News : Final Land Rover Defender rolls off the line

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Final Defender (2)

More than 700 current and former Solihull employees involved in the production of Series Land Rovers and Defenders were there to see the last Land Rover – a Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top – roll off the line. It’s the end of an impressive run of 68 years continuous production of cars with a direct DNA link to the original 1948 Land Rover. 

The ever-enterprising Land Rover used the emotional occasion to unveil its 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 first vehicles will go on sale in July 2016.

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 (below), featuring the final current Defender vehicle off the line. Land Rover associates were joined by a number of previous employees from the past 68 years to help celebrate this historic day.

The last of the current Defender vehicles includes an original part that has been used on Soft Top specifications since 1948 – the hood cleat. The vehicle will be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Collection.

Final Defender (3)

Land Rover’s Heritage Restoration programme will see the Series Land Rover and Defender’s name continue at Solihull. A team of twelve experts, ten of whom will transfer over from the existing production line, will lead the project, which will initially begin with the restoration and sale of early Series Land Rovers.

The team has 172 years of combined experience working on Defender or Land Rover production. One employee who will transfer onto the programme, Tony Martin, has worked at Solihull all of his life, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather; in effect, he will be restoring some of the vehicles his grandfather helped to build.

SOLIHULL AND THE SERIES LAND ROVER/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 50bhp.
  • 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 rolled off the production line every four minutes.
  • More than 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, 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 7000 parts – it takes 56 hours to hand build every Defender, compared with 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’.
  • Jaguar Land Rover Solihull currently produces Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Discovery, Jaguar XE and Jaguar F-PACE models.

Final Defender (1)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

13 Comments

  1. No doubt an historic day. Also I guess it’s quite a sad day. The end of an era and all that.

    Couple of observations.

    Is the fact that this car ha been in production since 1983 – as a heavily modified version of the original – not really an example of appalling product development? Land Rover lost ground to the Japanese in the developing world years ago. They didn’t move with the times.

    The 90/110 should have represented a massive sea change in the car. It should have been re-invented twice since.

    By the-invented I mean improved and developed while sticking to the original philosophy. Think Land Cruiser and Jeep Wrangler here.

    That massive, hungry market that is the USA was abandoned by the Defender. I know legislation came into play here but it does with other car makers all over the world. In the Mid to late 1990s they were building V8 convertible 90s just for the US market. My understanding is that they sold like hot cakes.

    OK, so that’s history. The past. But what about the present and the fact that they are retiring an iconic car? (I rarely use the term iconic as its overused these days but it applies here.)

    They may cost a lot to build but people are still buying them. Maybe not farmers and African Safari people but if a Land Rover dealer I talked to recently is correct, demand for the special editions and other posh ones is huge.

    Our lot today shopping in touristy gift shops, Landys were everywhere. On mugs, T-Shirts etc etc. As iconic as the famous VW camper brand?

    So why stop production of this piece of living history? It’s an Indisn owned firm these days, was there no way production could have been moved there? Big local market and a massive export potential. It’s not as if Land Rovers haven’t been built outside the UK before. Was the Minerva the first?

    Finally how silly to end production and not have some sort of replacement to show the eager public?

    I know Land Rover is moving down the luxury and lifestyle route and doing very well with it. Their products are great. I live my Ingenium-engined Discivery Sport, but for them to turn their back on the gold plated heritage brand that is the Defender and Series just makes no sense.

    Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and a host of other car makers would kill for a product with 70 years of history behind it.

  2. @ Dan, above

    Yes,really more effort should have been made to develop Defender. I suppose, though, it’s always been viewed as the classic original, an iconic vehicle and that the first Discovery was the modern development.

    Is this market segment now being abandoned? What happened to the ‘new Defender’ I saw pictures of? My, that looked great!

    A rather sad day, in many ways, I imagine.

  3. OK, moisty eyes time, but frankly lets be real and admit that these things were really dreadful to drive or be driven in. Yes OK for muddy fields etc, but why people buy them for road use I shall never understand. Maybe its because everybody always gives way to you, knowing you couldn’t care less what you hit.

