I remember reading an article about a man who had bought his first Land Rover sometime in the 1960s. It began with a series of pictures of him and his immaculate Series 2 Land Rover. The images showed a time frame in which he appeared first as a young man and became progressively older and more fragile, and the car looked more used and aged. These pictures really illustrated the longevity of the Defender and its enduring nature.
Since its launch in 1948, the Defender has certainly endured. The story has it that Maurice Wilks, the chief engineer at the time, sketched the first shape of the Land Rover on the beach at Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey. That same basic shape is still recognisable today. In fact, it is so recognisable, you could justifiably call this vehicle iconic.
Over the past 67 years, the Defender has travelled the world, from the deepest jungles of the Amazon, and now, to the high-rise urban jungle. Today’s Defender (pictured above) still uses some of the same components used on the original Series 1 nearly seven decades ago.
The time has come to create a new Defender and it will be created in a different manner, with function and form equally important. The automotive industry used to be about engineering coming first, followed by the design. Today, design and engineering go hand in hand, complementing each other at every stage of development. It is all about creating a cohesive form that looks desirable – after all, the number-one prerequisites of good design are optimised volume and proportion. It’s about creating the right balance and valuing design without compromising engineering integrity.
We achieved this with the Range Rover Evoque. Originally, the engineering team found the LRX concept car – which became the Evoque – challenging to deliver; however, through working together, we found a way to deliver the vision, and sales excelled all expectations. Design was at the core. The Evoque has gone down in automotive history as one of the most successful transitions from concept to reality, and it realised the connection between outward aesthetics and interior ergonomics. This was the start of the change at Land Rover – it made people realise that, through design, you can create vehicles you can connect with on an emotional level.
When I returned from America to join Land Rover, I had a design bible that was full of philosophies that had evolved almost from the era when the first Land Rover was built, in the late 1940s. But the evolution of the brand is important, people change, the world changes. We have to create a brand that is relevant to today. The interesting thing is that the transition of Land Rover to a company with design at the centre of its philosophy has been quite a difficult journey precisely because of the long-lived success of the Defender. That vehicle prioritised function over form. It looks the way it does because of what it does.
The replacement of the Defender will have all-terrain capability coupled with design excellence. It is important that its successor is a worthy one because it has been the anchor of the Land Rover brand. It is still the spiritual core.
We are celebrating the life of the Defender by creating two special editions. The first, in collaboration with British designer Paul Smith, features 27 different colours. The second is the two-millionth Defender to come off the production line in Solihull, and it will be auctioned at Bonhams to raise money for charity. It has a map of Red Wharf Bay etched into the aluminium on one wing and a plaque that lists the names of some 50 people who helped build it – people with a connection to Land Rover, such as adventurer Bear Grylls and Virginia McKenna, founder of the Born Free Foundation – who came to the plant and attached the components on the production line.
Significantly, both special editions are products of our Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) facility. This department is dedicated to making bespoke models, and my design organisation works with the SVO team to create vehicles that are truly unique. Increasingly we’re seeing that people want to take them and do things to them to personalise them. Which only goes to show how attuned to design we are all becoming.
The two-millionth Land Rover Defender will be auctioned at Bonhams on 16 December 2015. All proceeds will go to the Born Free Foundation and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; landrover.co.uk; bonhams.com