THERE can be nothing more warming to the heart of any true Brit than to encounter
THERE can be nothing more warming to the heart of any true Brit than to encounter in some far-off land a Land Rover churning its way along some dubious track.
It seems nowadays that in the wealthier parts of California or Dubai you will spot plenty of luxurious black Range Rovers.
But those sturdy, long-wheel-based Land Rovers that pop up regularly on our television screens crossing sand dunes or the Himalayan hinterland are to my mind more of a symbol of solid Britishness and tell us more about the Land Rover story than any newer, fancier model.
And those images etched in our minds of this famous vehicle have been with us for nearly seven decades.
This week’s drive, the Â Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon, is a model that evolved from the Â original Land Rover built in 1948 as the basest kind of four-wheel drive working utility vehicle.
The Defender name, which like everything else about the Land Rover has a certain patriotic ring to it, was not chosen until 1989 when the carmaker launched the Discovery and wanted a name for the Land Rover 90 and 110 (the numbers indicating in inches a difference in wheelbase).
So what you get in 2015 with the latest Defender is the nearest “living” example of a truly retro vehicle still coming off the production line. But apparently not for long as current owner Jaguar Land Rover plans to stop making it in December (more of which later).
But what do you get when you buy an authentic retro vehicle — not a remake or a remodelling but something with just about the same attributes of the original vehicle conceived 67 years ago? Well, with a Defender, for your £30,000-plus investment you have to look at its assets on an individual basis.
This after all is not a motor for the timid. It’s just about bigger than anything else in the domestic vehicle market: it looks down on other 4x4s and is a monster to park on the street while you pop into the shops.
The ride is robust and not to everyone’s taste I’m sure, but I believe you would have to buy the Defender for a purpose — like crossing a desert or touring mountain lowlands.
In that context, or for more rural pursuits — yes, and of course, farming and horsey events — the Defender comes into its own. It will go just about anywhere and I have driven one off road when it successfully tackled the toughest of terrain.
Incidentally, the Defender has become cool among trendy London folk: some have forsaken their hybrids for matt-black Defenders (and Sir Paul Smith has even designed one in his unique style).
On the road the technique of driving it requires a certain knack, as the 2.2-litre diesel engine rumbles and roars in turn as you tackle the muscular, manual gear box.
The four-wheel-drive is the real thing without frills so I found the best way of handling it on the road was to “drive” the vehicle, that is, give it some wellie with confidence through the gears and not be afraid of this big beast.
You are high and mighty so you get a good view of everything going on around you — an ideal stance for touring. There is air con, electric front windows and my favourite, a sunroof with a manual open and shut winder.
You have to climb up into the cab but a few practice runs soon affords a good system which is rather the reverse of the right way to slip in and out of a low sports car.
I very much liked the Defender but then I am a fan. I also liked the livery (Aintree Green) which was somehow of the same hue as those Land Rovers you see the Queen driving at Balmoral — another memorable image of stoic Britishness.
But sadly, this Defender indeed must come to an end. If you buy one after the end of this year it will be on the second-hand market. The Defender has become obsolete, its very “retro-ness” meaning it cannot live in the world of high-tech 21st -century car manufacture because of safety laws.
Besides, an entirely new Defender is on the horizon. According to Autocar the next model Defender will be “the most capable Land Rover ever built”, says Phil Popham, Jaguar Land Rover’s group marketing director.
Popham told journalists at the recent Paris motor show that the long-awaited new Defender would have the biggest “breadth of capability” of any model to wear the Land Rover badge.
So there you have it: the Defender is no more (after 2015) but long live the new Defender (probably from 2018). And a new kind of iconic Land Rover will presumably grace those supersized curved TV sets of the future.
• Colour: Aintree Green
• Interior: black cloth seats with leather inserts and black carpet
• On the road price: £33,405 including VAT, excluding extras