Too many cars are considered iconic these days, but among those that truly deserve the accolade is the Land Rover Defender, which will cease production at the end of this year, to the sadness of many fans (but happiness of owners, who will see Defenders’ residuals soar).
Few cars have such a distinctive shape: that familiar, utilitarian box on four wheels that a child could draw. No other vehicle can claim the crown of the first off-roader for the masses with such easy distinction.
To see the Defender off in style, the two-millionth (2M in Landy speak) vehicle in the range spawned by the original 1948 Series One line will be auctioned by Bonhams on 16 December, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross and Born Free, Land Rover’s chosen charities.
Various luminaries connected with the brand such as Bear Grylls, Theo Paphitis, Bonhams’ chairman Robert Brooks and Jaguar Land Rover’s CEO Ralf Speth have lent a hand in the build process, while the vehicle that finally rolls off the Solihull production line has also been breathed on by the Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division of Land Rover.
The SVO unit is an interesting product of the times, both for Land Rover and the luxury-car market. It emerged last year to answer customers’ desires to make vehicles a little more bespoke, designing and engineering high-specification cars along with entirely individual commissions. It’s the auto equivalent of the pink stitching round the second buttonhole of your handmade Swiss shirts.
That such fairy dust should settle on the most rugged of automotive workhorses, however, is somewhat contentious. As Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design director, wryly pointed out at the car’s unveiling at Bonhams, “When the original Land Rover was built, designers didn’t exist.”
But a look at the 2M Defender shows how sympathetic the SVO division is to its own vehicles. SVO can set to work on both the mechanics and the styling of your chosen Land Rover (or Jaguar, as it spans the whole of JLR). It will upgrade the power, tweak the suspension or embroider your initials into the seat headrests. If you have the money and inclination, the world is your double-edged stitch.
The iconic Land Rover Defender
In the case of the 2M Defender, SVO has returned to the car’s beginnings, when brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks drew plans for an all-terrain car in the sands of Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey, in 1947, and the Series One Land Rover was soon born.
An Ordinance Survey map of Red Wharf Bay is replicated on material in the seats and grab handles, and engraved on a bodywork panel on the car’s flank. A plaque bearing the names of those who helped build the car is fixed below the driver’s seat, while the door panels are a mix of traditional aluminium and satin paint. Inside, there is heritage-level badging mixed with modern leather from the brand’s Autobiography trim range. It’s all very subtle and quite charming. As McGovern said, it’s a collection piece, a piece of “Land Rover history”.
What a year to buy one.