Land Rover is the ultimate country-living car. How many design icons do you know of that will take you to your country retreat, even across a flooded wintery landscape, and let you wash the mud out with a hose? The Defender, besides being the ultimate big boy’s Meccano set, able to adapt to your needs by bolting bits on, lives with classless urban sophistication just as well as it does covered in the dust of the Kalahari.
Need to move that kontreiwinkel chest of drawers? Check. Will all five kids and the dogs fit? Sure, no problem.
The story of its gradual evolution is thanks to Maurice Wilks, the chief engineer at the Rover Company who had a farm in Blighty.
Inspired by the versatility of wartime US Army Jeeps, he designed a prototype farmer’s vehicle with the steering in the centre. That was 1947 and it was built on a Jeep’s chassis. The following year, the Land Rover made its debut. Being post-war Britain, steel was in short supply and an aluminium-like alloy was the only body material available, a material still used today. Paint colours were a leftover random mix of military-surplus olive drabs.
As time passed, the Landy became the de rigueur vehicle for the titled farmer. In 1958 the Series II version came out — bigger, vaguely more comfortable, with the curved roof windows and the now-familiar Defender body shape obvious. And, even though it was the first time that style and aesthetics played a role in the design process, strength and durability remained priorities. In fact, the Series I1A (1961) is considered by many to be the toughest Landy ever, and the last one to have a braai grid for a front grille.
Now, 2013, and the DNA bristles through: this is a no-bullshit soft-roader. In spite of traction control and ABS and the obvious unchanged, rugged purposeful looks, this is the real deal. It boasts a cabin that is as quiet, powerful and well-mannered as many a modem car. Sure there are one or two other real 4x4s out there but none look as good, nor do they have the heritage.