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
• Last build of the current Defender
• Built in Solihull, UK for 68 years
• LR to design next-gen Defender
Pretoria – Land Rover celebrated the last of its current Defenders to roll off its famous Solihull production facility in England.
To mark the occasion, Land Rover invited more than 700 current and former Solihull employees involved in the production of Series Land Rover and Defender vehicles to see and drive some of the most important vehicles from its history. This included the first pre-production ‘Huey’ Series I as well as the last vehicle off the production line, a Defender 90 Heritage Soft Top.
Heritage restoration programme
At the same time, Land Rover announced a new Heritage Restoration Programme, which will be based on the site of the existing Solihull production line.
A team of experts, including some long serving Defender employees, will oversee the restoration of a number of Series Land Rovers sourced from across the globe. The first restored vehicles will go on sale in July 2016.
Take a virtual tour of the Solihuil factory here
Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Today we celebrate what generations of men and women have done since the outline for the Land Rover was originally drawn in the sand.
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“The Series Land Rover, now Defender, is the origin of our legendary capability, a vehicle that makes the world a better place, often in some of the most extreme circumstances. There will always be a special place in our hearts for Defender, among all our employees, but this is not the end. We have a glorious past to champion and a wonderful future to look forward to.”
25 unique vehicles
The Defender Celebration in Solihull saw more than 25 unique vehicles from Land Rover’s history come together in a procession at the Solihull factory.
The last of the current Defender vehicles contains an original part that has been used on Soft Top specifications since 1948 – a hood cleat. The vehicle will be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Collection.
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Land Rover fans are invited to upload their most memorable journeys ever undertaken in Series Land Rover or Defender vehicles via its online ‘Defender Journeys’ platform. According to the automaker: "Effectively a digital scrapbook, Land Rover aims to collate as many exciting adventures as possible into this online map, which users can view and share."
The closure of the Solihull production line will also bring an end to Land Rover’s Celebration Line exhibit, although this too will live on.
The replica 1948 production line has attracted more than 10 000 visitors in the last 12 months and charts the life of the Land Rover Defender from its origins in 1948 to the present day.
From 1948 to 2016 – Celebrating the Solihull story
More than two million Series Land Rovers and Defenders have been built in Solihull, UK since 1948. What began as simply a line drawing in the sand has gone on to become one of the world’s most iconic 4x4s, earning the accolade of being the most versatile vehicle on the planet, capable of taking owners to the places other vehicles couldn’t reach. In 2015, a unique milestone Defender – the ‘Defender 2 000 000’ sold for a record £400 000 (more than R9-million) – a far cry from the original £450 the first Land Rover sold for at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.
In 1948, the Series I went into full production at Solihull. Post-war Britain was struggling with a shortage of steel, though the country had vast manufacturing capacity. Inspiration came from Spencer and Maurice Wilks, two brothers who had helped return the Rover Company back into profitability during the 1930s. They had devised the Land Rover as a vehicle primarily for farming and agricultural use.
Changes followed and in 1958 the Series II brought about a new design and engine updates, including an advanced diesel engine that remained in service until the mid-1980s. Sales reached the half million mark by 1966, while annual production peaked in 1971 at 56 000 units. During the 1970s, the Series III continued to sell as well as its predecessor, a testament to its enduring appeal.
The vehicle earned a new name in 1990 – Defender. By this time, the Land Rover portfolio included the Range Rover and the newly launched Discovery. A new name was fitting for a vehicle previously only referred to by its wheelbase length and Series number.
Part of the Land Rover’s appeal came from the endless variants that were created off the basic platform, including models as diverse as fire engines, truck-like Forward Control vehicles, cherry pickers and even an amphibious car capable of floating on water. Over its 68-year history, it has been a vehicle driven by everyone from farmers and famous explorers, to royalty.
Defender Journeys – Digital Scrapbook
Land Rover has also announced the upcoming launch of its online ‘Defender Journeys’ platform, which will allow the legendary model to live on in a digital environment.
The innovative online hub will allow owners to upload details of their most memorable journeys in a Series Land Rover or Defender.
According to the automaker: "The aim is to crowd-source journeys from Land Rover drivers and plot them on a single online map, preserving the memories of amazing adventures that have taken place in the iconic 4x4 for future generations."