In 1947, Maurice Wilks and his brother Spencer took a stroll on the beach to discuss their ideas for a new car, one that had all the benefits of a tractor but could also function on the roads, all while appealing to a worldwide market. They traced a shape in the damp sand; a boxy, angular 4×4 that is now instantly recognisable the world over as the iconic Land Rover Defender. It has been 67 years since the grandfather of 4x4s first rumbled off the production line, and the Defenders history is a rich, mud splattered tapestry.
The blocky design is a product of the times in which the car originated. Post Second World War, materials were thin on the ground, which meant Rover had to make the most of what was to hand. Early Defenders were almost exclusively green, due to the excess of army paint left over, and were made from aluminium alloy (and still to this day), as its use in aircraft design meant it was a readily available material. 2 million have been made to date, with an estimated 75% still functioning on the roads today. A testament to the ruggedness of their production is that the first Land Rover ever built, HUE 166 (known to friends as Huey), is still chugging along to this day, 7 decades later.
For the entire duration of their production, Defenders have always been made in the same factory in Solihull, England, but the 4×4 has never been the type to idle quietly at home. Defenders have explored all four corners of the globe, and have been used in every profession including adventuring, farming, life-guarding, rescuing, exploring, as well as in military campaigns.
Their abilities have been tested innumerable times, perhaps never more than during Land Rovers entry into the Camel Trophy every year between 1980 and 1999. The Camel Trophy was a world spanning, mud plugging, 4×4 murdering event pitting the hardiest cars against the most furiously inhospitable environments possible and the Defender dominated. Land Rover tricked out its fleet of Defenders to give them the edge, including modified fog lights, roll cages, winches, and their distinct Sandglow colour.
The cars diversity is demonstrated by its eclectic range of owners, which includes The Queen, Winston Churchill, Paul McCartney, Sean Connery, Oprah Winfrey and Robin Williams. Oh, and lets not forget old Fidel Castro, whose garage contains a bullet riddled Series I, from his revolutionary days. Would the revolt in Cuba have succeeded if its leaders were ferried around in weaponised Fiat Puntos? Well leave that for you to decide.
Over the year, the Defender has undergone several transformations, both to keep up with the competition and to accommodate its growing number of fans. Increasingly, it wasnt just landed gentry and rosy cheeked farmers who revered the Defender, it was everyday drivers. 30 years or so after the first Landys emerged, new iterations included luxuries such as a few engine options, some leather seating, and a bit of carpet here and there. Beneath it all, though, remains the same old classic; the handsome, hardy steed of the adventurous-at-heart the world over.
As of January the 29th 2016, the grandfather of off-road motoring has been retired, presumably to sit and relive its glory days, watching all the countless 4x4s it has inspired grow up. After 2 million cars sold, the reins have been handed over to the Range Rover and Freelander. Fear not though, intrepid adventure seekers, as if the durability of Defenders to date is anything to judge by, well be seeing them churning through fields, forest, desert and tundra for decades to come.