  4. Apart from all the technical questions about the Land Rover Defender not being able to satisfy various regulations or whatever, there is the uncomfortable consequence of not having these British made vehicles available for sale new to the armed forces, ambulance providers, mountain rescue and a whole array of specialised vehicle adaptions which will now have to go overseas to source an alternative vehicle. So for example up here in flood ravaged Cumbria the vehicle that came to rescue you or could deliver essential supplies was a Land Rover Defender. In future we will be getting used to seeing Toyota Landcruisers rescuing people and Mercedes G Wagens or whatever serving in the army or in parades or similar. There hasn’t been any joined up thinking in making a replacement vehicle available quickly stories of 2019 at the earliest or transferring production to India which has been an idea or even continuing production in the UK in a factory somewhere in an area where unemployment is high. The iconic nature of The Defender as a British product runs deep and there are going to be problems with overseas replacements I can see coming down the line as we do not have a vehicle to meet demands for “national service” any more. Quentin Wilson said at the end of production ceremony that there would be room for another 200,000 to be made so although I presume they must be making room for profitable Freelander or Discovery production, the case for limited production for The Defender somewhere is getting stronger. Our local Land Rover dealer put his last order of Defenders in the summer and only got half what he needed because the basic model he sells to hill farmers for £16.000 is not made in any numbers any more, the money of course is made in special editions at twice the price. So hill farmers are looking elsewhere and another market is lost. Where is the thinking that could move production to a suitable place; what about “that an old paint factory” in Halewood down the road from the Jaguar factory, just the ticket! It is not a very complicated vehicle to build and the new regulations don’t come in it is said to 2020. I rest my case! Vivian Griffiths.

    • But the market for hill farmers and other such utilities is tiny, and there are plenty of existing ones around for people who need a “Defender”. Setting up a new plant would make no economic sense for them and a few trendy urbanites, for what is a very labour intensive vehicle

      It entirely makes sense to use Solihull to produce vehicles that people want to buy, like the new XE and F-Pace, exported all around the world

      • Living out in the sticks, I see less and less Defenders and more Mitsubishi L200 / Toyota Hilux / Isuzu Denver Rodeo / even Great Wall crew cab covered pickups being used as day to day utilitarian / work transport. (For some reason they don’t really take to the Nissan Navara, either due to the early models having a catastrophic diesel engine fault, or the recent models being seen as too much like an ‘urban’ SUV).

        I believe redefining the 110 as a lifestyle vehicle rather than a commercial vehicle had something to do with it.

  5. I really wish they would stop this, until recently it was accepted that the 90/110 and defender was an entirely different car to the series Land Rovers (as it’s in reality a re-bodied Range Rover classic) Why this has changed I have no idea apart from it sounds better, what’s worse is the motoring press at large seem happy to accept this re-writing of history. Maybe they felt a 23 year unchanged production run was not impressive enough?

  6. On a more positive and slightly emotional note there are just two words I can say – “thank you”. Thank you to the Rover company and subsequent masters and owners for creating and maintaining such an amazing legacy from Series 1 to Series II, III, Lightweight, 101 Forward Cab, 90/110/130 and more recently the Defender, to name most of the incarnations and variations based on the classic no-nonsense workhorse theme.

    No matter how many books are written about Land Rover, as a company, or the product itself, none will fully capture the immense achievement this amazing vehicle achieved over almost 68 years of production. It is a fantastic achievement and despite the sadness it has finally departed these shores, it has left behind an amazing legacy that no other off-road vehicle will every surpass, let alone alone any other manufacturer.

    The Defender will re-emerge in the near future at an overseas assembly plant for sale in local markets only, so for current owners this will continue to reinforce the ongoing supply of most bits. That can only be good news.

    Thank you again to Maurice and Spencer Wilks of the Rover Company Ltd and the many employees who have been involved in the design, engineering, ongoing development and assembly of THE Land Rover.

  7. Ken – in addition to CKD production in Turkey, Brazil, Pakistan, various African countries, etc, Google the Morattab Herour which has genuine Land Rover ancestry….

    If all else fails, something similar is bound to come out of China given they have already done it with the Moke…

  8. Wasn’t there a Spanish offshoot, which begat the (I think) Santana, which went off on its own development line, even though it looked like a Land Rover with four headlamps.

    • Yep IIRC Santana built the original series Land Rover under licence, and facelifted it with a quad headlight grille. The silhouette was unmistakably Land Rover, albeit noticeable differences.

      It was also sold by Iveco as the Massif.

      Santana also built Suzukis under licence, when Santana and Suzuki went their seperate ways, Suzuki said that they wouldn’t honour the Santana built Suzukis as they weren’t actual Suzukis….

      Arguably, it may have been Jeep that killed off the Santana.

      Fiat-Chrysler pulled the plug on the Iveco Massif when they came to the realisation that they’d inherited a historic 4×4 marque – indeed, a marque which is used as a pseudonym for all 4x4s in the same way as a people call vacuums ‘Hoovers’ – Jeep.

      Iveco was effectively running the Santana PS-10 line, and with no Suzuki production the company was wound up.

      So the vehicle that inspired the original Land Rover was the one that ensured that it didn’t live on….

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