Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Leonid Bershidsky

RIP Land Rover's Defender, the Greatest Car Ever

Jaguar Land Rover is retiring its iconic model -- a loss to the world.
Reaching the end of the road.

Reaching the end of the road.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Tuesday was the final day you could have ordered a new Land Rover Defender, one of the world's last real cars. In 2013, when the British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover first announced plans to discontinue the model, I didn't really believe it: The Defender is by far the best car I've ever owned, and many others are as emotional about it as I am. Yet, here we are. Regulation and marketing-driven blandness, the enemies of everything original, have killed it. 

Rover, the original manufacturer, based its design on a World War II warhorse, the American Willys MB, also known as the Jeep. In 1947, British farmers needed a cheap, sturdy off-road vehicle, and Rover built one using what was available in a war-ravaged country. With steel scarce, the body was made from cheaper aluminum. Military paint was plentiful, so you could have any color you wanted so long as it was green. The steering wheel was initially in the dashboard middle, akin to a tractor; in the 1950s, a version with tank treads was available. By then, it had already become an icon, a symbol of British patriotism: a car that rejected comfort as a concept but got the job done -- and was a design masterpiece.