Land Rovers are among those rare vehicles so iconic that they are instantly recognizable. The marque is immediately associated with a certain lifestyle: of the landed gentry, kitted up in tweeds and Wellies, loading fishing tackle, guns and dogs in preparation for a day of sport in the countryside.
The first Land Rover was introduced in 1948. As the company making it grew and started producing other models, the original all-terrain vehicle became known as the Defender, a name promising durability, reliability and Rambo-like strength. But as decades passed, the Defender became tired and dated. In early 2016, Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC (JLR) took it out of production so they could figure out ways to get its mojo back.
And they succeeded. “It’s not just a redesign, it’s a complete transformation for a world that has changed from the world it was created for,” says professor Gerry McGovern, OBE., JLR’s design director.
Just how JLR worked its magic will be the topic of a program tomorrow at the Design Museum in London, which has an ongoing relationship with the marque. “By definition, the Design Museum has closer ties to industry than other museums because industrial design is part of our core subject,” explains the museum’s chief curator, Justin McGuirk. “Gerry McGovern is one of the leading car designers in the country and someone we would be happy to include in our public program.”
The program starts with an informal talk followed by a panel discussion that’s already sold out. The participants, however, shared with us what they’ll discuss: how they updated the iconic vehicle while respecting its all-important DNA.
“Our design strategy talked about relevance, sustainability, durability and desirability,” says McGovern. “These are the values needed to create the most capable vehicle in the world.”
That’s a lofty ambition. “Gerry set the vision. My job was to make it real,” notes Andy Wheel, head of exterior design who, yes, has heard every possible crack about his name. While respecting the iconic square silhouette, Wheel needed to incorporate “the things we didn’t have in the 1940s that we have now.”
According to Wheel, that means clean, unadorned surfaces that look like they were milled from one metal surface; centralizing and lifting the dashboard controls to allow for a third front-row seat and squaring off the circular tail lights to deliver a message of confidence.
Soft, supple leather is always prized for seating but, today, some customers want more enlightened options. “We offer a choice of microfiber suede made from recycled plastic bottles,” mentions Amy Frascella, JLR’s director of colors and materials. “And a steel-cut wool blend that’s cool in summer, warm in winter.” All materials were chosen to withstand the wear and tear of heavy tackle and big dogs, and are able to be wiped clean of mud or whatever else Fido might have dragged in.
Color can instantly telegraph a message. “The colors are natural, but modern and edgy,” says Frascella. And they’re a bit militaristic, which contributes to the subliminal signal of strength. Exteriors can be Pangea Green, Godwana Stone or Tasman Blue.
Frascella describes the Interior colors as those that “work hard” and include a “desaturated, mid-tone khaki and beige dark enough to hide mud and soil.” And there’s also dramatic Ebony.
In addition, JLR has developed a magnesium-derivative satin film that wraps the vehicle, making repairs easier while protecting the glossy finish underneath. Should a Defender owner want to change color, the film can be removed from the surface.
Priced starting at $49,900, the 2020 Land Rover Defender offers a choice of variants, style packs (Country, Urban, etc.) and 126 options. One is that third front seat, which McGovern says is perfect for his Maltipoo—a cross between a Maltese and toy poodle. “Actually, you could fit two Maltipoos—or one Dalmatian,” he adds. It seems the new Defender will be all the talk at the dog park.