Early next year, production of the Defender will cease at its West Midlands home

That great sword and aluminium animal, the Land Rover Defender, and its ancestors have been clanging and plunking their way off the production line at Solihull since 1948. Born in postwar rationing, the Defender appears as quintessentially British as the Queen, Churchill or Bond, among the other national icons who have been plonked atop its unbending chassis.

Orders have boomed of late, and the 2 millionth Defender will be auctioned off at Bonhams in London next week, possibly for the price of a indulgence sports car. But the representation that has helped adventurers, soldiers, farmers and generations of admirers is almost done: engulf at last by experience, engineering and other regulations.

The cold reality of the business is that vehicle manufacturers, Jaguar Land Rover, is now owned by Indian multinational Tata, and the world has moved on. In early 2016, production of the Defender will cease at its West Midlands home.


Queen Elizabeth II in a Land Rover in Windsor, Berkshire, 1987. Picture: Georges DeKeerle/ Getty Images

Eric Davis worked on the original production line of what was then the Land Rover Series I. Now aged 90, he has returned for a visit and examines on intently as his modern successor fastens the rods to a body of a Defender. Davis, who had invested three years in serving in Burma during and after world war two, property a activity as a backstage fitter at the factory through his brother, who had joined from constructing Spitfires nearby.

its much easier now, he giggles, it used to be all. He simulated the speedy forearm movements of someone tightening rods with a spanner. Now, theres a pneumatic fastener.

Land Rovers have been built there ever since: the operation has derived and expanded, but the Defender( as it was rebranded in 1983) is, if not exactly hand-crafted, obligated with a far big human input than found in most modern automobile production line. In residences, robots shaking door bodies around to spot-weld with pinpoint accuracy; but a few metres away, a section of the factory still moves as it did 67 years ago, Davis shows.

Building the look of one of “the worlds” most iconic vehicles – this production line has never changed, says Michael Bishop, a Land Rover historian who leads tours of the line.


After the Champion form is made, it takes a date to treat with 185 C showers and electrolysis in the colour shop. Picture: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

He props up a metal area that has been in all vehicles from one to 2m, a stiffener pinnacle for the rear pedal well. The locomotives, gearboxes and even the doors now have a complexity that verifies them constructed abroad, but the conversion on this wrinkle of the dull sheen of aluminium personas into a moving vehicle at the other objective is still something to behold. Not bad for what Bishop characterises as a giant meccano set.

After the body is made, it takes a date to treat with 185 C showers and electrolysis in the colour shop, before the fitted-out Defender rises on date three, in a succession of four-minute stagecoaches along the assembly line where around 500 beings wield. Every vehicle is built to ordering, from a immense array of permutations of bodies and bases.


Model Land Rover Defenders at Land Rover Experience tour in Solihull. Picture: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Its hard to find two the same, even ordinarily. And all these are limited editions, says John Carroll, the editor of Classic Land Rover, at the Solihull line. The vehicles made during a ramped-up final time of yield in Solihull include tributes to the HUE 166, the original Series I model whose Birmingham area number plate devotees all recognise, with Defenders painted in that original subtlety of RAF surplus green.

Its conception owed much to the crusade: the Rover firm had grown from a Victorian stitch machine manufacturer via bicycles to carmaking, and moved to Solihull a camouflaged place was established to fabricate aeroplanes in the crusade in 1945 after its Coventry home was bombarded. Rovers premier designer, Maurice Wilks, had been running a Jeep the US armys second world war workhorse on his farm at Anglesey and was stimulated to go one stair beyond, famously sketching out the design for his new vehicle on small island developing sands.

With a four-wheel drive, a light-colored aluminium form, bench tushes and canvas ceiling, the Land Rover was said to be like a Jeep but better. To recognize the first time of yield, children of staff were invited to the Solihull factory fetes, which included demonstrations of the new Land Rover driving at a 30 grade sideways tilt on the test way. As the adults climbed aboard, Rover recognized a win: the intrepid research drive became a marketing device that perseveres to this day.


The iconic vehicle has been produced at the Sohilull site since 1948 but the company will be terminated yield next month. Picture: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

An exhibition in the very heart of the Defender production line compiles a small biography of owneds and admirers testimonies, from private vehicles being implemented in pioneering Royal Geographical Expeditions, a battered Series I handed down from first proprietor to granddaughter, and more than one Land Rover used as duets official wedding autoes. The manufacturer is forecast that 66% of all those ever built are still on the road.

So given the longevity and the passion it invigorates, what has shut its downfall? Partly, changes in legislation that made some of its distinctive features outmoded, if not downright illegal. Side-facing tushes in the back were proscribed by EU legislation after 2007, and changing guidelines, in gasoline consumption and emissions to disintegrate research, did more and more facets of the Defender unviable. Once no longer compliant for sale in the US, the Defenders expectations in other marketplaces were severely abridged.

The harsher truth is that even its supporters have started to turn away , no longer as forgiving of its omissions. The evaluations are telling: while the readers of What Car? still exclaim their joy for the Defenders they own, the professionals have had enough: a one-star finding, woeful on safety, thunderous and a gruesome move. It summing-up up: Off-road, very little can touch it. On-road, theres very little to recommend it.


The Defenders interior is accommodated at the Solihull plant. Picture: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

While the nostalgia-fest has rekindled strong sales throughout the last year of yield, vehicle manufacturers clearly had to act. A Jaguar Land Rover spokeswoman says: As desired and iconic as it was, it needs a full revamp. As a business representation it needs to advance. But the story of Defender will continue.

A next generation model of the Defender is expected to be unveiled in the next two years one whose stature is more akin to the modern 4x4s on the road. Selling districts of the future may be keen to stress its patrimony to certain purchasers, likely the Brits. But Land Rover concedes that the clear lineage of the current Defender from the Series I of a very different postwar Britain will be gone. And whatever its future shape , no one will claim it to be handmade in Britain.

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