Production of the iconic Land Rover Defender has come to an end. We're celebrating the iconic off-roader by looking at its past, present and future
29 January 2016

The last Land Rover Defender has rolled off the firm’s production line in Solihull today, 68 years after the iconic off-roader first went on sale.

Over its incredible lifespan, the Defender has been sold across the world, earning a reputation for reliability and ruggedness, as well as a go-anywhere spirit.

Few other cars have managed to attract drivers from such a wide variety of backgrounds. Owners have ranged from members of the Royal Family to farmers and the military. It’s a testament to the Defender’s broad appeal and diverse range of talents.

In the 21st century, the car’s old-school character has become a big part of its charm, and there’s little doubt the Defender is comfortably ranked among the most iconic vehicles of all time.

Land Rover plans to build a replacement for the Defender as early as 2018. Details are slim, but the firm has suggested the new car will be significantly more cost effective to produce and far more efficient to run than the original.

To mark the end of the original Defender’s production life, we followed the very last cars as they were built in Solihull. Autocar editor in chief Steve Cropley and head of video Matt Prior were both on location to follow the last cars along the line.

Arriving in Solihull, Cropley said many of Land Rover's faithful fans had gathered to see the last Defenders being built. "There's a strangely festive air," says Cropley, "rather than any sadness. 'Old faithful' has plenty of friends."

Once inside, Prior had this to say: "Such is the way Defenders are built they've been on the line for a couple of days already, line workers left with nothing to build slowly trailing down the line behind them.

"It's worth remembering what has brought us here. Age has finally caught up with the Land Rover. Were it not for a loyal following that has kept the line bubbling along at around 18,000 cars a year it would have happened years ago.

"This morning the final 15 cars, a mix of short and long wheelbase cars, the final one a 90 in Heritage spec - a soft top like the very first Land Rover [pictured below]. And then it'll be done, until its replacement. But more on that another time."

The final 10 cars to come off the line are listed below, demonstrating the continued diversity of the Defender line-up:

110 station wagon, 110 pick up, 90 station wagon, 110 SW, 90 SW, 110 double-cab pick up, 90 station wagon (Heritage spec), 110 SW, 90 SW, 90 pick up.

The very last model to be built was in fact the 2,016,933rd Defender. Some 9000 parts go into each model, and a 110 Station Wagon takes 15 hours to assemble in a poduction process which involves 550 people.

This is the sight that followed the final Defenders.

Cropley described the scene: "Seven hundred people from all over the factory converged on the end of the line to witness last car's completion. Upsetting sight for the sentimental, watching technicians putting tools away for the last time."

Cropley also confirmed that Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralf Speth has put down his own money for the last two Defenders - one for himself, and one for his daughter. "There's a weird kind of symmetry here," says Cropley. "As we watch production of the Defender end today, the car world celebrates 130 years since the birth of the car, and Karl Benz patenting a 'vehicle powered by a gas engine'."

Standing next to the production line, Prior said: "They're coming off the end of the line once every five minutes - normally it's four but it's pretty busy on the line, so Land Rover has sensibly calmed things down a little. There are lots of smiles and little ripples of applause and the odd cheer as line workers put down their tools or return packaging to its rack for the last time."

Cropley adds: "There's cheering with every operation, and it has become unbearably moving. There are lots of Defender technicians here shaking hands as if they've just played on the winning team in the World Cup.

"This is surely the end of an era. There's a brief toot from the horn of the final car as it drives away. Can this icon really be ending after 68 years?"

And sure enough, the last car arrived. "A tremendous cheer goes up, a round of applause," said Prior. "At 09.25am on Friday 29 January 2016, the last Land Rover Defender rolls off the production line."

Speaking at an official ceremony to mark the end of production, Speth said: "This is not the end of the Defender. Far from it. We merely pause.

"That [Wilks brothers] drawing in the sand will never be erased by the tide. This is not the last Defender, but it is a moment we must mark in the history of the company. Conceived as a farmer's vehicle it became a symbol of Britain. It is important to always look in this mirror."

