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You may be the type of classic car obsessive that lives in a retro bubble and never comes up for air, blissfully unaware of the outside world and rarely glancing up from your pot of Swarfega. If that’s you; hi there, thanks for reading, but please remember to feed yourself and check in with your loved ones once in a while. The slightly more well-adjusted amongst us may take a passing interest in the current motor industry. I take a vague interest, but mainly only to reinforce my own confirmation bias. However, you’d have to have been living with your head in a cardboard box to be completely unaware of this year’s big news from Land Rover. They’ve just launched their hotly anticipated new Defender at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and in some quarters it has been more eagerly awaited than the second coming of the actual Messiah. ViaRETRO’s invitation to the launch obviously got lost in the post, so I’ve monitored the situation from a distance. That suits me fine because the thought of padding the carpet at Frankfurt isn’t top of my list of things to do in the Rheinland, but I’ll admit a curiosity regarding the reactions of others.

For several years, the usual internet forums have been clogged with speculation tracking every stage of the new Defender’s gestation. Grabbed shots of heavily camouflaged prototypes have sparked endless debate, which can be summarised as one side demanding that it would only be a proper Land Rover if it exactly replicated their own highly bastardised Series III, whilst the other side salivated at the prospect of how shiny the new shiny thing would be. Neither side had any more actual visibility of the forthcoming model than a mole rat, but religiously clung to their convictions like glue, regardless. I can’t pick a side in this debate, because whilst I’d run a mile from the lease jockey social climbers, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with the hardcore “off road” enthusiasts either. I’ve been known to roll around in a 4×4, but at no point did I feel the need for a lift kit, hefty winch, strategically riveted checkerplate or roof mounted Ring spotlamps. I have never bulk purchased “One Life Live It” stickers and I don’t have a CB radio call sign. I don’t have a fixation with theoretically being able to hose out my car’s interior, because for multiple good reasons literally nobody has ever done this more than once. My greatest crime would be to have recognised that other than in statistically insignificant cases of extremis, other brands of 4×4 do the same job more cheaply and reliably.

Could all that camouflage be hiding a perfectly retro design which is entirely true to the “proper Land Rover” heritage?

The hardcore mob may be tedious buffoons, but more critically for them their blinkered view of what defines a “proper Land Rover” has made them irrelevant to the very company they worship. Land Rover can’t afford to cater for the whims of a tiny niche of swamp people who won’t ever put the money down on a brand new one. The cheapest new Defender 110 starts at £45,240. There won’t be many getting bumped around the pay-and-play at that sort of price. So with the hardcore getting het up about axle articulation and not being able to straighten the wings with a crowbar, the real target market for Land Rover has taken a more real world view. The aspiring middle classes, especially awful urban dwellers with faux-country pretentions, will doubtless love what they see. The new Defender is so on-trend and slots right into Land Rover’s range of multiple similar variations on a theme. It’s not meant to sell to farmers or the offroad scruff bags, it’s for accountants in Amersham and surgeons in Shanghai. No competent management structure would chase a low margin and low volume sector when the market offers a significantly more profitable opportunity.

But still a few voices plaintively cry that it doesn’t quite look like an old Defender. Well, it wouldn’t, would it? The original product was largely unchanged for 70 years. The last big revision occurred in 1983 and the reason it was finally dropped was because it had become uneconomic to reengineer to the latest safety standards. It may have been considered an icon in some quarters but not enough people actually bought one for it to be financially sustainable. There’s no denying it had a pretty good run but it was desperately antiquated by the end. Being out of date wouldn’t have been such an issue had it stayed as an agricultural working tool and been priced appropriately, but it only survived so long by seeing out its latter years as a lifestyle trinket. Given the need for comprehensive redevelopment and the target market being so firmly defined, why would anyone expect the new version to be a faithful facsimile of the 1948 / 1971 / 1983 original? Nostalgia sells, but new technology and contemporary features sell a whole lot more.

