's Great British Cars – Land Rover Series/Defender

Fri 3rd May 2019

Great Britain, great cars. The UK motor industry is respected the world over, and though many of the vehicles are actually owned by foreign manufacturers, there can be no doubting of the fantastic heritage of the British motor.

To celebrate Britain’s famous history is launching a series looking back on some of the most famous vehicles the UK has ever seen.

Land Rover Series/Defender
The Second World War was over and Britain’s Rover Company saw production at its factory at a standstill. The Coventry factory was out of use due to bombing, whilst the ‘shadow factory’ which had been set up to construct Bristol Hercules aircraft engines out of Solihull, Birmingham, was empty. Building a car from scratch seemed a risk financially, and even a small prototype named the M Type was deemed too expensive.

So Rover stuck to what they knew and produced a utility vehicle which would lean heavily on the company’s expertise gained from working on the war effort. Maurice Wilks, Rover’s chief designer, was impressed by the Willys Jeep which had been a huge hit during the war, and was also using a surplus army-Jeep on his farm in Anglesey.

Wilks’ original ‘Land Rover’ concept was something of a hybrid between a light truck and a tractor, but used a distinctive aluminium/magnesium alloy, which saved on the heavily rationed steel and due to a surplus of aircraft cockpit paint, the early designs were painted a light shade of green.

The Land Rover was only ever intended to be a stop-gap, helping the company get back on the road, but three years after production began in 1948, the vehicle was still outselling the cars it was producing.

What the vehicle lacked for in looks, it more than made up for in flexibility, the simplicity of its tooling and manufacturing ensured that even though materials were rationed, the production was not compromised. And that aluminium alloy bodywork proved to be a masterstroke, making it lightweight and resistant to corrosion, the same shell was used for decades afterwards, even when it became much more expensive to use than more conventional materials.

The Land Rover Series was in production from 1948 to 1985, before being being rebranded as the Land Rover Defender in the 1980s and 90s.

The last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in January 2016, it’s distinctive boxy shape making ita hazard according to European regulations for pedestrians safety.

An all-new Defender is planned for release in 2020, expected to be built in JLR’s Slovakia plant and though a few nods to its past, the new version will have a much more modern outlook on car design.

Years of manufacture: 1948-2016 
Price when new: £1,730 
Price now: £1,500-£50,000
Engine: 1,997cc 4cyl petrol, 52bhp
Top speed: 50mph