The End for Defender

After 2,016,933 have rolled off the production line, Friday saw the very last Defender driven out of the Solihull factory.

It took 68 years to reach that number, with the Defender surviving through 13 Prime ministers, but changing safety and environmental laws have finally killed off the iconic four-by-four.

To celebrate the end of an era, Land Rover gathered 700 guests to cheer as the last model, a Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top, was fired up and driven off to rapturous applause.

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.

The Defender Celebration in Solihull saw more than 25 unique vehicles from Land Rover’s history come together in a procession around the Solihull plant, featuring the final current Defender vehicle off the line as well as ‘Huey’, the first pre-production model produced in 1948.

While the two millionth model was auctioned off recently, selling for a record £400,000, the final Defender will remain in Land Rover’s hands and be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Collection.

“Today we celebrate what generations of men and women have done since the outline for the Land Rover was originally drawn in the sand,” said Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover. “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.”

“This is a special day of fond celebration for Jaguar Land Rover,” added Nick Rogers, group engineering director at Jaguar Land Rover. “We all have personal memories of Defender. It’s a true motoring icon and is much-loved around the world. The world has changed dramatically in the last 68 years, but this vehicle has remained a constant – something no other vehicle can claim. The last of the current Defender models embraces the vehicle’s simplicity, honesty and charm – it represents its Series Land Rover heritage. Creating the Defender of tomorrow, a dream for any engineer or designer, is the next exciting chapter and we are looking forward to taking on that challenge.”

“I am hugely proud of our special family tradition working on this remarkable vehicle,” said Tim Bickerton, a foreman on the Defender production line with 40 years’ service at Land Rover. “The Defender has become part of our family. We’re like a stick of rock with Defender running through us. The Defender is the vehicle that everyone relates back to Land Rover; it may be seen as a workhorse but we think it has become a real thoroughbred.”

Defining Defender Facts
  • The original Series I Land Rover cost £450 in 1948. It was powered by a four-cylinder 1.6 litre engine with just 50 hp.
  • Since 1948, 2,016,933 Series Land Rovers and Defenders have been built on the production line at Solihull.
  • It takes 56 man hours to build each Defender.
  • A new Defender rolls off the production line every four minutes.
  • Over 10,000 Land Rover owners and visitors from all over the world have visited the Defender Celebration Line, which recreates the original 1948 production line, in just 12 months since it opened.
  • Famous owners include the Queen, Sir Winston Churchill and actor Steve McQueen.
  • The world-famous Land Rover Experience operation brought a new dimension and adventure to 4×4 ownership when it was formed in 1990, taking over from the Demonstration Team that had been set up by Roger Crathorne to show the exceptional talents of the vehicle around the world.
  • The Defender became a movie star when it featured heavily in the film Born Free (1966) about the story of Elsa the Lion. Defenders are still used today by the Born Free Foundation and its founder, Virginia McKenna OBE and her son, Will Travers OBE who both fitted parts to Defender 2,000,000.
  • Two original parts have been fitted to all Soft Top Series Land Rovers and Defenders since 1948 – the hood cleats and the underbody support strut.
  • With 7,000 parts – it takes 56 hours to hand build every Defender, compared to 48 hours to build a Land Rover Discovery Sport.
  • Associates have their own nick names for parts of the vehicle; the door hinges are known as ‘pigs ears’ and the dashboard is the ‘lamb’s chops’.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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