In the case of the new Defender we have the strange situation of a car being criticised at launch for being not old fashioned enough. Imagine Ford unveiling their new Focus to be greeted by shouts of protest at the demise of millennium era New Edge styling, or Vauxhall pulling the covers off an Insignia to be faced by a roomful of fleet managers grumping about it not being a proper three box saloon with a boot. In all other car launches, new is deemed to be good but Land Rover were always going to get hecklers with this one. In my view, the new model marks a watershed moment, with any real pretence of making honest functional vehicles being firmly consigned to history. They’ve been a hawker of trinkets for a long time now, but this really slams the door for the last time. Good luck to them, and I mean that sincerely because if that helps secure jobs who am I to argue.

Land Rover may have made the final shift away from their roots, but even with my ViaRETRO head on, I can’t get too worked up about it. There are enough of the old ones around to last until the oil runs out or internal combustion is outlawed, so nobody needs to worry about supplies drying up. Now the new one is finally here the chancers wanting top money for their ratty old “appreciating guaranteed investments” may get reigned in a bit as those chasing a fashion statement will find more satisfaction with next year’s 2020 version. I appreciate that reading about a new car on these pages may have violated your trust in what may have been considered a safe space, but I didn’t spring it upon you with any malice. Instead I think it proves that those who seek the past within the future will only end up disappointed. Retro inspired is all very well, but only genuine retro will really hit the spot. You can go back to your pot of Swarfega now. It’ll all be ok.


14 Responses

  1. jakob356

    Great writing as always, thank you.

    I can see that it aims to have the same high flat sides as the old Defender, but it might as well be an updated IH Scout or Ford Bronco. But those two were also made from the same original idea of an offroad vehicle a little more road capable than the original army jeep. And I think they got that idea from Land Rover.

    With the Range Rover variations exceeding any retro oriented persons brain capacity, I hope Defender is not going the same way.

    I liked the now 22 year old Freelander, because it did not base itself on any old idea, but rather was a vehicle which could tow a boat trailer twice a year, take a muddy forrest road or go to Rømø Beach and not get stuck once a year, and the rest of the time just look a bit of fun.

  2. Tony Wawryk

    All these huge 4×4’s and SUV’s are a blight on both the landscape and our roads; only farmers and others who actually need them will be allowed to buy one when I take over. They’ve long passed into fashion accessory territory – just look at the prices – “trinkets” is right, but should be prefaced with “very expensive”. Impressive they might be, ugly most of them are, dislike them I do. Back to bed I go.

  3. yrhmblhst

    …and when I take over, anyone trying to take my lifted, big tyred 4×4 will not like the situation they will find themselves in…
    I see the authors point, but do not necessarily agree. I know Rover is a different ‘thing’ , but look at Jeep; the basic ‘Jeep’ MJ cum CJ cum Wrangler is recognisable from 1942 til today. [and no, the idea didnt come from Rover…] Certainly it has ‘evolved’, but it is still basically [how do I italicise a word on here? ] similar in design. Rover has the Range Rover, Evoque and whatever just like Jeep has the Grand, etc for those that want a more ‘modern’ vehicle. With a history as long and illustrious as Land Rover’s with the models up to and including the Defender, I see no reason to distance themself from it. Granted, the cost is astonishing and limits the market, but all I see in the new one is a shortened and warmed over Discovery.

  4. Andrew Boggis

    Nicely drafted. There are a few fun facts to add (with thanks to Road & Track for some of these):

    – Both the 90 and 110 will be made in Nitra, Slovakia.
    – The pricing will range from £35,000 for the commerciale, £40,000 for the 90 and £45,000 for the 110. This seems rather full to me.
    – A camping roof is planned for those who feel unsafe in a tent.
    – JLR has recently applied for a patent for a “Puncture Assist Mode”

    Personally I like the design and thought that goes behind this. I would go for the “commerciale”(without the VAT?). Great tow car for racing projects.

    However, I am horrified to hear that it weighs well over 2 tons (about 500 kg too heavy) and that the 296 bhp petrol version just about makes 190 kmh.

