LONDON (Reuters) - The last classic Land Rover Defender, the 4x4 known the world over and with famous owners including Queen Elizabeth, rolled off the production line on Friday, 68 years since first being built.
Designed originally for farming and agricultural use, the offroader became an iconic British vehicle, popular with celebrities including Beatles singer Paul McCartney and late actor Steve McQueen, selling over 2 million since 1948.
Indian-owned Tata bought two loss-making British brands Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008 and has since been rapidly updating and expanding its upmarket Range Rover line-up, but will now turn its attention to the Defender model.
“Any conventional vehicle would have been replaced many times over in the lifespan of Defender,” a spokeswoman at Jaguar Land Rover said.
“We’ve now got the technology, pioneering engineering capability and design expertise to evolve Defender.”
It takes 56 hours to make the largely hand-built Defender at the firm’s Solihull factory in central England, making it more expensive and time-consuming than many other vehicles which have a higher degree of machine assembly.
But the offroader has become synonymous with Britain thanks to owners such as the queen, who has been pictured riding and waving to crowds from the back of the 4x4 from as early as 1957 in Hyde Park and during a visit to Melbourne in 1977.
The first model was built in 1948, just three years after the end of World War Two, with rationing still in place and British industry trying to recover from heavy bombardment.
Due to a lack of steel, lightweight aluminum was used for the bodyshells and the vehicle has undergone a series of engine and design updates over nearly seven decades.
Neil Watterson, deputy editor of Land Rover Owner International magazine, said the vehicle had remained successful over so long due to its broad appeal.
“It’s always been a classless vehicle,” he said.
“It could be driven by the gamekeeper on the estate or it could be driven by the landowner, or the garage-owner with the breakdown truck and the fire brigade.”
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt