Currently reading: Building the 2,000,000th Land Rover Defender
The two millionth Defender is a bit special - and not just because we made its bonnet

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.


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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

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Winston Churchill 30 August 2015

Err.... You do realise that

Err.... You do realise that if you comment about me and not the article, you are proving my point.
k12479 30 August 2015

"After 67 years..."

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.
Citytiger 29 August 2015

The Defender should have been

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.
michael knight 29 August 2015

Citytiger wrote: Mercedes

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.