Farewell to an old friend / As the Defender nears the grave, all three run-out specials are exactly that – though one in particular is an Octane favourite / Words David Lillywhite / #Land-Rover-Defender-Adventure
It won’t have escaped your notice that the end of the Land Rover Defender as we know it is nigh. Safety regulations and labour-intensive builds mean that production was expected to end late this year, though demand has been so high that the last remnants will sneak into early #2016
This is truly the end of an institution, for the Defender today isn’t so very different from the very first Land Rovers that emerged from the very same factory 67 years ago. They’re not just the same shape, give or take a few bulges, they’re built on near-identical chassis (the rails are still the same distance apart) to pretty much the same mechanical layout, with the same basic design of bulkhead. To mark the end of production there are, of course, a few end-of-production special editions.
Well, there would be. There’s the posh one, named Autobiography, with its full leather upholstery, two-tone paint and highly appreciated power upgrade from 120 to 148bhp. The manly one, more properly called the Adventure, keeps the leather and (in 90 spec only) the extra power but adds underbody protection, extra-chunky Goodyear MT/R tyres, snorkel, and a roofrack to strap manly accessories to. And then there’s the one to tug at the heartstrings, the Heritage, in evocative Grasmere Green with little ‘HUE 166’ badges and tags strategically placed to remind you of Huey, the first-ever pre-production Land Rover. Eighty Autobiographys, 600 Adventures and 400 Heritage editions are planned.
All have the torquey diesel 2.2-litre Ford Duratorq engine and six-speed gearbox, mated to the familiar high/low-ratio transfer box and, of course, fourwheel drive. The bonnet bulge that was added to accommodate the Ford engine in 2007 is still there, as is the – shock! – non-venting bulkhead (conventional air vents came late and controversially to the Defender, and many enthusiasts rue the loss of the simple flap-in-the-bulkhead vents that had been a feature for decades).
We drove a Heritage 110 and an Adventure 90 – the numbers are the wheelbase in inches – several hundred miles each. In so many ways, they’re both rather hopeless: the driving position is cramped for anyone long of leg, the ergonomics poor (the ignition key and headlight switch fight for space under the dashboard, for example), the turning circle is terrible, the ride choppy (especially in the 90), cabin noise drowns the radio, interior space is pitiful, and the B-pillar restricts sidewards visibility.
So, of course, we love the damned things. The feeling of belting along (well, it feels fast) at 80mph, sitting up high, remembering not to fight the wandering steering but to let it find its own way, as the gruff diesel gets on with the job up front is just magic. And if you want to harness your inner Bear Grylls, this is the machine, because off-road it’s uncannily good, gripping where there’s no grip, traversing the seemingly untraversable.
Range Rovers, Discoverys et al are much easier and just as capable off-road, with incredible electronic aids to keep you moving. But there’s something life-affirming about learning to master the rough, tough controls of the Defender.
Which special edition for you? Well, aside from them all being sold out (sorry… at least you can look out for them on the used car market), that’s very much down to personal taste, though the extra power of the Autobiography and Adventure 90 is very welcome. But for us it’s simple, and not just because we like classics: the Heritage is not only the cheapest (starting at £27,800) but also the most subtly treated, and the one that draws the most admiring glances. We’ll miss the Defender.
Top and left - Last of the line, being turned out as (from left to right) the Autobiography (only 80 built), Heritage (400 – interior left) and Adventure (600). If only you could still buy one…