The two millionth Defender is a bit special - and not just because we made its bonnet
29 January 2016

After 68 years, it hardly seems possible that the original Land Rover, nowadays badged Defender, has ended production, killed by a mix of outmoded production methods and new-fangled regulations.

To mark this ‘retirement’, Land Rover is sending its icon out on a high, staging a series of commemorative events, launching three limited-production heritage models and auctioning the two millionth Defender, built a couple of months ago, off for charity.

Building the two millionth Defender was a more strung-out affair than usual, because the company invited several dozen Landie-driving luminaries to participate, everyone from company chief Ralf Speth and veteran Land Rover engineer Roger Crathorne to actress Virginia McKenna, who, after portraying animal conservationist Joy Adamson in the film Born Free, set up an Africa-based wild animal charity.

Others less prominent but equally keen were also invited, and one of them was your humble servant, given the job of helping to make and fit the two millionth bonnet.

Production line work is no picnic, especially when you must perform an operation 106 times a day with perfect attention to detail. Putting cars together takes strength, concentration, dexterity and brain strain, and there’s never any time to spare.

My job was to assist two operators, Jake Ainsworth and Adrian Lowe, to load a bonnet inner and outer into a welding rig, where they would be combined for ever by a series of blue flashes, then to fit the united structure with its distinctive hinges.

After that, we’d unite the finished assembly with its correct Defender body, which just happened to be crawling past on a moving base called a skid.

The Defender production line isn’t Jaguar Land Rover’s most modern – in fact, the whole place is earmarked for modernisation after December – but it’s still an impressive process. No dirt floor here.

There are several robotised operations (constructing the complex scuttle panel is one), and everyone who lays hands on a customer car gets thoroughly assessed for aptitude and dexterity before being accepted for training. Every assembly operation is laid out in detail. There are even diagrams, a bit like dancing instructions, that show exactly where and when you move.

Because I was to be protected by the experience of Jake and Adrian, I was able to circumvent all that, but there was no avoiding the wearing of steel-capped boots and a high-vis vest. My heart was beating hard when the time came to lift a bonnet inner from a rack of pressings and place it in the welding jig.

There’s a knack to picking up big pieces of steel (you need thick gloves to prevent cuts, but they dull your touch), and I didn’t have it. It was also instructive to see the speed at which you have to work and how little time you get to settle the parts into place and start the welding process.

Still, with coaching, not least from plant boss Phil Cox, I managed to bed the parts in place, press a button to lower the spark-protective door and begin the welding process. That was quick. Within a minute, it was time to lift the new assembly onto a bench and fumble the two hinges into position (starting the threads by hand and then tightening them with a torque-limited power wrench). Then it was done. Three minutes’ hard work.

My impression? That process work is tough and there’s no time to spare; there was certainly none allocated to standing and admiring my handiwork. Jake and Adrian were already halfway through building bonnet number two million and one, I noticed, attacking it with exactly the same speed and skill as the one that created all the fuss.

Read more:

Crossing the Atlantic in a Land Rover Defender

The most extreme Defenders ever made

Our Land Rover Defender memories

Our Verdict

Land Rover Defender
The chassis and body are hugely strong and should last a lifetime. The detailing, such as the interior trim, is dreadful

The Land Rover Defender is an institution and unbeatable off road, if crude on it

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Comments
11

29 August 2015

Killing this car is nuts. The Defender remains the star draw of any Land Rover showroom. It will cost them dearly.

29 August 2015

Yet another 'journalist' on a manufacturer expensed junket. How can they be impartial? It's not even a slightly interesting or informative piece.


29 August 2015
Winston Churchill wrote:

Yet another 'journalist' on a manufacturer expensed junket. How can they be impartial? It's not even a slightly interesting or informative piece.

Neither is your response. Zzz.

289

29 August 2015

Winston Churchill wrote: Yet another 'journalist' on a manufacturer expensed junket. How can they be impartial? It's not even a slightly interesting or informative piece.
Rob Hardy wrote - "Neither is your response. Zzz".

Ha- Ha- Ha, perfect Rob.

I am sure WC thinks he has some divine right to hand-out judgement on people he doesn't know/has never met, like some sort of crazed wannabe teacher issuing marks out of ten!
Worse, he thinks we actually give a damn what he thinks!

I am not as dewy eyed about the last Defender as Steve Cropley is, as I feel Land Rover current offering is a far cry from the original series one, but what I do know is that Steve, (and Hilton) are the two LEAST biased scribblers in Haymarket, and both highly regarded in the Motor Industry.
Shows just how much WC knows huh?

29 August 2015
robhardyuk wrote:
Winston Churchill wrote:

Yet another 'journalist' on a manufacturer expensed junket. How can they be impartial? It's not even a slightly interesting or informative piece.

Neither is your response. Zzz.

Ladies, before the moist takes you over and you begin a scissor sisters performance, may I remind you that these pages are precisely for opinion and comment about the article and not other people. I fear you won't be long for this manor if this continues (again 289, in your case). Find someone else to stalk please.


289

29 August 2015

Ah well WC...gave me a good laugh today (at your expense)
WC quote "may I remind you that these pages are precisely for opinion and comment about the article and not other people". Suggest WC before you start handing out your usual high-handed advice you modify your behaviour accordingly FIRST!
quote "Find someone else to stalk please"....again, take your own advice and stalk another Forum WC...let us just discuss motor vehicles without your twisted bile. BTW Do you ACTUALLY have an opinion on the Defender, or are you just jumping to irrelevant conclusions as usual...in this case about Steve Cropley - who is one of the best?

30 August 2015
Winston Churchill wrote:

...may I remind you that these pages are precisely for opinion and comment about the article and not other people.

This is ironic, yes, or don't you ever read your own posts?

29 August 2015

The Defender should have been heavily modified to cope with today's regulations or killed off and replaced years ago. Mercedes manages to keep the G-Wagon capable of meeting current standards, without compromising its off-road abilities, surely its wasn't beyond the engineers at JLR to do likewise.

29 August 2015
Citytiger wrote:

Mercedes manages to keep the G-Wagon capable of meeting current standards, without compromising its off-road abilities, surely its wasn't beyond the engineers at JLR to do likewise.

Agreed. Could have been developed, but killed off in reality by the product-planners. They 'could' have thoroughly re-engineered it but it doesn't fit in with the continual rise upmarket for the brand.

30 August 2015

How much of the original vehicle is left? I would venture, none. From series 1 to 2 to 3 to 90/110 to Defender it isn't the same vehicle, not even a nameplate. This prolonged death and gushing 'end of an era' rubbish is becoming rather cringe-worthy.

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