When one looks at the safari industry, it is difficult to find a brand more iconically representative thereof than the Land Rover.
For decades these faithful vehicles have been carrying visitors to Africa through some of the harshest terrain imaginable, and although many other 4x4s have now also carved themselves niches in the industry, the Land Rover Defender has – at least for me – been the embodiment of the African Adventure.
Now, sadly, it is time to say goodbye.
At 09:22 English time at the West Midlands’ Solihull factory, the last ever Land Rover Defender, number H166 HUE, rolled off the production line, and the sun set on an era.
The first Land Rover series was launched in 1948, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the name Defender was bestowed on the slightly boxy looking vehicle. The actual Defender model, based on the original Land Rover design, had been introduced in 1983 under the name “Land Rover One Ten” (the number representing the wheelbase in inches), being joined in 1984 by the “Land Rover Ninety”. After the Discovery was introduced in 1989, the One Ten and Ninety were renamed the Defender 110 and Defender 90 in late 1990 to avoid confusion.
That was quite a confusing paragraph though, wasn’t it?
Londolozi has a long history with Land Rover, with the first clapped-out vehicles being purchased by an almost broke Dave and John Varty in the early days at the lodge. The first one they owned would invariably breakdown on almost every safari – providing a convenient excuse for a bush walk – and Dave Varty once famously took an entire game drive in reverse, after the gear lever snapped off in his hand.
Slowly but surely Londolozi grew, and with it the land Rover fleet and hopefully the chances of making it through a game drive without some sort of mechanical failure!These days the lodge boasts over 20 Land Rovers, operating as game drive vehicles, maintenance cars and all-round dogsbodies of the fleet. They have traversed many thousands of kilometres back and forth across Londolozi’s dusty tracks, and it has been in their seats that guests from all over the world have enjoyed some of the most thrilling game viewing on the African continent. From Electric Land Rovers to converted short wheelbase honeymoon models, we’ve seen the Defender evolve and encompass a wide range of designs.
Sadly now, the Defender has ceased to be. Land Rover have been working on a replacement model for many years, but it is only in 2019 that the new design will enter production.
I, like many guides past and present from Londolozi, feel a deep sense of nostalgia towards the Defender. I have been stuck in them, I have broken them down (and they have almost broken me down once or twice), I have marveled at their unbelievable ability to growl their way through seemingly unnavigable terrain, and I have loved every second of it.
Whether their future replacement will evoke quite the same kind of emotive attachment remains to be seen, but personally I doubt it. You can’t easily go up against 69 years of history.
Be that as it may, just because they are no longer being produced doesn’t mean we have suddenly done away with all of ours. We still drive them at Londolozi, they still take us through deep sand, oozing quagmires and up the steepest inclines to get into positions from which we can view the splendour of the African bush. That in itself is more than enough to be thankful for.
Land Rover Defender, we salute you and all that you represent. For the sightings, the tractor extractions, the hours in you under the hot sun, the slow trundles in low range along the dry watercourses, the shared Gin and Tonics around your bonnet and the warm cups of coffee sipped while watching the African sunrise, hands sometimes pressed to the hood above your engine to capture some slight extra warmth on a freezing winter’s morning.
Out of production but certainly not out of action. Still creating lasting memories, hopefully for a long time to come…