Thankfully, the used car market has thousands of used Defender examples. Glass's guide reports that demand for late-plate Defenders has risen sharply since news of the current car's demise began to spread, with low-mileage examples being snapped up by dealers across the country. At auction, too, Defenders regularly fetch high prices due to low supply.

Commercial vehicle manager at Glass's Jayson Whittington said: "People who want to buy a Defender should do so for the same reasons as they have been doing for decades - that it is an incredibly well-proven and capable 4x4 that will keep going in the toughest of conditions."

We’ve searched the Autocar archives and collated the best of our existing Defender features onto this page.

You can get involved too, by letting us know what your memories of the classic 4x4 are in the comments section below.

Read more - a celebration of the Land Rover Defender

Crossing the Atlantic (sort of) - We know the Defender is virtually unstoppable on land, but what about in water? Richard Webber takes a 20-year-old, 216,000-mile example into the Atlantic Ocean.

Building the 2,000,000th Defender - In August of last year, Autocar joined Land Rover ambassadors, celebrities and JLR executives to help build the two-millionth Land Rover Defender. Autocar editor in chief Steve Cropley helped to fit the car's bonnet.

The most extreme Defenders ever made - from the Defender first used by the SAS, to film props and even a version fitted with tractor tyres, the Defender has been modified throughout its life to fit the needs of customers. Here we list the most extreme versions.

The man who named the Defender - Bill Morris is Mr. Land Rover Defender, and was also the company's chief engineer when the iconic badge first appeared on a production car in 1990. He tells us his incredible story.

The road trip: driving a Land Rover Defender from Calcutta to Calais - in 1951, we took a Land Rover on a 26-day, 6000-mile trip from the heart of India to France.

Rallying in the Land Rover Defender Challenge - Matt Prior tries out some Defender-based motorsport in the form of the Land Rover Defender Challenge series.

Our Defender memories - perhaps more than most, the Autocar office is full of people who have owned, driven and loved the Land Rover Defender. Our writers recount their Defender experiences.

Land Rover Defender versus Suzuki Jimny - Does the big, expensive Defender really outweight the compact and cheap Suzuki Jimny? Watch our video to find out.

Land Rover DC100 prototype driven - The DC100 concept was Land Rover's vision of the car which could replace the Defender, acting as a more premium but equally capable off-road companion. Steve Cropley delivers the first verdict.

Read our review of the JE Motorworks Defender automatic

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

Join the debate

Comments
20

29 January 2016
Mercedes seem to have managed it with the G-Wagon.

29 January 2016
The world is a very different place to when the Land Rover Defender was introduced, not to mention the original, so time to say goodbye to an icon and hope it's replacement is worthy. My Dad ran a small service station in Yorkshire and had a green SWB as his breakdown truck. He then acquired a LWB pickup with a huge crane on the back. The pickup was filthy when he bought it so he unbolted the seats to jet wash them and left them to dry on his garage forecourt and as I was reversing the SWB out of the garage, I heard a crunch…

289

29 January 2016
.....all this teary eyed stuff, and quit the looking through rose tinted glasses too. How many more 'nostalgiac Autocar' looking back type articles. Its a terrible thing to drive.....it is a tractor after all...as for ruggedness and reliability, this is just nostalgic rubbish, it hasn't been either since the end of series production, and even then they used to shake themselves to bits...regularly. The only good thing was that they were so simple then (which was also the whole point of them), that any Farmer could cobble or nail them back together so that they could limp off in a haze of smoke for another days work. Its not like they are about to disappear off the roads of Gt.Britain, with so many people happy to lavish time on the things. Good riddance I say, its ridiculously expensive, it ran out of time 20 years ago, it didn't move with the times technically unlike the G-Wagen, and its original purpose was usurped by Japanese 4x4 pick-ups as far as Farmers were concerned....who found a new luxury -being able to drive without having to have the window open!

