THE END of an era, the end of an icon, but not the end of the off-road for the Land Rover Defender.
The curtain came down on 68 glorious years of production of the global car superstar at the Lode Lane plant in Solihull last week.
An audience of 700 current and former employees, key workers, dignitaries and motoring elite were there to see the final Defender roll off the production line and see some of the key Defenders (previously the series I) from across the generations.
It was also used to launch a new Heritage Restoration Programme which will see a team of experts restoring second-hand Defenders sourced from across the globe.
More than two million Series Land Rovers and Defenders have been built in Solihull, UK since 1948 – supporting thousands or workers directly and through the local supply chain.
Plans for an all-new Defender – and whether or not it will be built at Solihull – are still tighly under wraps, but the company is committed to building a new model in the iconic family tree which meets modern safety and environmental demands.
Speaking at the event, Dr Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover, said: “There will always be a special place in our hearts for Defender, among all our employees, but this is not the end.
“We have a glorious past to champion, and a wonderful future to look forward to.”
Nick Rogers, Group Engineering Director at Jaguar Land Rover, added: “This is a special day of fond celebration for Jaguar Land Rover.
“We all have personal memories of Defender.
“It’s a true motoring icon and is much loved around the world.
“The world has changed dramatically in the last 68 years, but this vehicle has remained a constant – something no other vehicle can claim.
“The last of the current Defender models embraces the vehicle’s simplicity, honesty and charm – it represents its Series Land Rover heritage. “Creating the Defender of tomorrow, a dream for any engineer or designer, is the next exciting chapter and we are looking forward to taking on that challenge.”
The Defender began its life as a simple line drawing in the sand – but went on to become one of the world’s most iconic 4x4s, earning the accolade of being the most versatile vehicle on the planet, capable of taking owners to the places other vehicles couldn’t reach.
In 2015, a unique milestone Defender – the ‘Defender 2,000,000′ sold for a record £400,000 – a far cry from the original £450 the first Land Rover sold for at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.
For many Defender owners the vehicle has become part of the family, just as on the Solihull production lines where that same family bond has been forged over the years by the workforce.
Tim Bickerton, aged 55, has 40 years’ service with Land Rover having started as an apprentice, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Charlie and father Peter, who clocked up 35 and 30 years respectively working on the same line, both progressing to foreman.
Tim was followed by his daughter Jade, aged 25 who worked on logistics and materials for the Defender, before recently moving to another area within JLR.
Then last year his 23 year old son Scott became the fifth member of the family to work on the Defender.
Tim, who worked on producing special limited edition Defender models, said: “I am hugely proud of our special family tradition working on this remarkable vehicle.
“The Defender has become part of our family.
“We’re like a stick of rock with Defender running through us.
“The Defender is the vehicle that everyone relates back to Land Rover; it may be seen as a workhorse but we think it has become a real thoroughbred.”
David Smith, 56, is another 37-year veteran of the current Defender production line who will be moving across to the Jaguar XE production area.
A former butcher he joined Land Rover as a 20-year-old because it doubled his wages to £80 a week and gave him a job with long term prospects. He said: “Working on the Defender is like being part of a big family.”