END OF AN ERA: The last Land Rover Defenders rolled off the Solihull plant in the United Kingdom at the end of January 2016. Image: Newspress
London - It only became the Defender way past middle age. For decades a Land Rover was simply that: a Land Rover. There was no Range Rover. Or Discovery, Or Freelander to confuse.
As Solihull expanded it’s off-road offering, the differentiation in naming convention was required, and as such, Defender came into being during the 1990s - denoting the most charming and capable of Land Rover’s products. The original. Which now, sadly, is no more.
Return of an icon
After all those years, enthusiasts remained hopeful that the ironic Defender would somehow, by miracle of industry intervention, be allowed to continue in production - despite its woefully inadequate crash safety engineering and dreadful ergonomics.
Much of this hope sourced from a British chemical company trading as Ineos.
Gallery: 2015 Defender Heritage, Adventure limited editions
No. Ineos did not supply the special I-65 paint those final heritage edition Defenders were finished in. What Ineos did supply, was hope, by committing to keep building Defenders late last year. Of course Land Rover was less given to the idea of a chemical company producing its iconic nameplate, and politely refused any cooperation agreement.
READ: Last hurrah - Final Land Rover Defender rolls off the line
Jim Ratcliffe, the chemical engineer who owns Ineos, remain undaunted. He is adamant that his company will, soon, produce a vehicle that will be Defender-like in all but name. A robust, simple, off-road working and touring vehicle.
Ratcliffe is so serious about exploiting this niche - which beyond Land-Cruiser 70, doesn’t really exist - that Ineos has been on a hiring spree, courting automotive specialists to its Hampshire HQ.
Delivery in 2020
Ineos believes its experience in global chemicals manufacturing and distribution, an industry that has scant compromise and strict controls, gifts it the skills to develop and bring to market a ‘new’ Defender.
The ambition is scale to a delivery date of 2020, with an investment in excess of R1-billion, creating 1000 jobs.
READ: This one-of-a-kind Defender sold for R8-million!
Technically, Ineos will be challenged by the same issues that face Land Rover with its Defender replacement: delivering upon the iconic off-road robustness, within a contemporary, future-proof crash safety and pollution framework.
Will it have solid axles and coils at all four wheels? We certainly hope so. In all likelihood the aviation heritage aluminium construction will be retained by Ineos too, unless they manage to source some clever plastics, from the chemical industry -a not at all impossible eventuality.