Defender of the faith

It’s earned over time and commitment - dedication even - to a concept.

Fitting that the last run of Land Rover’s iconic Defenders has a Heritage model among the line-up of wagons of utes.

Production of the Land Rover Series of square-jawed, go-anywhere machines finishes up early this year 2016.  

Since 1948, this has been a faithful servant to many around the world, from explorers to families, armies to emergency services, but modern regulations are closing down this chapter of the Land Rover legend.

The concept was born on a British farm and sketched out on a nearby beach by brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks, both head-honchos in the Rover Car company.

There was a need to replace Maurice’s World War II Jeep on his farm plus a need to boost Rover production.
So the four-wheel drive project took shape with a steel chassis and aluminium body panels.

While steel was in short supply in post-World War II Britain there was an aluminium surplus with less need for Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes.

Much of the engineering design fell to young Arthur Goddard, now 94, and still part of the automotive business, these days with his family-owned Vehicle Components on Brisbane’s northside.

Mr Goddard’s role in developing that Series I Land Rover involved testing individual parts such as gearbox and steering on test rigs and proving them out on nearby test sites.

The four-wheel drive prototype was engineered in a matter of months and much mud; Mr Goddard was often wading around the mire in his wellington boots.

“We all thought we were doing something special. It was all about function over form as we had the farmer and the agricultural community in mind but it very quickly exceeded those expectations,” he recalls.

“With the power take-off at the rear there had never been a vehicle like it in existence so it drew a lot of interest from people who needed a vehicle that wasn’t just a new form of tractor, but could simply and easily take you wherever you needed to travel.”

Mr Goddard drove the first Land Rover to its debut at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show where the Belgium army wanted truckloads of the British four-wheel drive.

 “I thought to myself, we’ve got an oil well here!” Mr Goddard laughs.

That famed Series I led to the Series II and Series III which then became the Defender in 1990.

And that original Land Rover was joined along the track by the Range Rover, Discovery and, for a time, the Freelander - all with four-wheel drive ability, albeit some with more creature comforts than Defender.

Today’s Defender Heritage is finished in Grasmere Green, similar to the ex-RAF paint used on the original. Likewise the Defender 90’s cabin is finished with splashes of original hues.

Powering all this are modern mechanicals including a 90kW diesel engine, six-speed transmission and four-wheel drive.

Despite the cosmetics, the Land Rover Defender remains a formidable off-roader.