There was quite a fuss today, the morning before the Defender goes public at the Frankfurt Motor Show, as Jaguar Land Rover mounted a $500,000 media preview event that ticked all the boxes short of a drive.
Everyone who presented, from design guru Professor Doctor Gerry McGovern down, was bullish and smiling.
But there was also a frisson of nervousness and, yes, fear.
No-one wants to be the person who "fucks up the Defender". Apologies for the language, but I heard exactly those words from the mouths of three of my long-term senior contacts inside the JLR executive team.
One is a board member.
They know they have done everything they can, but they also know that the Defender is now out of their hands.
The biggest concern is that the crew in Britain can build the car to the required quality standards.
The whole concept of quality runs contrary to the Defender’s history. It was rough and tough, not prissy or polished, but what the world wanted and needed after World War II was something that was fit for purpose.
|Top Left: Original 1947 Prototype Top Right: 1948 Amsterdam Show Car with designer Maurice Wilks|
Bottom Left: Land Rover 90 demonstrating off-road prowess Bottom Right: 1988 Land Rover 110
The original Defender was made from aluminium because post-WW2 there was a shortage of steel, and plenty of alloy from scrapped aircraft, and no-one had even heard about a car radio, let alone a modern infotainment system.
My first impression is good.
Ironically, it came a week before Frankfurt when I spotted a Defender in full camouflage on a suburban street near Oxford in the UK.
It was far bigger and chunkier than I expected, but - even in a country where the roads are flooded with everything from the old Defender to the latest Range Rover Velar - immediately made an impact.
I decided, as I wafted past in my own Velar test car, that it should be know as the British Bulldog.
That is the stance, and the impact, and it’s about to be let off the leash …
Switching to Frankfurt, where most makers were still finishing their stands and there was a real fear of being cleaned-up by a rampaging forklift, journalists were run through the Land Rover program in groups of 60. There were four Aussies in our mob and, from the outset, McGovern took a swipe at the Aussie contingent, as he knows we're among the toughest critics, and have been chasing him for Defender chat for more than a decade.
“Well, here it is,” he told us.
The first impression is good. No, very good.
Both the Defender 110 and the shorter two-door 90 have good proportions, nice design, and plenty of little touches - from design to equipment and even accessories - to keep you thinking and exploring.
When I have more time, and a chance for reflection, I’ll discuss marketing and pricing - the first hint is $70,000 for the 110 diesel - and how the roll-out is going to work.
But McGovern sets the groundwork as he previews his babies.
|Designer Gerry McGovern|
“Just remember one thing. The new Defender had to be designed for a world that’s changed beyond recognition. We’ve come from the jungle and now we’re operating in the urban jungle,” he says.
|Engineering Chief Nick Rogers|
When he is finished, group engineering director Nick Rogers steps onto the presentation platform to run through things like the first monocoque layout for the Defender, it’s low-range gears, aluminium suspension, and all the rest.
But it’s his chat that gets my attention.
“It’s a vehicle that visited all four corners of the earth. It was the first vehicle that many people saw. It saved people’s lives,” he says of the original Defender.
Then he gets into the new one.
“What was the mission? It was to create an authentic Land Rover for a modern world”.
“There was nothing else, other than function. And fun.”
“We had a blank sheet of paper to write down what a new Defender needed to be in 2020. Capability is what it’s about.”
His bottom line? “It defies the laws of physics,” says Rogers.
The preview package wraps with a single picture from the set of the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which is under an even tighter embargo than the Land Rover one.
So the Defender wave is building and I cannot wait to see how the British Bulldog is accepted.
“There will be some dinosaurs who complain that it’s not body-on-frame, or whatever, but we know we’ve done the best Defender we can,” says one of the launch crew, and he is right.