Popular Mechanics (South Africa)
The most recognisable off-road vehicle of the past 70 years has undergone a total redesign. We climbed inside and out, under and over, and covered miles of challenging terrain, to get a clearer understanding of the new Land Rover Defender.
Read the editor’s summary on Land Rover’s brand-new Defender.
ICON: A THING (or person) regarded as worthy of veneration, or great respect. That’s according to my dictionary. ‘Land Rover Defender’ could be added to the list of definitions – surely few would disagree? The brand dates back to the 1940s, when there were no civilian vehicles with four-wheel-drive capabilities. The emergence of Land Rover, an off-roadcapable vehicle from Rover Company Limited, changed all that.
Design work on the concept commenced in 1947, and later that year a prototype dubbed ‘Centre Steer’ was produced. The very first Land Rover, original ancestor of today’s Defender, was officially launched in April 1948 at the Amsterdam Motor Show. An excerpt from Epic: New Land Rover Defender, a limited-edition book about the latest vehicle’s genesis, explains that this first model had a permanent four-wheel-drive system ‘that could not be misused by drivers unfamiliar with its operational routine’. A ‘freewheel drive’ was fitted to the front wheels to prevent wind-up in the drivetrain that could cause transmission damage or excessive tyre wear. This was groundbreaking technology at the time, but in the past seven decades Land Rover has come a long, long way.
That journey has culminated in the most current iteration of the Defender, recently unveiled in South Africa. While from the