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Ode to the Defender

IMG_3417“Why have you bought this?”

“Because I like them and I’ve always wanted one of my own.”

“But you will die in this in the summer. It will be so hot inside.”

“I could just open a window.”

“But no Turkish person would buy this from you!”

“Good. I have no intention of selling it…”

“You’re mad. This will cost you money after money; you are going to be so embarrassed. Why not just buy a nice little Fiat..?”

And, if we’re honest, looking back, our neighbour Tommy wasn’t completely wrong. Our big, unashamedly blue Land Rover Defender 110 hasn’t proved to be completely reliable. So far, we’ve replaced the rocker gasket, the head gasket, the clutch (twice), glow plugs and air filter. We’ve never enjoyed the luxuries of power steering, turbo power, windscreen washers (front or rear) or any form of heating, save that which radiates from the engine compartment. If it rains – and it does frequently in the winter – you get wet, rivulets finding their way inside and dripping from the roof onto knees and down the back of collars.

Progress on hills is, let’s say, sedate and, until we tinkered with the fuel pump, often accompanied by clouds of black smoke. The transfer box likes to dribble a little oil on the drive occasionally just to keep you on your toes and, after a cold snap, the engine can steadfastly refuse to start and then, five minutes later, fire up on the first turn of the key. Physically demanding to drive, it is without doubt the most challenging car I’ve ever owned.

But, despite the garage bills, the deafening engine noise at anything above 40mph, and the distinct lack of mod cons, not once have I regretted buying it. Indeed, “Lenny”, as he has become known both to us and our friends, has developed a character and become one of the family in his own right.

Our house is at the end of an unsurfaced lane which is often submerged under water after heavy or prolonged rain. To say your “nice little Fiat” would struggle with the pot holes is something of an understatement. And neither would I be that keen on chucking wet dogs in the back of a tidy family saloon after walks in the hills. Indeed, many of those walks have only been discovered because we’re not confined to roads and can explore along the old goat tracks which criss-cross the mountains around our home.

We’ve foraged for firewood, rescued broken down cars, transported up to 10 passengers – all seated and belted – to family events, all without problems. In town, a Land Rover is big enough to intimidate most drivers considering cutting you up at the next junction or set of lights and it’s somehow reassuring to know, if anything did hit you, nine times out of ten, they’re the ones who are probably going to come off worst. He may be slow, but like any Land Rover, he was built to last and, despite claims to the contrary, I have actually had three offers to buy him in the past 12 months

It’s sad therefore to know that today is the day the last Land Rover Defender will roll off the production line. The ultimate off-road vehicle, which has become a British icon as distinctive as the Mini or the Rolls Royce, has had its time.

Personally, I find it somehow demoralising to read there just isn’t the will or desire within Jaguar Land Rover to overcome the issues with emissions or whatever which appear to have led to the marque’s demise but, from today, there will be no more new Defenders to become farm work horses or heading for off-road adventures all around the world. We have ours though and, even though I’ve no doubt at all there will be more flappy clutch pedals, steaming radiators, leaky gaskets and infuriating intermittent electrical faults, I still have no intention whatsoever of letting it go …

SP