29 January 2016
289 wrote:
.....all this teary eyed stuff, and quit the looking through rose tinted glasses too. How many more 'nostalgiac Autocar' looking back type articles. Its a terrible thing to drive.....it is a tractor after all...as for ruggedness and reliability, this is just nostalgic rubbish, it hasn't been either since the end of series production, and even then they used to shake themselves to bits...regularly. The only good thing was that they were so simple then (which was also the whole point of them), that any Farmer could cobble or nail them back together so that they could limp off in a haze of smoke for another days work. Its not like they are about to disappear off the roads of Gt.Britain, with so many people happy to lavish time on the things. Good riddance I say, its ridiculously expensive, it ran out of time 20 years ago, it didn't move with the times technically unlike the G-Wagen, and its original purpose was usurped by Japanese 4x4 pick-ups as far as Farmers were concerned....who found a new luxury -being able to drive without having to have the window open!
This from a man who chooses to drive a 90s Merc ML. The single worst car ever made!


29 January 2016
Time for it to go. However, very odd indeed that they aren't immediately replacing it. There must be much of a market for them. Shame. They need a Jeep Wrangler in their line up.


29 January 2016
They have not made 2,000,000 Defenders since 1991. They have not made 2,000,000 90/110/Defenders since 1983 either. They may well have made 2,000,000 Series I, Series II, Series III, 90/110 and Defenders but with the exception of the 90/110 and Defender which are the same car the rest are different. Similar ethos maybe, but different. So all this bullsh*t spouted mainly by Steve is really p*ssing me off. They are slow, gutless and bloody awful to drive. Poorly made and I won't miss them and their fake nostalgia loving owners one bit. I am looking forward to the new one, but how will the bullsh*t machine cope with a reintroduction of a model that has little in common with its predecessor than ethos?

289

29 January 2016
...Here, here Cheltenhamshire, I just don't know how they have got away with charging an arm and a leg for such poor quality product for so long. Maybe its a primeval instinct that men want to play at being a farmer/land owners during the weekends....or to give the impression that they are windswept & interesting.

29 January 2016
How much of this is fact and how much is sentimental, nostalgic rubbish? What survives between the original vehicle, through the Series I-III, the 90/110 and finally the Defender? In other words, what's actually been going for 68 years - a name, a shape?

29 January 2016
There is something rather special about a Defender. Not only did it boast a long and successful period in production - and, indeed, some may argue TOO long a period in production - a whopping 68 years, very little has really changed over those years, give or take a few mods along the way. Considering the lifespan for cars averages around the 6-8 year mark, the 68 years of the Landie seems ever more remarkable. Many will find it inconceivable to even contemplate buying a Defender. But it is respected right around the world and has a loyal following of admirers who appreciate its versatility, simplicity and reliability. I will admit that it is noisy, slow, lags behind every other car in terms of safety features, but by golly it is very special. As a 44 year old with a long history of owning some of Solihulls finest, i have to admit that the first time I drove a Defender, I really wasn't too happy about it. My car was booked in for a service and I requested a courtesy car as normal. Arriving at the dealership, then handing in my keys, I helped myself to a coffee and once my details had been confirmed, the service engineer approached with the car keys. "It's the defender in bay 'whatever'", he said. "A what?", I replied rather abruptly. "It is all there is, I'm afraid Gary". Well, I must admit that my initial apprehension was misguided, as I loved it! What a car. Full of character, classless, uncomfortable, no electric seats, no luxuries whatsoever. I requested Defenders specifically from that point. It is sad that production had to finally come to end. Emissions, not to mention safety, have hammered the nails into its coffin. While the replacement is not due for a few years yet, I have no doubt that the Defender will not be forgotten. The last examples are all sold, production had to be extended to accommodate those last orders and for those lucky enough to own a final example, the value will likely remain stable for the next few years, then appreciate for decades to come. I am sure they will be loved and cherished, but my only slight sadness, is that many will be locked away in garages, and simply admired rather than being used as the workhorses they were designed to be. G

29 January 2016
Maybe not - check out the Morattab Herour. Now that relations with Iran are on the mend there's got to be an import business opportunity there for somebody (hopefully more successful than Santana..) who has a cunning plan for overcoming any Type Approval problems - possibly as a kit of parts? If it can be done with Lada Nivas then why not these?

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