The End of the Defender, the ‘Last Real Car’

Ari Zoldan |

What do Paul McCartney, Queen Elizabeth, James Bond and British farmers have in common? They all drive the Land Rover Defender – or they did, until it was discontinued this week. It’s the end of an era for this British icon, the car that captured the hearts of civil servants, agricultural workers and celebrities alike. Citing new safety and emissions standards, Land Rover has opted to end sales of the car that gave the brand its name.

It was the original Land Rover, intended to reinvigorate sales for the British carmaker Rover. When it outsold the main Rover line, attracting drivers beyond the farmers and soldiers it was built for, the Defender became the first in a new lineup of Land Rovers. A product of post- World War Two England, the car was a study in practicality. Steel was scarce, so the Defender was made from aluminum. It got its boxy design from the unavailability of tools needed to round its edges. Even the original color – military green - says World War Two surplus. It quickly became the symbol of British durability, favored by drivers of every social class. "It could be driven by the gamekeeper on the estate or it could be driven by the landowner, or the garage-owner with the breakdown truck and the fire brigade,” says Neil Watterson, deputy editor of Land Rover Owner International magazine.

The Defender’s long-lasting design, off- road capabilities and no-frills driving experience ensured its popularity with no-nonsense drivers for almost seventy years. Today, many Defender enthusiasts customize their vehicles, raising the cars’ values to as much as $100,000 to $250,000, says expert auto dealer Oren Abadi. Now that the car is no longer available, Abadi predicts that the Defender’s price will go up at least 40-50% in the next two to three years. A quick internet search reveals that the Defender’s price is already skyrocketing. With an established following of drivers across the socio-economic spectrum and a place in both history and popular culture (the car’s film appearances include Skyfall and The Queen), the Defender is poised to remain sought-after for decades to come – at any price.

The Defender’s replacement, the 2018 model, will not likely measure up to its predecessor’s reputation. The 2018 Defender includes the kind of comfortable pluses scorned by supporters of “the last real car”. Land Rover designer Gerry McGovern says of the 2018 model that “people will know it’s a Defender, it’s a modern Defender…but it will bear no resemblance to those (early) Defender concepts.” This is unacceptable to Defender-lovers like Leonid Bershidsky, who wrote in his article “RIP Land Rover’s Defender, the Greatest Car Ever” that the new model will be “just another dull SUV – something the world can do without.”

“Cars don’t feel like what they used to,” says Abadi. “I don’t think they can replicate the old Defender.” It’s a fear shared by auto-enthusiasts around the world, as the Defender retires with no sign of a worthy successor. “And good luck buying a used model,” says Bershidsky. “Owners hate to sell them, and they hardly depreciate - they weren't made to throw away, after all, like most merchandise these days.”

“It’s meant to be rugged,” says Abadi of the Defender. “The unbreakable car. You cannot mistake a real Defender.”

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