IT’S NO SECRET that the last of the old-school Land Rover Defenders to roll off the production line in 2016 was remarkably similar in design and concept to the original Land Rover launched in 1948. Other than the obvious styling similarities, both had a basic separate chassis with a steel bulkhead, mostly aluminium body panels and live-axle suspension, albeit with leaf springs early on and coils in the later County and Defender years.
Later-model Defenders had advanced turbo-diesel engines, but, other than that, development over 68 years moved at a slow pace, until the recent launch of the all-new model at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.
The new Defender is undoubtedly a technological tour de force, but how did a company like Land Rover, with such a large range of modern 4x4s – Discovery, Range Rover, RR Velar and RR Evoque – manage to let the Defender simply plod along for so long? And then allow the nameplate to be absent from the market for nearly four years?
WE ALL know the old Defender can trace its roots back to the original Land Rover that was unveiled at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948. This was developed into the Land Rover Series I, which immediately found immense sales success thanks to its unequalled versatility. In fact, the Land Rover went on to become a British manufacturing success story that far exceeded initial expectations. In the first year of production, a total of 3048 Land Rovers were made, then 8000 in 1949 and 16,000 in 1950.
To cut a long story short, the Series I was replaced by the Series II in 1958, followed by the Series IIA in 1961 and the Series III in 1971, and by 1976, one million Land Rovers had been produced; many of those in overseas plants including Australia, which was the first country outside of England to manufacture Land Rovers.
As early as 1975, Land Rover knew that a replacement for the Series III was needed, and it toyed with the idea of a new pick-up based on the Range Rover’s body-style, called the SD5 project, but limited budgets put the brakes on its development.
“In the post ’70s, there wasn’t terribly much money available for development of a new vehicle,” explains Mike Bishop, Land Rover Classic Product Specialist.
“They knew that they really had to make a new vehicle (the SD5 project) but they didn’t,” continues Mike. “If circumstances had been different, you know, if they had launched an all-new vehicle instead of the 110, that looked a little bit like a Range Rover, but a pick-up, what you’d probably have now is a vehicle [Defender] which is very, very similar to everybody else.”
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