End of an Era?

Friday 29th January 2016 is the day that the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line at the Lode Lane plant in Solihul.

My own Defender 130 with Azalai Camper Conversion

As it has been mentioned on almost every news bulletin I’m sure this is not going to come as a shock to you. But I’d just like to take a few moments to ask the question “Why is this vehicle such a Legend?”

By modern standards the Defender is a truly appalling vehicle. It is heavy, overly thirsty, uncomfortable, rugged to the point of being harsh to drive, shoddily built and has a justifiable reputation for being unreliable too. But all of that means nought to the fan-boys — like me — who can’t help smile and look on admiringly at the child-drawing boxy shape.

It is an almost unstoppable truck, it will take you wherever you desire to go. On tarmac, on tracks, on dirt, on snow, up a mountain, it will get you there. Not in factory-fresh form, obviously, you need to fettle it first. And that’s where the Legend status starts to tarnish slightly. Almost every fan of the Defender will eagerly extol its virtues but they will rarely admit that the only way it can be a ‘go-anywhere’ truck is by modifying it.

Sure it’ll tackle more rough terrain than most other SUVs but for serious work you’ll be looking at a long wishlist of modifications and accessories before getting onto any serious Overland routes.

This is where the two wrongs do make a right. The fact that it is so simple in construction and rugged in nature make it a perfect tool when you need something out of the ordinary. There is almost no other vehicle, even other Land Rover products, that are so versatile. (You Toyota boys can just shush!). But straight out of the factory you are only getting a good base vehicle, a good starting point, to really get something fully deserving of the ‘Legendary’ tag you need to point at the nearest workshop and get to work.

The reason we get so attached to vehicles like these is because they have an almost human quality. They are unpredictable, they are fallible. It is their faults that make them so lovable. No-one really ‘loves’ their Toyota Landcruiser, they just appreciate its reliability because it is little more than a tool, a means to an end. But the Defender has a personality.

Years, nay decades!, of producing sub-par vehicles has borne an amazing network of independent Land Rover Specialists. These are the guys that will put right all those niggles, knocks and faults that Solihull includes as standard. These are the guys that will get it running again when the fixable-by-any-DIY-mechanic veil slips.

These are the people that must be congratulated for supporting the marque and allowing Land Rover HQ to trot out the old mantra of “70% of all the Land Rovers ever built is still on the road”. It is nonsense, of course, and even if it were even close to being true it has nothing to do with the management at Solihull and everything to do with the owners and independent garages who fought to keep their trucks going, often against all odds.

Land Rover is always quick to wheel out the Defender when it wants to add a bit of ‘Heritage’ to an event but, in reality, they want us all to buy Range Rovers. They are much more profitable for Britain’s largest car maker.

And this is exactly what the next-generation Defender will be when it makes an appearance in 2018 or 2019, a disguised Range Rover with some rufty-tufty features and purposeful looking extra equipment. It will never be a real Defender any more than the modern day BMW Mini is a real Mini, but, just like the Mini, they’ll sell thousands of them and the old luddites will be left to their own devices carefully nurturing their ‘old’ Defender into another decade of unpredicability and sub-par reliability.

Long live the Legend!

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