In terms of vehicles that conjure images of exploration and adventure, has there ever been a more iconic model than the classic Land Rover Defender? The first edition of this off-road vehicle rolled off the assembly line in the U.K. back in 1948, and for 67 years it has remained a mainstay of travel in remote places. But at the end of 2015 the company will cease production of the 4x4, marking an end of an era for a vehicle that has literally gone to the ends of the Earth.
Originally designed and built as a vehicle to be used on farms in the United Kingdom, the original Land Rover models used the same chassis as American Jeeps, which had gained a reputation for being able to go anywhere while in use on the battlefields of World War II. But as the Series I Land Rover evolved, it took on a life of its own, demonstrating its own ability to conquer difficult terrain. Soon, it outgrew the farm and became a staple of explorers and adventurers across the globe.
In the post War era of the 1950's and 60's Land Rovers became the vehicles of choice in such places as Africa, South America, and Central Asia. Rugged and dependable, the Defender was often seen as the only real option for long and arduous overland journeys, and as support vehicles on expeditions into the Himalaya, east Africa, and beyond.
One of the earliest expeditions that helped put Land Rover vehicles on the map was a 1955 journey across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia from London to Singapore. That would be an epic road trip even today, but just ten years after the end of the War in Europe, it was a considerable challenge to say the least. Six young men set out in two vehicles to drive halfway round the world, passing through unknown locations, facing foul weather, and enduring difficult roads and terrain along the way. They were successful in that endeavor, and it proved the worth of the Defender, sealing its reputation for decades to come.
Another historic Land Rover journey was the 1959 pass of the Darien Gap in South America. That region remains one of the most treacherous and demanding destinations for travel to this day, and at the time of the expedition it had never been crossed by a motorized vehicle before. Crossing through thick jungles and dense marshlands, the crew often averaged just 220 yards per hour, as the Defender once again proved its worth in a difficult environment. The same are would be explored once again in 1972, when two Range Rovers made the first overland journey across North and South America.
Over the decades the Land Rover has traveled across all seven continents, and has visited some of the most remote destinations on the planet. During that time, it has proven itself as a vehicle that can deliver its passengers safely to their destination, no matter where that might be. It has taken countless adventure travelers on safari in Africa and across the Tibetan Plateau into the Himalaya. And it is arguably the single vehicle that is most closely associated with exploration in the modern age.
Recently, Land Rover rolled its two millionth Defender model off the assembly line in Solihull, England, which was a both a cause for celebration and reflection. The company invited an all-star cast of brand ambassadors to help put the vehicle together, including the likes of Bear Grylls and Monty Halls.
The original Land Rover model released in 1948 was referred to as the Series I, and subsequent models earned the Series II and III monikers. The Defender name wasn't born until 1983, when there as a shift in how the vehicles were produced and the company looked for a new style of branding. Later, the name was retroactively applied to previous generations too, which is why there have now been two million versions produced.
The special edition Defender will be sold at auction for charity, and includes some very distinctive features that help set it apart from the crowd. Among them is a special map of Red Warf Bay in Wales, where the first Land Rover design was sketched out in the sand prior to going into production. That map is found notably stitched into the seats, but on the body itself between the front wheel arches and the door openings. As if that wasn't enough, the number "2,000,000" is stitched into the headrest, and a plaque on the dash has been signed by every person who helped assemble the vehicle.
It also comes in a distinct silver color and includes black highlights around the wheels, roof, door hinges, mirror caps, and grill.
The auction for this piece of vehicular history is set to take place in December of this year, just as Land Rover is preparing to wind down production on the Defender itself. But fans of the iconic off-road beast need not worry too much. The company has already begun work on a replacement model, which has been fully redesigned and is set to go on sale in 2018. I have no doubt that it will continue the legacy set down in the Land Rovers that have come before it.