Land Rover ends Defender output after nearly 70 years

The last classic Defender to be built at Land Rover's factory in England. It includes a hood cleat that has been used on Soft Top specifications since 1948. The vehicle will be housed in the Jaguar Land Rover Collection. Photo credit: LAND ROVER

LONDON (Reuters) -- The last classic Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in the U.K. on Friday, 68 years after output of the iconic offroader first began, the company said in a statement.

Designed originally for farming and agricultural use, the Defender became popular with celebrities including Beatles singer Paul McCartney and the late actor Steve McQueen, with global sales of over 2 million since 1948.

Tata Motors, which bought Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008, has been rapidly updating and expanding its upmarket Range Rover lineup, but will now turn its attention to the next-generation Defender.

Photo credit: LAND ROVER

"Any conventional vehicle would have been replaced many times over in the lifespan of Defender," a Jaguar Land Rover spokeswoman said. "We now have the technology, pioneering engineering capability and design expertise to evolve the Defender."

Jaguar Land Rover is tight-lipped about how the current Defender will be replaced but media reports have said the automaker is considering building a new generation  at its new factory in Slovakia or outsourcing production to Magna Steyr in Austria.

It takes 56 hours to make the largely hand-built Defender at the firm's Solihull factory in central England, making it more expensive and time-consuming than many other vehicles which have a higher degree of machine assembly.

The first Defender prototype, built in 1948.

The offroader has become synonymous with the UK thanks to owners such as Queen Elizabeth II, who has been pictured riding and waving to crowds from the back of the Defender from as early as 1957 in London's Hyde Park and during a visit to Melbourne in 1977.

The first model was built in 1948, just three years after the end of World War Two, with rationing still in place and UK industry trying to recover from heavy bombardment.

VIDEO: Defender being driven on and off-road

Photo credit: LAND ROVER

Due to a lack of steel, lightweight aluminum was used for the body shells and the vehicle has undergone a series of engine and design updates over nearly seven decades.

Neil Watterson, deputy editor of Land Rover Owner International magazine, said the vehicle had remained successful over so long due to its broad appeal.

"It's always been a classless vehicle," he said.

"It could be driven by the gamekeeper on the estate or it could be driven by the landowner, or the garage-owner with the breakdown truck and the fire brigade."

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