SAM’S SLOT: The car that will never be forgotten
28th October 2016
Britain has a strong motoring history and over the years we have seen some outstanding pieces of engineering. We have been lucky enough to say that we made cars such as the Aston Martin DB5, the Jaguar E-type, the Mini Cooper, and the Rolls Royce Phantom. But there was one British car that changed the automotive industry on a huge scale. That car was the Land Rover Defender.
In 1947 after the Second World War, Rover’s chief designer Maurice Wilks decided that the Rover Company should make a small utility vehicle that was similar to the Willy’s Jeep. It is believed that the first ever drawings of the Series 1 were drawn on a beach. The first prototype had the steering wheel placed in the centre of the car and was later known as the ‘centre steer’. The bodywork was made from a mixture of aluminium and magnesium and the car was powered by the engine from a Rover P3 saloon car. Most importantly, the car came with four-wheel-drive, enabling it to go anywhere on all kinds of terrain. After testing the vehicle a number of times it was clear that the car was successful as a utility vehicle that could also be used in agriculture. However, before the vehicle was put into production the centre steering was seen as impractical, so it was placed in its usual position on the right-hand side of the car. Other changes were made, such as a more powerful engine and a better design of the bodywork meant that less money was spent on metal to make the car. The first Land Rover was finally launched in 1948 and was known as the Series 1.
The model remained the same from 1948 to 1951. In 1952 and 1953 a more powerful 2.0 litre engine was fitted and an improved four-wheel-drive system was added. The 1954 model brought many changes to the car. The 80-inch wheelbase model was replaced with an 86-inch wheelbase model and a 107-inch model that came in a ‘pick up’ style. In 1956 the first five-door Series 1 was released and used the 107-inch chassis. The car was termed the ‘station wagon’ and could seat an impressive 10 passengers. In 1958 the Land Rover Series 2 was launched and was available with either an 88-inch or 109-inch wheelbase. The new Land Rover was fitted with a 2.25 litre engine that produced 72hp and the new engine was used until the 1980’s. The station wagon came with an optional 12 seater arrangement. Land Rover was clever here as by UK Law, any vehicle with 12 seats or more was classed as a bus; therefore anyone who bought the car did not have to pay Purchase and Special Vehicle tax. This meant that the twelve-seater model was cheaper to buy than the 10-seater model and also the seven-seater short-wheelbase (88-inch) vehicle.
In 1961 Land Rover released the Series 2A. A new 2.25 litre engine was fitted and the new model was available in a variety of styles. A more noticeable change was found at the front of the car. Instead of having the headlights in the grille, they were moved into the wings which the overall look of the vehicle. When Land Rover celebrated its twentieth anniversary sales grew dramatically with around 60,000 in both 1969 and 1970. In 1971 the Series 3 burst on to the scene and had the same body and engine from the series 2A. Over 440,000 Series 3 Land Rovers were made and in 1976, the 1,000,000th rolled off the production line. Land Rover decided to be more ambitious and in 1979 released a 3.5 litre V8 model of the Series 3. The car was only available in the long-wheelbase layout.
My Dad owned a short-wheelbase Series 2A and it was certainly a characterful car. It was mainly held together by moss and other natural substances but overall it was very practical. The inside of the car was very basic and age was clearly against it, however, the car ran very well and I cannot recall my Dad having any problems with it. It was useful for trips to the tip and you could easily fit a number of pedal bikes in the back. Overall the car came in handy, and it worked a treat in the winter months when we had large amount of snow to contend with. My Dad decided to sell the Land Rover because it wasn’t being used enough, but it served us well and hopefully will be used for years to come by its enthusiastic new owner.
The Defender name came in 1990 when the Land Rover Discovery was released. Before the new name was used the Defender was known as the ‘90’ for the short-wheelbase model and the ‘110’ for the long-wheelbase model. The Defender came with a 2.5 litre engine and was updated throughout the 1990’s to make it competitive against other four-wheel-drive cars. In 1998 a new 2.5 litre Td5 engine was fitted to the Defender. This was probably one of the best engines for the Defender and was used until 2007 when it was replaced by a slightly smaller 2.4 litre engine. Exterior changes were also made to the 2007 model, for example, the car had to have a reshaped bonnet with a bulge so that the new engine would fit.
My love for this car was reignited when a family friend purchased a 2007 Land Rover Defender. It is used by his 18-year-old son and the car is in very good condition for its age. There is the odd bump and scratch, but that is only typical of a car that can go anywhere and carry anything. The interior is basic yet functional and has the odd modern touch that makes it useable all year round. This 2007 model comes with the 2.4 litre engine from the Ford Transit van and comes with 122hp. In the low gears the car is a bit sluggish, but once you get going the Defender is no slouch considering it weighs nearly 2 tonnes. Even though it is a bit noisy and basic, this Defender is very useable and is a car that will keep on going no matter what is thrown at it.
In 2016 production of the Defender ceased and the final Land Rover rolled off the production line on January 29th 2016. Land Rover released three limited edition models to mark the end of the Defender. Those models were the Autobiography, the Adventure 110 and the Heritage. It is believed that a replacement for the Defender is expected to arrive at the end of 2016 or early 2017.
The Defender is in my mind one of the most influential cars ever to be made. Without it we would not have cars such as the Land Rover Discovery or Range Rover. Of course it is basic and is only useful for practical tasks, but that’s the whole point of the car. It’s not meant to be over the top or fast. Its purpose is to fulfil the needs of the owner, and it does that by the bucket load. If you want to carry 7 people somewhere it will do it without sweating, or if you want to tow a trailer with a large weight on the back it will not let you down. The Defender is a hard core machine and will keep on going forever.