The Land Rover Defender Lives On

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landrover defender side view

One of Britannia’s beloved iconic vehicle halted production two years ago. The Land Rover Defender was built over a span of over six decades, with several variants churned over the years made the Defender hugely popular and still is loved by off-road enthusiasts due to its bundu-bashing credentials.

Land Rover Defender Past

Born from the ashes of the second world war, it was developed out of necessity by an industrious Maurice Wilks at his backyard. Inspired by the American Willy’s Jeep ‘Go anywhere ability’, Wilks fashioned the Series One prototype out of a battered Jeep by scavenging the axles and gearbox, placing them on an Aluminum (Britain was in short supply of steel after the war, Wilks decided to use Aluminium as it was the only available material in large supply then).

It is with master stroke if utilizing aluminium that made the Land Rover Series One a success.  Since Aluminium doesn’t corrode or react to the elements, Land Rovers were used in extreme conditions from the forests of Mount Kenya during the state of an emergency period to the treacherous deserts in South America.

During the development phase, Wilks and his team realised the Land Rover’s strongest point was its versatility. It could be turned into a tractor, fire ambulance, troop personnel carrier and amphibious vessel.

I recently had the privilege of attending the 65-year celebration of Land Rover in Solihull, England and I must say I was humbled beyond measure when I visited the heritage centre at Packington Estate. The word pedigree comes to play as every single model prototype ever built was on display was available to test drive.

Behind the wheel of the Series One, you get a feeling of nostalgia. Instantly you get a hang of Land Rover’s distinct features; high seating position, clamshell bonnet and a floating roofline, features that resonate to date with the latest Land Rover.

Locally the Defender has been part of our motoring culture way before we attained our independence. It is said that 70% of Kenyans identify with the Defender as the first vehicle they had ever seen.

Post-independence the Land Rover became the backbone of the Kenyan administration, due to its off-road capabilities. It became the vehicle of choice to exert authority in the far-flung regions of the country where road infrastructure was almost non-existent.

As the years went by the Defender gained popularity globally and was improved gradually to fend off competition from the East. The biggest update came in 1983 when the ‘Defender’ nameplate was adopted officially. It had two body styles o mainly the short wheelbase ‘Defender 90’ and the Long Wheel Base ‘Defender 110’ Station wagon.

Land Rover also introduced a more powerful 2500cc Turbo Diesel engine with more torque, new gearbox with revised low ratio settings to enhance its off-road credentials. Suspension-wise saw the introduction of all-round coil springs for extra comfort and better road handling.

Inside the cabin saw the introduction of creature comforts like air conditioning, audio systems and comfortable seats for the passengers. This update went unchanged to the present date.

Land Rover Defender Future

Land Rover announced in 2010 that Defender would cease production by 2015, citing stringent safety and emission regulations set by European Union.

subsequently, during the Paris International Motor-show in the same year, Land Rover revealed the DC100 concept, indicating what Land Rover intends to do with the next generation Defender.

Images of the DC 100 concept ‘broke the internet’ as it elicited mixed reactions from fanatics globally. Some hated the monocoque body structure and the ‘softness’ of the design. A few years back I had an interesting conversation with Land Rovers design director Gerry McGovern and mentioned to me that designing the next generation Defender is probably the hardest task he has ever undertaken in his long career in automotive design.

One thing is clear, the passion for the Defender runs far and wide based on its accomplished career over the decades.  The big question is being we ready for the next generation Defender? Land Rover will make a ‘huge announcement’ at this year’s Paris Motor-show and we all hope it will be the reveal of the Defender replacement. For now, all I can say is you Land Rover for the Defender, it will be sorely missed by all.

Trevor Lamenya