DEFENDER, THE STORY OF A LEGEND

An iconic and versatile, Made-in-Britain off-road. Able to transform according to requirements yet still be contemporary. To the end of our days.

The prototype dates back to 1947, created on a platform at Willys. It was nicknamed Centre Steer because the steering wheel was in the centre of the vehicle. The bodywork was in aluminium and magnesium alloy since steel, then rationed, was only used for the chassis, the partition between the cabin and the engine and the reinforcements between one panel and another. Modifications followed which led to the first model presented on 30th April 1948 at the Amsterdam Motor Show, where the vehicle’s versatility immediately captured attention and interest. Since then, the Defender has changed its “skin” numerous times with a design that has practically remained faithful to the original. A vehicle that has been able to adapt to circumstances and customer requests and “feel” the rhythm and changes of the times. And of fashions. A means that could be defined as the epitome of classic British style. Traditional. And reliable but which, this year, has undergone a radical transformation with the new 2020 model. In fact, the new Defender 2020, a much-awaited guest at the 68th Frankfurt Motor Show (12th – 22nd September) will have a radically different look to the Defender of the previous generation, with a design that is more similar to the current Range Rover models.

And it is therefore interesting to remember some of the most bizarre or less known models of an off-road that has been the dream of many generations of drivers. In addition to some amusing anecdotes and legends.

The first Land Rover, designed by the Wilks brothers, that came out of the Solihull factory was a kind of slow and noisy tractor but is was incredibly fascinating. The series produced from 1948 to 1958 had four-wheel drive and, at the beginning, a 4-cylinder, 1595cc, 50 horsepower petrol-fuelled engine. The next year saw the arrival of the station wagon model and in 1952, the cylinder capacity was increased to 1997cc. Several variations followed until 1957 when the petrol engine was flanked by a 2052cc diesel version. It was immediately successful and so series II, IIA and then series III soon followed. Series II still had the classic diesel engine but the petrol version increased to 2286cc. The transmission had 4 gears of which only the 3rd and 4th were synchronized. The transmission had fixed rear-wheel drive and the front wheel drive could be inserted manually using a knob on the right of the gearstick. Another lever inserted the gear reducer for travelling on rough terrains. Series IIA was presented in 1961 with a few modifications and a new 4-cylinder, 2286 cm³ diesel engine. In 1968, the headlights were moved onto the fenders to meet highway code regulations in some European countries. Series II foresaw further motorization changes with a 4-cylinder, 2286cc model and three petrol-fuelled models: a 4-cylinder, 2286cc, a 6-cylinder 2625cc and an 8-cylinder 3528cc. The Land became something more than a simple off-road vehicle. It was more of a car with different civil and military uses.
Like the classic ice cream van, typical of English towns and even in London. Or even a truck for transporting beer barrels.
Without forgetting its very British, military jeep soul, able to adapt to every situation.
And what about its vocation for transporting travellers and explorers to places that would appear to be impossible to reach? As happened with the Far East Oxford and Cambridge Expedition in 1955-56 which used Series I station wagons, extremely different to the previous Tickford model since they were built with bolted aluminium panels. The trip, undertaken by six university students from Oxford and Cambridge, left from Hyde Park in London on the 1st September 1955 and crossed France, Monaco, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and arrived in Singapore on Marth 6th 1956 six months and six days and over 18,000 miles (about 29,000 kms) later.
Or the long wheelbase, 109, Forest Rover built by Roadless Traction in Hounslow, which mainly converted tractors into four-wheel drive vehicles for companies and societies, such as the Forestry Commission, that needed something high off the ground with excellent traction.
Not to mention the classic Lightweight military patrol
The desert version.
And the one destined for the elite troops, the Pathfinder Platoon with its Pathfinder LVRP, Long Range Patrol Vehicle version.
Or a Utility truck.
And even a Forward control, a sort of van for army usage.
Or the various caterpillar vehicles for exploration, like those used in the artic regions. And then there are the off-roads that can become trucks. And those used as radio-controlled vehicles for use in dangerous areas.
Not to speak of the classic pick-up version.
And when speaking of danger, there is always James Bond who was also bewitched by the Defender even it is was the car used by the villain in the 2015 film Spectre directed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig in the role of the famous secret agent. For the film some highly modified models of the Land Rover Defender (and the Range Rover Sport SVR) were built by the Special Operations division, fitting them with big off-road tyres designed for the most extreme terrains, tailor-made suspension and greater bodywork protection.
A passion that continued, given that the latest 007 film, No time To Die, which chose some locations in Apulia and Basilicata, includes a Defender in the 2020 version which is to be presented at Frankfurt and which we are showing a “camouflaged” version of.
And then, given that the Defender makers like to surprise, here are two variations on a theme: the DC 100, presented at Frankfurt in 2011, a concept car in two versions, closed and open, and the Defender DC100 Sport, which, like its hard-top twin, has some of the stylistic solutions and technologies that were to be introduced later.
And lastly, for the younger enthusiasts, there is also the Defender Pedal car presented as a concept at Frankfurt in 2015. A special collector’s edition created to celebrate the iconic Defender’s 60th anniversary and which was sold as a collector’s item to real Land Rover lovers. Children could pedal the car forwards and backwards while a spring suspension and brakes allowed the little driver to go on many great adventures.

CURIOSITY
THE OVAL LOGO AND SAND
Several legends go around about the Defender. One sustains that the first sketch of the Land was made on the sand at Red Wharf Bay, the other says that the idea of the oval logo recalls the lid of a tin of sardines being eaten during the testing phase. Then there is the one regarding Series III when, in 1971, the front, with all the lights on the fenders and built-in headlights and the metal radiator grille were replaced with ABS, a decision that greatly disappointed the Australians, who used it for cooking steaks on their campfires.