The 72-year history of the Land Rover Defender

As the all-new Land Rover Defender takes to the streets, we trace its roots back to 1948

Land Rover Defender: since 1948

Land Rover Defender: since 1948 © Land Rover

The long-awaited all-new Land Rover Defender is finally taking to the roads ahead of customer deliveries later this year. Join us as we trace its roots right back to 1948.

1948 Land Rover Series I

1948 Land Rover Series I © Land Rover

It wasn’t called the Defender then, but the Land Rover of 1948 (later to be known as the Series I) bears a clear resemblance to the all-new model.

Willys Jeep

Willys Jeep © FCA

The Land Rover was actually inspired by the Willys Jeep. Rover’s chief designer Maurice Wilks was so impressed by the Jeep he used at his holiday cottage in Anglesey, it gave him an idea that would spawn a legend…

1948 Amsterdam Motor Show

1948 Amsterdam Motor Show © Land Rover

The short-wheelbase Land Rover was unveiled at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, powered by a 51hp 1.6-litre petrol engine with permanent four-wheel drive.

Instant success

Land Rover © Land Rover

It proved to be an instant success. Within a year it was outselling traditional Rover cars, and being exported to nearly 70 countries.

Farmers’ friend

Land Rover © Land Rover

The Land Rovers proved popular with farmers, thanks to a power take-off feature that plugged a gap between tractors and Jeeps.

Land Rover AA

Land Rover AA © Land Rover

But business also came from elsewhere. The Automobile Association (AA) found that Land Rovers could carry more kit than motorcycles, and also tow.

Early sales

Land Rover © Land Rover

A total of 8,000 Land Rovers were sold in 1949, doubling to 16,000 in 1950.

Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill © Land Rover

In 1954, Rover presented Sir Winston Churchill with a Series 1 Land Rover, UKE 80, for his 80th birthday. It included an extra-wide passenger seat to accommodate the wartime prime minister comfortably.

Land Rover Series II

Land Rover Series II © Land Rover Series

Ten years after the unveiling of the original Land Rover, the Series II was unveiled at the 1958 Amsterdam Motor Show.

Land Rover Series II design

Land Rover Series II design © blastpaintrestore

Changes in the design included a wider body with barrelled sides and sills that hid the chassis.

2.25-litre petrol engine

2.25-litre petrol engine © Land Rover

A new 2.25-litre petrol engine boosted power to around 72hp. For the first time, Land Rover annual production exceeded 30,000.

Land Rover Series IIA

Land Rover Series IIA © Land Rover

Just three years after its launch, the Series II was replaced by the IIA. Cosmetic changes were very minor, but at the same time a 2.25-litre diesel engine was introduced.

Land Rover Series IIA headlights

Land Rover Series IIA headlights © Land Rover

Close to the end of the Series IIA’s lifespan, the headlights were moved to the wings to comply with regulations around the world. This gave the look we know and love today. 

Land Rover sales peak

Land Rover sales peak © Land Rover

In 1969-70 sales of utility Land Rovers peaked with over 60,000 a year sold.

Land Rover Series III

Land Rover Series III © Land Rover

The Series III was introduced in 1971. Cosmetically, it was very similar to its predecessor, with a plastic grille replacing the Series IIA’s metal grille.

1,000,000th Land Rover

1,000,000th Land Rover © Land Rover

In 1976, the 1,000,000th Land Rover rolled off the Solihull production line.

Land Rover Stage One V8

Land Rover Stage One V8 © Land Rover

In 1979, investment by the British Government led to the launch of the Stage One V8. Mostly available in long wheelbase form, the Stage One used the 3.5-litre V8 engine from the Range Rover, detuned to 61hp.

Land Rover Series III production

Land Rover Series III production © Land Rover

The Series III was in production from 1971 to 1985, making it the most common Series Land Rover, with 440,000 built.

Land Rover 90 and 110

Land Rover 90 and 110 © Land Rover

In 1983, Land Rover launched the long-wheelbase One Ten and short-wheelbase Ninety a year later. They featured coil springs, as opposed to the Series III’s old-fashioned leaf springs.

Land Rover 90 and 110 design

Land Rover 90 and 110 design © Land Rover

They also featured a one-piece windscreen, permanent four-wheel drive, a revised appearance and a modernised interior.

127-inch Land Rover

127-inch Land Rover © Land Rover

A longer-wheelbase 127-inch model was also added to Land Rover’s line-up in 1983 – later becoming the 130. Land Rover is planning a new people-carrying 130 version of the new Defender.

Land Rover 90 and 110 turbodiesel

Land Rover 90 and 110 turbodiesel © Land Rover

In 1984, a modern 68hp 2.5-litre diesel engine was introduced with fuel injection. At the same time, wind-up windows were introduced (to replace the sliding windows of Series Land Rovers and very early One Tens).

Recreational vehicle

Recreational vehicle © Land Rover

The launch of the Ninety and One Ten attracted more private buyers to the brand, looking for recreational vehicles rather than workhorses.

County Station Wagons

County Station Wagons © Land Rover

County Station Wagons featured more comfortable seats and were offered with features such as radio-cassette players to make them more desirable to families.

Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender © Land Rover

The Defender name was first used in 1990, to separate the Ninety and One Ten from the newly-launched Discovery.

Defender 200TDI and 300TDI

Defender 200TDI and 300TDI © Land Rover

In 1990, the Defender was given the same 200TDI turbodiesel engine from the Discovery. With 107hp, it meant the Defender was finally capable of cruising at motorway speeds and better at towing heavy loads. By 1994, this was replaced with the more refined 300TDI engine, producing 113hp.

Land Rover Defender TD5

Land Rover Defender TD5 © Land Rover

In 1998, emissions regulations meant the Defender was fitted with the five-cylinder TD5 diesel engine. Purists weren’t keen on its electronic control systems, but many praised its increased refinement.

Land Rover Defender 2.4 TDCI

Land Rover Defender 2.4 TDCI © Land Rover

By 2007, more regulations meant more changes for the Defender. A 2.4-litre engine from the Ford Transit van replaced the TD5.

2007 Land Rover Defender revisions

2007 Land Rover Defender revisions © Land Rover

At the same time, the interior was updated with a new dashboard layout and instruments from the Discovery 3. The Defender’s rear benches were replaced with forward-facing seats to comply with European regulations.

Land Rover Defender lifespan

Land Rover Defender lifespan © Land Rover

By 2011, it was clear the Defender was approaching the end of its lifespan due to ever stricter emissions and safety regulations. Recognising this…

Land Rover DC100 concept

Land Rover DC100 concept © Land Rover

At the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Land Rover revealed its DC100 concept car as a preview of what a Defender replacement could look like. As we would see nine years later, a reasonably accurate one…

2012 Land Rover Defender

2012 Land Rover Defender © Land Rover

In 2012, to meet lower emissions regulations, the 2.4-litre engine was replaced by a Ford-made 2.2-litre engine, that would see it through its final days. This was the first time a Defender was fitted with a diesel particulate filter.

Land Rover Defender SVX

Land Rover Defender SVX © Land Rover

A number of limited-edition Defenders were produced over the years, such as this Defender SVX from 2008.

Land Rover 90 40th

Land Rover 90 40th © Land Rover

In 1988, Land Rover planned a 40th edition Ninety to celebrate 40 years of the Land Rover. A strike at the factory meant only two were built.

Land Rover Defender 50th

Land Rover Defender 50th © covltwt

Ten years later, the Defender 50th was launched. It was powered by a 4.0-litre petrol V8 producing 190hp and, for the first time in the UK, came with an automatic transmission.

Land Rover Defender G4

Land Rover Defender G4 © Land Rover

Other special editions included the G4 (built to promote the G4 Challenge)…

Land Rover Defender Tomb Raider

Land Rover Defender Tomb Raider © Land Rover

And the Tomb Raider, built to commemorate the Defender’s role in the film.

Land Rover Defender Paul Smith

Land Rover Defender Paul Smith © Land Rover

In 2015, there was this one-off Paul Smith edition.

Land Rover Defender 2,000,000

Land Rover Defender 2,000,000 © Land Rover

And then Land Rover announced the Defender 2,000,000, celebrating 2,000,000 Series and Defenders being built since 1948.

The final original Land Rover

The final original Land Rover © Land Rover

The final ‘original’ Land Rover was produced on Friday 29 January 2016. It was given a memorable send-off by Land Rover workers and VIPs.

Land Rover Defender Works V8

Land Rover Defender Works V8 © Land Rover

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone… with a gap until the launch of the all-new Defender, Land Rover found itself with a hole in its range. Solution? The 2018 Defender Works V8, marking 70 years of Land Rover.

Land Rover Defender Works V8

Land Rover Defender Works V8 © Land Rover

This was a ‘new old’ Defender, limited to 150. All were refurbished original vehicles, but instead of a rattly diesel engine, they were equipped with a 400hp 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine! Performance was… simply incredible.

New Land Rover Defender

New Land Rover Defender © Land Rover

Finally, at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, the all-new Land Rover Defender was revealed, in typically spectacular fashion. It was a brilliant reinvention of the original.

New Land Rover Defender

New Land Rover Defender © Land Rover

The new Defender is sold in 90 and longer 110-guise, each with a modern range of engines and “unsurpassed” abilities both off-road and on.

New Land Rover Defender

New Land Rover Defender © Land Rover

The interior is also more luxurious than any Defender before it, with Land Rover setting new standards for onboard technology.

Land Rover Defender: new vs old

Land Rover Defender: new vs old © Land Rover

Here’s the all-new Defender 90, lined up against the original Land Rover. The family resemblance is clear, no?

James Bond Land Rover

James Bond Land Rover © Land Rover

The all-new Defender is even starring in the new James Bond film due later this year, No Time To Die. The vehicle is so tough, it does all its own stunts!

2020 Land Rover Defender: here at last

2020 Land Rover Defender: here at last © Land Rover

Welcome, 2020 Land Rover Defender. You’ve been a long time coming but finally it seems the new chapter of Land Rover history is about to begin.

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