Icon is a grossly overused word nowadays, anybody or anything that has suffered fifteen minutes of fame tends to lumbered with the label, but there are a few things in life that it is worth reserving for and one of those must surely be the Land Rover. When I say Land Rover I’m not talking about the jazz boxes of fancy finery which adorn the streets of the more select towns and cities nowadays. No, not those, they are merely living off the fat of a distinguished legacy of the proper Land Rovers, those old crates of noise and discomfort upon which that legacy was built, the ladder framed hulks that played such a big part in opening up the world and provided a new form of mobility to those who’s work took them beyond the comfort of tarmac. These are the true heroines that carried the badge with pride and as we approach the end of January we also approach the end of this particular lady’s lineage.
This month sees the last of the Defenders role off the assembly line at Solihull, production is to cease and the only hint of a replacement is an old style Discovery look alike that was trailed as a concept vehicle a while ago. It’s not difficult to understand why this particular good thing must come to an end, it was, after all, designed in the 1940’s and although it had undergone several major upgrades it was still the same old Landie underneath, a simple steel chassis with flat aluminum panels for bodywork and a driving position that was only slightly roomier than your luggage allowance on Ryanair. I’ve had four of them and loved and hated them in equal measure, around forty years separated the build date of the first from that of last and apart from a few extra wads of plastic around the dashboard and an extra gear you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference when driving. I later had a Discovery and although it was a different animal altogether there was no disguising the fact that it was still a Land Rover, for it shared that chassis, alloy bodywork and the feeling of Land Roverness which is hard to define but you’ll know it when you feel it.
But it’s not all milk and honey. Anybody who knew their Landies would confide that if you wanted to get a tough job done then you needed a Land Rover, but if you wanted to do it twice, and in a bit of comfort, then best buy something Japanese, they were not the most reliable of vehicles and as for the longevity of the chassis then you may be lucky and get one that is intact but time could soon bestow a colander affect on them, especially the early Series Threes. The engines were never the most powerful or dependable either. Mind you, they were thumpers with bags or torque in reserve and would keep chugging away rather than stall, which is just what you need from a working rather than competition or leisure machine. The reliability issues were more a case of poor manufacture during the dark days of British Leyland and were hardly exclusive to the marque, so they may be forgiven for that if your heart is really sold on having one. And plenty of hearts are, for there is now a whole industry ready to take care of the aging fleet as they refuse to give up the ghost as the decades pass.
After nearly seventy years the old girls age could no longer be hidden. The ubiquitous 4WD pick has assumed the role of farmers transport and off road utility vehicle, the world has been explored and roads made where there none before. The army, that other great customer, needed something bigger and stronger to keep up with modern warfare and so the demand has declined and the expense of her production increased in comparison to her rivals as the method of assembly is hardly amenable to automation. Maybe she’ll surface again one day, a licence to make them might be sold to India or China just as it was to Spain in the past. Perhaps, with cheaper labour she might have a future but is it really possible for any vehicle to continue for ever? It is unlikely, so now is the time to mark her passing and thank her for all those moments of wonder and frustration she provided over the years as well as salute the achievements she made possible and the service she has given around the globe since 1948. The Land Rover truly is an Icon.