2018 has come to a close, and so has Land Rover's celebration of their 70th anniversary. It was a year with a lot of milestones, celebrations, special edition vehicles, and surprises. Let's take one last look back before we look forward to the 75th anniversary in 2023.
Click on the heading to go to the Atlantic British Roverlog entry on the news item.
And you thought the original Defender was dead. Land Rover kicked off the year with the Defender Works V8, a rebuilt 2015 Defender with the 5.0 liter supercharged V8 from the Range Rover Supercharged. A limited edition of 150 trucks was made, all hand rebuilt in the Land Rover Classic Works workshop. All of them are sold out, unfortunately. Not that they were selling them to North America, anyway.
The most famous Series I Land Rover is probably HUE 166, the first pre-production vehicle affectionately known as "Huey." But Huey wasn't there at what's considered Day Zero of Land Rover: April 30, 1948 at the Amsterdam Motor Show in The Netherlands. After searching for a while, one of the three trucks that were there was found very close to the Solihull factory in England. It is being restored by Land Rover Classic Works to join Huey in the corporate collection of significant vehicles.
Focusing on the newer models in the Land Rover lineup, in February the Range Rover Sport PHEV (Partial Hybrid Electric Vehicle) tackled the 999 steps up to Heaven's Gate on Tianmen Mountain in China's Hunan Province -- the highest naturally-formed arch in the world. Driven by Jaguar Formula E driver Ho-Pin Tung, the truck made it up the 45-degree staircase in no time.
The first production Land Rover wasn't necessarily "lost" -- the owner was known and had shown it a few times in the late 1990s -- but after that, it had been squirreled away for safety until his death in 2016. The truck was auctioned off, and mysteriously showed up for a week in the lobby of the exclusive Royal Automobile Club in London -- honestly, not much more than a Land Rover-shaped pile of parts. In August, we found out who the owner was -- Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of Britain's Ineos chemical company and head of Projekt Grenadier, his personal quest to create a new British 4x4 to spiritually succeed the Defender's simplicity. He's now having the truck restored by noted Series expert Julian Schoolheifer. It'll be exciting to see what 2019 brings for both this truck and Projekt Grenadier, which was last reported trying to secure a factory by the end of 2018.
The Range Rover Classic was introduced to the public in 1970 as a two-door vehicle. Though a four-door version came out in 1981, the two-door was built until 1994 for certain markets. That was the last two-door...until a limited run of 999 super-luxurious full-size Range Rover coupes was announced as part of the collection of special 70th anniversary models. Coordinated by the Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicles department, it's even available in North America -- for a cool $295,000.
Land Rover has had a corporate presence in New Jersey since 2002 (and Rover had their headquarters in several towns in the state before leaving North America in 1974), and Jaguar has been there since 1990. Continuing a long heritage of European automakers headquartering themselves in the Garden State, JLR opened a new headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey in April, just a few miles from their old one in the same town. In October, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, swung by to royally inaugurate the new digs.
Heading back to Tianmen Mountain, another Range Rover Sport -- this time the high-performance SVR model -- set a speed record on the paved road to the top of the mountain, a 7-mile run with 99 tight curves. Again enlisting Ho-Pin Tung for the feat, they broke the 2016 record set by a Ferarri 458 Italia by 40 seconds -- 9:51 under the Ferarri's 10:31.
April 30th was the official anniversary of the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, where the first Land-Rover was introduced. To celebrate, the day was dedicated as "World Land Rover Day," complete with local celebrations and a webcast from Solihull to commemorate the moment. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated launch of the new Defender didn't come that day as many expected.
Land Rovers have been on many expeditions over the years, and more than perhaps any other vehicle has expanded the borders of exploration. In May Land Rover looked back on three special adventures with the people who lived them: the Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition (also known as "First Overland"), the British Trans-Americas Expedition, and the 1989 Camel Trophy.
There were lots of shows across the world this year to celebrate the 70th, including a massive one in March in Cooma, Australia -- a show that is only held to celebrate the company's anniversary every ten years (though there are rumors of a special edition in 2023 for the 75th). One very interesting show was in Bicester, England, where the Land Rover Legends Show presented some of the most unusual examples from private collections, as well as a significant number from the famous Dunsfold Collection.
