Goodbye, old man

The weather since the start of December has been a reminder that when the going gets tough, one of the workhorses of farming is up to the challenge.

The traditional Land Rover Defender gets through floods and handles farm tracks that would grind more modern, comfortable, four-wheel drive vehicles to a halt. However, all good things come to an end, and now, after more than 65 years, the Defender is no more, at least as a new vehicle.

Over the years they have taken expeditions to the ends of the earth, but more importantly they’ve been up to any task farmers threw at them. They could draw the biggest trailer – and they had proper bumpers for opening farm gates or absorbing impacts. They were just about unbreakable, although to be fair, once they were out on the road they were a lot less comfortable and luxurious to drive than the newer, often cheaper 4x4s that have come along.
Like anything that has been around for a long time, their passing will be regretted. But with two million made, and estimates that somewhere between 60 and 80% of those are still on the roads, they will be around on the second-hand market for a long time to come – and with no new Defenders available, second-hand values are expected to soar.

It’s a token of the affection with which these vehicles are held that the two millionth Defender was sold for £400,000 at the end of 2015, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Born Free wildlife foundation.

The original Land Rover was a product of the immediate post-war years and they first appeared in 1948. In appearance they have changed a lot less than anything else around for those 68 years – and they’re only slightly more complicated electronically and mechanically than they were then.

They have been a workhorse for all that time, and anyone who bought one as a fashion accessory soon realised its many comfort and manoeuvrability shortcomings.

Over the years people have been amazed at where Land Rovers can go, and those legions of journalists who had fun at the old company proving ground near Birmingham universally left impressed at our temporary, if limited skills, and those of the go-anywhere vehicles we were given.

Land Rover is coy about the replacement for the Defender, but all the rumours are that what is in the offing won’t be a replacement workhorse. It may even be built outside the UK, as the company is now owned by the global Tata Steel company in India. The suggestion is that the replacement will be more like all the other 4x4s around, modelled perhaps on the Land Rover Evoque. If that is the case, it’s hard to see this ever being the stalwart vehicle the Defender was on farms across the world. Indeed, it may even have car-like built in bumpers that wouldn’t be a lot of use for nudging open gates without damage, or coping with the occasional bump.

We all tend to look to the past with rose-tinted spectacles, and that’s why we see the Defender with affection for all its plus points and forgive its many shortcomings. However, with new supplies down to the last few in the showrooms, and those often selling now at premium prices, farmers will be looking with fresh eyes at the trusty Defender they have – and perhaps even giving it a power-hose when the spring finally arrives.

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