    Some weight killing (kevlar – carbon panels, lightweight seats and electrics, simpler gearbox, thinner wheels, better aero) seem to be the obvious updates needed…

  5. Anders Bilidt

    What?? They’ve introduced a new Defender? But why? And where?
    Oh well; I genuinely didn’t know. And now that I do, I can simply conclude that it’s clearly too new and modern for me to bother having an opinion.

    I guess when Dave started off by writing: “You may be the type of classic car obsessive that lives in a retro bubble and never comes up for air, blissfully unaware of the outside world and rarely glancing up from your pot of Swarfega.” – we now know he was referring to me. But surely I can’t be alone…?? Uhmmm… can I?

  6. yrhmblhst

    well, once I found out what Swarfega was … if i can substitute Go Jo – then no, Mr Bilidt, youre not the only one.

  7. Tony Wawryk

    @yrhmblhst in which case, I suggest we take over different areas :). In my crowded corner of the South East of England, 98% (I know this to be true) of off-road vehicles never go further off-road than up the curb while parking, usually outside a shop or to drop the kids off at school. As for getting muddy…absolutely not. They’re unnecessarily big, heavy and ugly (all facts) and unsuited to most of our roads and towns – an estate car would do the job at least as well, and be more stylish while doing it. People who live in the countryside or regularly need to cart large loads around are excused.

    @anders – I didn’t know either until I read Dave’s piece, though I do run a modern daily…

  8. yrhmblhst

    Different areas? Shoot, Im going for the whole planet… Itll be great, except for thsoe owning/driving/selling/manufacturing ‘asian’ vehicles…
    Ugly tho is not a fact – it is somewhat subjective, unless youre talking about a prius or something, then its fact. Quadcab Dually Dodge with an 8″ lift and 40s? Way cool… use it to go to the grocery store.
    Next time youre over here, we gonna hafta get together and educate you my man! :)

  9. Claus Ebberfeld

    I was very aware of the new Defender: But only because I at some point at the Goodwood Revival stood next to a man who actually wanted to buy one. He was even a farmer, so I guess Jaguar Land Rover has hit jackpot with this one. As he then continued chatting on about modern Audi RS’s I found somewhere else to watch the racing.

    My personal view (and unlike other commentators above I am not planning to take anything over so this is only a view) is that cars like these should by law be required to drive at least 20% of the time off the actual roads. This would actually solve some congestion problems too.

    Quite besides that: “I take a vague interest, but mainly only to reinforce my own confirmation bias” was one of many, many points in this article that makes me feel sooooo very comfortable in the company of Dave Leadbetter. A terriffic read, this!

  10. Zack Stiling

    My compliments to Dave on a very engaging article. However, I must protest. Contrary to the view opined by our learned friend from the States, beauty and ugliness are not subjective. There is an objective zenith of beauty and an equally objective nadir of ugliness, neither of which, I am sure, actually manifest themselves in the physical world so that everything we see falls somewhere on a spectrum between the two. The trouble is that the metaphysical nature of beauty makes it impossible to comprehend without consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge or devoting our whole life to meditation on a Himalayan mountain top, so we end up arguing the toss over whether something possesses true beauty or it doesn’t. Plus, it’s complicated by questions over whether the sum of an object’s components exceeds its value as a whole, not to mention the context in which an item is considered. Oh, and things which are not beautiful may still possess redeeming features that make them very cool, but I can feel a major digression coming on…

    Either way, certain things are pretty obviously beautiful or ugly to most people. Highland glens and sunsets are beautiful; egg-stained tracksuits and pubs that have been converted to KFC drive-throughs are ugly. Confusion might arise over things like bubble cars, which combine beautiful curves and materials with a somewhat awkward overall form, so we can’t agree on whether they’re beautiful or ugly. The new Land Rover, though – most new cars, in fact – are definitely ugly.