Looking back to 2008, that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of Land Rover at all is a minor miracle. When Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India's Tata Group to try to stave off the fate that befell General Motors and Chrysler that year, it seemed like an off-the-wall choice. Would Land Rovers be made in India now? Would they be able to last and thrive with this company's management, as it was simultaneously becoming known for the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car? The answer? It worked, and Land Rover is now more successful than any time in their history.
One Land Rover show in Germany celebrated the anniversary with the longest-ever Land Rover parade, monitored by the Guinness Book of World Records. 632 Land Rovers in precise formation stretched for 4.5 miles.
One of the more esoteric celebrations this year, the London Museum of Design redid the cushions in their atrium with 18 different fabrics from Land Rover's history, from the famous "elephant hide" vinyl of Series II models to the latest Kvadrat vegan-friendly synthetic wool available in the Range Rover Velar.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is already a rather insane affair on its own, but Land Rover ratcheted it up this year with what amounted to one of the larger corporate celebrations of the anniversary. This included setting the record for driving a four-wheeled vehicle on two wheels up the famous hill climb, with a Range Rover Sport SVR piloted by stunt driver Terry Grant, and a parade of 70 of the most significant Land Rovers.
Serious Land Rover nerds have known about the Himalayan village of Maneybhanjang, near the famous Indian hill station at Darjeeling, for years. There, old Series Land Rovers, including many Series I models, have thrived for decades carrying people up Sandakphu Mountain. Land Rover went there to document these owners and their stories, and take a few of the modern vehicles up the iconic track, too.
Land Rover's 1980s and 1990s print ads are a thing of legend to fans -- simple, three-quarters photo and one-quarter text, with some wonderfully dry British humor and excellent taglines. Land Rover North America made a few throwback ads for the Range Rover and Discovery, reflecting some of the most famous of these old ads combining old and new vehicles.
Finally, the moment was here...kind of. There was some sort of acknowledgment from Land Rover: there's going to be a new Defender! A few test mules popped out of the development offices in Gaydon, England one afternoon, heavily camouflaged. For the past few months, what lies behind what looks like several inches of cladding has been the hot topic in the Land Rover world. 2019's biggest story by far will be the launch of the newest #Best4x4xFar. (When they print a hashtag of an iconic marketing tagline on the side...you know exactly what's under there.)
Most of the 150 Defender Works V8 trucks are being built at Land Rover's Classic Works workshop, but one was built somewhere very different -- Selfridge's Department Store in London. The 110 was lifted through an upper window and was completed in the store. It will be available for view long-term in the Designer Street Room.
A few years ago, Land Rover announced they'd open a new factory in Nitra, Slovakia -- their first overseas full-scale production facility. In November, it formally opened. They are shifting all Discovery production from Solihull to Nitra in early 2019, and it's strongly suspected that the new Defender will be built there, too. With the most cutting-edge equipment, it will allow these two vehicles to be built as efficiently and well as possible and allows breathing room at Solihull to retool for an electric and alternative fuel future.
The Range Rover Evoque isn't exactly a Defender, but it has a strong following of its own as one of the best small SUVs out there, and is probably one of the most significant Land Rovers ever built based on its impact on the rest of the line. Having been out since 2011, the Evoque got an updated second generation. It doesn't look much different, but there are enough tweaks that should get fans of the first generation excited to try something new.
Dorothy Peters got a job in the shop at the Rover Company factory in Solihull, England at age 15 in 1946, and worked on some of the earliest Land Rovers. One day, she and a few colleagues took some photos with some of the very early trucks they worked on. She showed them to Mike Bishop, Engineering Specialist for Land Rover Classic's Reborn program, who told her that he just happened to own the truck in the photo. He surprised her with a pickup from her nursing home and took her to fulfill a life-long dream -- to actually ride in a Land Rover around the famous Jungle Track at Solihull.
December: New Defender Announced and Coming to North America
The year ended with perhaps the biggest news of all: an official announcement of the new Defender, and verification that it's coming to America in 2020. After decades of waiting, you will soon be able to walk into a Land Rover dealer and order a brand-new Defender. It won't be just like the old one, but it'll be the first time in many years that the United States and Canada will carry all three product lines. The return of the legendary Defender in new form will almost certainly be the dominant story of 2019 for Land Rover enthusiasts.
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