This week marked the end of production of the longest-manufactured motor vehicle, the Land Rover, currently in its Defender form.
Conceived by Maurice Wilks of Rover just after the end of the Second World War, when Europe was still full of military Willys Jeeps, it was intended to be a light agricultural and utility vehicle. Featuring many innovations, it was probably the first mass-production vehicle to use aluminium-magnesium alloy (‘Birmabright’) for its body panels. It provided Rover with the chance to generate cash-flow to restart its car production, after the damage inflicted by bombing during the war.
From the first series (Series I) models in 1948 to the last made in January 2016, its distinctive box-like shape attracted a wide range of users. Many farmers worked them hard over rough and steep terrain across the world, they became the definitive expeditionary vehicle, competed in the Camel Trophy in all types of harsh conditions, hauled trailers and towed loads many times their size and weight, and transported families and outdoor groups everywhere from the High Street to the Highlands.
I have been lucky enough to own three Land Rovers. The first was a Series II which someone had powered (I use that word very imaginatively) with the diesel engine from a London taxi. On a good day, with a following wind and down a long steady incline I managed once to get it to reach 50 miles per hour. It cost me an arm and a leg to get its starter motor rebuilt, and I sold it with an odd mixture of sadness and great financial relief.
Years later, I was able to buy the first of two Defender 110 Td5 models, intended to transport our family of three growing children and their friends around, and to move them to university when the need arose. Although still spartan, with large interiors which took forever to get above freezing in the winter, they proved how valuable a utility vehicle can be for a family, and how valuable a customer I became of our local Land Rover dealer. With engine and gearbox oil capacities several times those of regular cars, you really needed your own personal oil well to keep them maintained.
Our son took a particular liking to the latter of those Defenders, and eventually, in a desperate bid to end my escalating maintenance bills, I sold it to him for £1. Little did I realise that I had still not shed my financial burden, but he had several years of fun driving it on and off road.
Driving a Land Rover was different in other ways too. There is an unwritten rule that, when behind the wheel of a Land Rover, you always acknowledge other Land Rovers with a welcoming wave, as we were all members of a very inclusive club.
I also appreciate some of the similarities between Land Rovers and Macs.
The first Apple Macintosh shipped thirty-two years ago, in January 1984. Although today’s Macs may appear quite different, as far as I am aware, the Mac remains the longest-shipping line of computer products. El Capitan may be in almost all respects a far cry from System 1.0 then, but we still have the Finder, folders rather than directories, applications rather than .COM and .EXE files, and so on.
Though my iMac 27″ 5K may seem radically different from a Macintosh 128K, they both integrate the computer and its display in a carefully, if not exquisitely, designed unit.
I wonder when and why Apple might decide to end the Mac line; let’s hope that it matches the Land Rover’s longevity at around 67 years.