THE original Land Rover, inspired by the WWII Jeep, has survived almost an entire human lifetime, from the Cold War to global warming.
It was launched in 1948 after Rover engineering director Maurice Wilks drew an outline of a proposed light tractor that could double as an off-roader in the sand and showed it to his brother, Rover boss Spencer Wilks. Today, the go-anywhere 4x4 workhorse is as much a British motoring thoroughbred as the Austin Mini and Jaguar E-Type.
Now the Defender is dead, killed off in January by tougher emissions and safety standards.
As the last of its type, the Heritage is a celebration of an extraordinary 68 years of production, mixing “nostalgic design cues with modern creature comforts”. Hence the retro colour scheme (Grasmere Green with contrasting white roof), silver bumpers, old-school headlight surrounds and grille, painted steelies, aluminium trim, and beige cloth/vinyl upholstery.
The genius of the last Defender is how convincingly period these additional items seem, especially considering that the dash, with its Discovery-based instruments, air-con and Alpine sound system with Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, has only been around since 2007. Maybe it’s the plastic masquerading as metal, but the result transports you completely out of the present.
The flipside, of course, is ancient packaging. The narrow body means very little elbow room, Leyland-era switchgear is scattered across the dash, seat adjustment is rudimentary at best, airbags are non-existent, and engine and road noise are intrusive. The cumbersome steering, hefty gearchange and heavy clutch need to be manhandled, but that’s okay. It’s a lot like driving a recently (and expensively) restored classic.
Incredibly, though, the Defender is a fab drive. Powered by a Ford Transit diesel engine, it lunges forward hungrily, pulls rousingly through the gears and cruises relatively quietly at speed. The steering is low-geared but direct, the ride bouncy but not punishing, and the turning circle Queen Mary-esque, yet it’s still easy to park. Yep, the Land Rover is challenging but uniquely rewarding once mastered.
The lofty ‘side-saddle’ forwardfolding twin rear seats are ultra cool, particularly as they can only be accessed via the menacing swinging tailgate (don’t let it slam shut on an incline). And those roof skylights are like nothing else.
Unfortunately, every Heritage has already been sold and there will never be another. Like the Rover company that created it, the Defender’s time has also passed. c
The Land Rover Defender is the daddy of all 4x4s, influencing and changing the automotive industry as surely as it has forged new paths around the world for seven decades.
One of the world’s longest continuously manufactured vehicles, the Defender is arguably the original SUV.
And this Heritage model – one of only 2654 produced globally, only 47 of which will be imported into Australia – is the last of its kind.
Loud, bumpy ride; cumbersome; heavy gearshift; cramped, noisy cabin True original, fit-for-purpose 4x4; compact, tough and always super-cool Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Land Rover Defender Heritage 90 2198cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD 90kW @ 3500rpm 360Nm @ 2000rpm 6-speed manual 1902kg 15.8sec (claimed) 10.0L/100km $54,990 Sold out