It finally happened. After a stream of announcements, commemorations, and special-edition models, the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the assembly line in Solihull, England. It represents an unbroken line that goes back 68 years, to Land Rover’s first production model.
To see the Defender off in style, Land Rover gathered 700 current and former employees of the Solihull plant, plus a contingent of historically significant vehicles. To add to the sense of nostalgia, the last vehicle built was a Defender 90 Heritage soft top, with styling cues from older Land Rover models. That car will go straight to Jaguar Land Rover’s own collection.
That vehicle can trace its lineage straight back to the first Series I Land Rover of 1948. Created by brothers Spencer and Maurice Wilks, the Land Rover was originally intended primarily for agricultural use, much like the military Jeeps being repurposed for civilian use at the time. Farmers weren’t the only ones who were interested and the rest, as they say, is history.
Land Rover continually upgraded its off-roader, which eventually evolved into Series II and Series III variants. The Defender name was added in 1990 to highlight another major overhaul, and to acknowledge that Land Rover was no longer a single-model brand. With the Range Rover and Discovery, Land Rover was headed into the more luxurious territory it occupies today.
As Land Rover design shifted to appeal more to suburban soccer moms than soldiers or explorers, car enthusiasts rallied around the Defender because of its authenticity, simplicity, and the way it exemplified Land Rover’s old values. It hasn’t been sold in the U.S. in years, but the Defender is still popular here. Whenever one drives by, heads turn.
And maybe it will be again. Land Rover has been promising a new Defender for years, although we may still have to wait a while to see it. The new model may also be very different from its admittedly antiquated predecessor, but hopefully it will do just to the Defender name.