Source: Jaguar Land Rover

Mud, Grit, and Glamour: 70 Years of the Land Rover Defender

After nearly 70 years, Land Rover's most iconic vehicle is finally grinding to a halt. The last Defender is due to roll off the production line on Jan. 29.

It's been toasted by many as the world's toughest 4x4, but clearing contemporary safety regulations has proved trickier for the Defender than fording rivers and fighting wars. Plus, the brand is shifting toward more luxurious rides. Although even the newest Defenders seem vintage, here's a look at the truck's long, rugged road.

  1. Preproduction Testing
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    Preproduction Testing

    Land Rover R&D circa 1948: a preproduction Series I gets a 30-degree tilt test.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  2. Go Anywhere
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    Go Anywhere

    Originally conceived as a commercial and agricultural vehicle, Land Rover steered for the masses with its first brochure.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  3. Series I
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    Series I

    The 1948 Series I versions were inspired by the U.S.-built Willys Jeep, which blanketed Europe after D-Day.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  4. Churchill's Personal Defender
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    Churchill's Personal Defender

    Winston Churchill stands proudly next to his custom-built Series I Land Rover in 1954. The vehicle, known as the UKE 80, was equipped with a wider-than-usual passenger seat to hold the former prime minister as he was chauffeured around his Chartwell estate in Southern England.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  5. Far Eastern Expedition
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    Far Eastern Expedition

    In 1955, Land Rover sponsored six students on a trip from London to Singapore dubbed the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. Here, they muddle through a river in India in their Series I Defender.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  6. Second Generation
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    Second Generation

    The Series II, made from 1958 to 1961, shed some boxiness with a "barrel side" waistline and a rounded roof.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  7. Motoring Royalty
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    Motoring Royalty

    Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh take a ride in a Series II during a royal tour in 1957.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  8. Support
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    Support

    A Series II was used as a support vehicle during Donald Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird land speed record attempt in Utah in 1960. The Bluebird crashed, but the Defender didn't go nearly as fast.

  9. Don't Tread There
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    Don't Tread There

    The treads of the Cuthbertson treatment made the 1960 Series II even more adept at navigating difficult terrain.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  10. BIg-Wheel Version
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    BIg-Wheel Version

    In 1964, Roadless Traction, best known for retrofitting tractors, engineered 20 Series II vehicles. Dubbed "Forest" models, they were given larger wheels and used mainly for logging.

     

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  11. Namesake
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    Namesake

    Much of the vehicle's extensive field-testing was done on Scotland’s Isle of Islay, where the automotive icon was given its name.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  12. Fire Truck
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    Fire Truck

    The Series III, seen here in a fire-truck conversion, was the vehicle's greatest generation. Land Rover sold 440,000 of them from 1971 to 1985.

  13. Badges of Honor
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    Badges of Honor

    Land Rover Defender Limited Edition model badges at the Solihull, U.K., manufacturing facility.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  14. Staying on Track
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    Staying on Track

    Recent Land Rovers, such as this 1998 "Matt Track" Defender, are often modified with vintage parts.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  15. Plowing Through
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    Plowing Through

    As other trucks turned away from ground clearance in favor of supple leather and high-end stereos, Land Rover refused to dial down its off-road capabilities.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover

  16. You Can't Outrun Bond
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    You Can't Outrun Bond

    This toughened-up Defender loomed large in the latest James Bond movie, Spectre.

    Photographer: Jasin Boland via Jaguar Land Rover

  17. Family Photo
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    Family Photo

    From left to right: 1948 Land Rover Series I, Land Rover Series I Overland Expedition Replica, Land Rover Series II, Land Rover Series III, 1970 Range Rover, 1997 Freelander, 2003 Discovery G4 Expedition specification vehicle, and the 2013 Defender LXV Special Edition.

    Source: Jaguar Land Rover