'Radical' Land Rover Defender on way
An all-new Defender is not far away, and if it's to succeed it must appeal to more people, says its designer, Gerry McGovern.
When the idea for the first Land Rover was drawn up, it's doubtful its instigator, McGovern's predecessor Maurice Wilks, Rover's design chief, imagined that the exact shape he sketched out in 1947 on the sands of Red Wharf bay near his farm in Anglesey would still be available in showrooms more than 60 years later.
That gritty medium, scored with a walking stick to show the shape of a potential farmer's friend of a vehicle, explains why the Land Rover is so rigidly square. It also had to be cheap to make and, being fashioned out of surplus aluminium sheet, rather than expensive steel in those first stark years of austerity after World War II, it was easier and cheaper to bend and fix in straight lines than in fancy curves. That first car was built on a former WWII Jeep chassis and had a centre steering wheel. Both features were missing from the first production models when they appeared in 1948.
In fact, that prototype Land Rover had more curves than the current Defender 110 (One-Ten) with the earliest car's front mudguards describing a neat 90-degree radius from the bonnetline to bumper.
Things have changed in 65 years. Fuel is no longer kept under the driver's seat, one or two modern home comforts have snuck into the dash, which isn't a painted metal plank any more, and there are heated seats and air conditioning, as well as traction control and ABS to help you to go and stop, plus flash alloy wheels add a little visual street cred.
For all this, the iconic original Land Rover, a familiar feature during the past 68 years, is on the way out, ceasing production at the end of next year.
An all-new Land Rover Defender has seemingly been in the pipeline for quite a while but it is getting closer to realisation - although a big issue is making the numbers add up.
What we will see, in two or three years' time will be quite a radical departure from what has become something of an automotive icon over its 60 year history according to Land Rover's design director Gerry McGovern.
The company makes around 20,000 Defenders a year, but McGovern said that number needs to increase dramatically to make the project worthwhile.
"We are still making the business case, ultimately the new model will have to wash its face. We need to be looking at 100,000 vehicles a year and so we have to broaden its appeal.
"The current Defender has never sold on its design and has changed very little over the years. What we are working on is something that will be more desirable to look at - the traditionalists might not like it but they'll have to live with it.
"It will still be as capable as before and there will be references to the old model - it might even have a spare wheel on the back.
"The important thing is to get the proportions right, give it a distinctive silhouette and wider appeal. A Defender doesn't have to look overtly functional. We are taking a more sophisticated approach."
McGovern added: "What we really need to do is make the Defender more relevant to the modern world, lighter, more aerodynamic and more cost- effective. There is still a lot of work to do on the business case, the architecture, where we will build it etc. so we are still looking at least two years or more from now."