with the seat up close to the door on the one side and the rear bulkhead (on short wheelbase versions) behind. The controls may now be for power steering and a six speed gearbox, but they still work in the deliberate mechanical manner they always have done, and their basic ergonomics are still visibly linked to the Series I. In terms of going anywhere, it will, perhaps even better than the latest Range Rover, if only because it is more compact. The Land Rover lacks the latest electronic traction and gear box aids of the Range Rover, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is less capable ultimately.

2012 defender

Land Rover announced earlier this year that production of the Defender would cease at the end of 2015, as the vehicle is not capable of adaptation to meet forthcoming safety regulations. Production, usually from CKD kits, has been completed in many countries over the last 67 years, from Australia to Spain, and production in India or Turkey, where parent company Tata Auto have facilities, may well continue after UK production ends, for sale outside the EU.


Production of this car needs 500 people on a single shift, to produce perhaps 100 a day. Of course, industrial robots are used – all seven of them. The Range Rover, being built at perhaps twice that rate, uses 328. That gives you a clue to the other concern leading to the end of production. Put simply, Jaguar Land Rover has more effective and profitable ways of using its production facilities.


2014 Land Rover Defender 110


Solihull is the production site for the new Jaguar XE, and there will be several hundred of those daily soon. Ultimately, building Land-Rovers is a commercial enterprise within the limits of relevant legislation, and there is a limit to what can be achieved by building on a 67 year old idea.


2005 Land Rover Defender 90

But the production end date may have moved. The UK press reports that demand for the last vehicles has been such that the end date may be as late as spring 2016.


2014 Land Rover Defender 90

2015 production is up by 20% already, even at prices starting at £23,100 for a basic Land Rover Defender 90. Special editions to mark the end of production are available for over £60,000 (that’s almost Range Rover money), and the recently completed two millionth example will be auctioned for charity in December.


2004 Land Rover Defender 110

Land Rover have stated that there will be a new Defender, perhaps by 2017. I suspect we can be confident that, compared with today’s vehicle, it will be just as capable off road and more capable on road. I also suspect that it will not charm us like the original did and will not last 67 years.


As every owner from Queen Elizabeth II to Fidel Castro, by way of the French fire service, has surely had cause to say at some point, “Thank you, Land Rover!”.

We’re going to miss you.

(* This is a cricketing analogy. A night watchman is a low order batsman sent in to bat late in the day to save the leading batsmen from the risk of getting out in fading light and so he can go in to bat fresh the next morning. A night watchman is not expected to make many runs or have a long innings – just to stay in until the close of that day’s play.)


2017 update – Land Rover Defender production ceased in January 2016.