    It doesn’t matter that new Land Rovers are not ‘true’ Land Rovers. How are we defining truth in this sense? I would suggest that the only ‘true’ examples of any car are those made with the blessing with the original creator, so that a Ferrari F40 is a true Ferrari, but new Morgans are not true Morgans since old H. F. S. Morgan has nothing to do with them. The Morgan brand has just been extremely lucky that H. F. S.’s descendants and fans still respect his original vision.

    What matters is that no one should have to endure base ugliness in life, and yet Land Rover (and a huge chunk of boorish middle-class consumers) perpetuate ugliness by manufacturing and buying a hideous ogre of a car. Therefore, I resent the new Defender just as I resent corporate pub vandalism and breakfast-dribblers. Having said that, it’s no more offensive than any other poncey SUV.

  11. yrhmblhst

    Mr Stiling is correct – as usual – that there ARE some things that are objectively beautiful or objectively ugly and he gives excellent examples. I maintain that a prius fits in the mold of objectively ugly and a 250 GT Lusso is the automotive definition of beauty. Those that would argue need be locked away for the good of society. My contention was the esteemable Hon Mr Wawryk’s blanket condemnation of trucks/SUVs and by extension Jeeps, especially lifted ones. While the aesthetically challenged might find them in that middle ground of confusion that Mr Stiling so eloquently refers to – and there are indeed some ugly ones, namely most any of them from the land of the rising sun [yes, Im talking to you modern ‘fj’ ] there are a preponderance that may lack classic beauty, but are exceptionally ‘cool’. Espcially lifted or lowered.

  12. Dave Leadbetter

    I’m never too sure about the concept of automotive beauty and some of the textbook examples do little for me. However, in my mind the concept of cool generally hinges on a vehicle being built for a purpose. That purpose could be any manner of things but it needs to be genuine; for example an old Land Rover on steel wheels with an Ifor Williams canopy (transatlantic alternatives may be available) is cool, whereas a blingtastic convertible Evoque is not. The former has a noble purpose, the latter is a bit too Snoop Dogg.

    I’m a 4×4 pickup owner and sometimes look longingly at the astounding value available across the Atlantic, but my part of our country is simply too small and narrow to think about importing one. My former Ford Ranger (European type) was a good old thing; it sat tall on chunky tyres and mismatched wheels, didn’t have a straight panel on its commercial white bodywork and it developed the mossy patina of a church wall. It bore no relation to the ludicrously named Thunder variants with their leather trim and chrome decorations. Calling a truck with a 108bhp boat anchor diesel, “Thunder”, is surely asking for ridicule. Running such a vehicle over here unless you regularly need to transport bulky dirty stuff or tow heavy things would be stupid, but I have exactly that purpose. My current commercial is a functional ex-fleet job that served the electricity board before it came to me. People like the electrity board turned to pick ups after Land Rover stopped making a suitable vehicle.

    The utility 4×4 market is somewhat currently lacking. There is always the forthcoming Ineos Grenadier to look forward to, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

    Anyway, glad to have stirred up some debate with this one!

  13. David Yorke

    As ever, loved the comments that Dave Leadbetter stirred up.

    Having owned only 1950, 1952 and 1956 SWB softop Land Rovers, I was looking forward to the new Defender but it is now something that I am no longer interested in. I suspect that Suzuki are going to clean up in the market for those seeking to replace their ‘real’ Defenders.

    JLR must have given up on making simple, reliable models and have turned away the utility / commercial market. Could this have something to do with their products’ now-legendary unreliability, not something to be tolerated in the real outback places where Green Flag and AA Relay are not available? But then, its unnecessarily complicated and over-luxurious Range Rovers, Velars and Evoques are probably never intended to go there.

    As for a vehicle’s looks, it is said that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. For me, really great design often comes from ‘form following function’, something that a Series 1 Land Rover certainly and ‘coolly’ demonstrates in spades, as did the early Austin/Morris Minis. I also like the Metro 6R4 for much the same reason, even though I accept that the Peugeot 205T16 and Ford RS200 are far prettier and more successful rally cars.

    It will be very interesting to see what Dave will write about next.


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