A right pair of Landies.
Everybody in the enthusiast community has an opinion on the Land Rover Defender – be it the old stager lately retired, or its more contested replacement from 2019. Like most opinions in today’s febrile media environment, these are as fiercely held as they are emphatically expressed.
At this point therefore I feel compelled to make an admission: I don’t much care for the original Land Rover. I do understand the rudiments of its appeal and acknowledge its unquestionable position in the pantheon, but I am becoming a little tired of being metaphorically beaten over the brow about how marvellous they are. Because, no matter how often I am pinned to a stout object and guided towards the path of righteousness by a defender of the faith, I simply cannot summon up the requisite reverence.
Despite seeming to have barely altered over their long production life, the Land Rover in fact altered quite significantly, if not so much as to lose sight of the truth to purpose it once espoused. However, such a protracted lifespan did mean that by the time it was finally laid to rest, not only did it look rather the anachronism it unquestionably was, there were notably better alternatives to be had. Let’s be clear, for most of its later years a Land Rover was anything but a rational choice.
Despite this, old-school Defenders remain a common sight around this enclave of West Cork, the majority being pristine late-era examples (like the one pictured above), never having got their feet particularly muddy, nor likely to. Of course, some are still hard-working vehicles – Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB) retain a fleet which appear well used – but mostly (and I don’t wish to sound snide), they appear to be purchased more for the semiotics they project than the utility they embody.
The fetishisation of automotive archetypes such as the Land Rover, JEEP, Ford Bronco, Suzuki Jimny and their ilk is a curious phenomenon of our times and one that deserves some unpicking. My personal feeling is that as the SUV concept and its multifarious mutations stake their irresistible claim as the dominant automotive species, there has been a perceived necessity for an origin fable; a rationalisation for a choice frequently neither rooted in need nor suitability.
Other views are of course available on both this and the Land Rover itself, but given the strength of feeling around its 2017 demise, it was always going to require a rather deft piece of footwork on the part of JLR to establish a credible successor. On one hand this succession has gone well – insofar as both press and customer body seem to approve of the new product as presented, and as matters stand, the latest Defender is amongst JLR’s most in-demand (and seemingly profitable) offerings.
However, amongst true LR believers, the sentiment is somewhat different. To their way of seeing, JLR has sold both itself and the Defender out – not that there was much likelihood of pleasing that particular sub-set of the enthusiast-base either way. One gets the sense however that JLR’s leadership are relatively unconcerned about this state of affairs – after all, the new Defender’s biggest challenge was to make its business case stack up – no small matter in the often cruel and unyielding economics of carbuilding.
I can’t say I’m profoundly concerned by this difference of opinion either, since like its elder forebear, the Defender as currently constituted has not the remotest appeal, but what I will state is that from a purely aesthetic perspective (one of the few areas I feel qualified to judge), the current model comes across as rather well executed. I of course state this without experience of how it drives, or indeed how well it fulfils the brief it was set.
I do have it on reliable authority that outward visibility is poor (a common failing of the current generation of aluminium-bodied JLR products) and that for such a large vehicle (and in 110 form it’s massive), it isn’t particularly spacious inside. But these second-hand observations aside, I might venture that given the nature of the outgoing Defender’s customer base and the utility to which these cars are latterly being put, the shift upmarket positions squarely where the majority of the customer-base now finds itself.
But others can better adjudicate these matters. I was simply struck by the juxtaposition of both generations of Defender parked alongside – so much so that I broke off from my rural-roads bike ride earlier in the week to briefly take the photo above.
I have no doubt that like most of the internet, you may hold an opinion (forceful or otherwise) on either subject of today’s image, so if you, dear reader wish to critique either example, from a design, roadability or fitness for purpose perspective, you are of course welcome to do so. However, I would kindly point out that I’m impervious to all appeals to Ur-Land Rover appreciation. Because if routinely riding road bikes for pleasure can be said to be a masochistic act (and I am informed this is the case), I emphatically have enough fetish in my life.