Everybody knows the Land Rover and Range Rover nameplates. These have been quietly and expertly crafted over time, in fact, one could even rightly imagine that such a marque was formed from as far as time can stretch.Warlords and their troops favour them to keep going where even a mountain goat would not dare venture, peace keepers and most military outfits swear by them. Most Tswana kids born in the eighties or before simply know what you are talking about when you say 'Defender'. So then, it's a name that conjures fear (if you grew up seeing rebels perched high on their fenders) or hope if you think of the white United Nations peacekeepers steeds but for most of us we simply grew up knowing it as the V8. But like the Pope, it needs change once in a while to keep with the times because truth told, these are old cars!
Sixty seven years after the first Defender was screwed together, Land Rover is now thinking about building its replacement, 67 years later. But when you have something that possibly outlasts religion, you are going to be very cautious about tinkering with it because imagine the outcry if the Egyptian government were to demolish thei own pyramids, not any country's, but their very own and decided to construct skyscrapers in their place. Now as much as said pyramids are landmarks, the V8 is also an automotive equivalent of that. Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's Director of Design, says: "Replacing the iconic Defender is one of the biggest challenges in the automotive design world; it is a car that inspires people worldwide. The DC100 isn't a production-ready concept, but the beginning of a four-year journey to design a relevant Defender for the 21st century." That's right, the replacement is likely to be called that; DC100, and that already is as cool a name as you could wish for, maybe it stands for Defender Concept but wouldn't it have sounded much sweeter if they went all out and simply said Defender Concept 101? How cool is that?
Well the cars they showed at Frankfurt Motor Show are certainly icy cool, as cool as a Land Rover could be. In a lurid eye retina searing yellow paint job, the ''roofless Sportster concept' certainly looks eye catching; think very short overhangs, huge rugged wheels and a barely there windscreen and you will be on the money. But as the man said, the DC100 isn't production ready, hence the concept name. But let's not forget that this is the very same company that brought us the rather dashing Range Rover Evoque, a car that looks as close to the concept as possible, and I dare someone to spot the big changes; if any, that were in the concept Evoque versus the production car we see now. It is the same company that showed a concept Range Rover Sport and continued to make it almost unaltered, also not forgetting that since Land Rover Range Rover and Jaguar are one, we have witnessed the rather brilliant Ian Callum (he who is famed for rendering the amazingly breathtaking Jaguar XF) and pushed for it to be made into production as is; almost unchanged from concept to showroom. So with such a history behind them and knowing that they measure time literally with the passing of the Halley's Comet we can be sure that much of what we see in the concept will make it into the cars we will eventually get to drive when the Land Rover guys finally finish having their midday tea siesta. But since industry sources say that a replacement is due in 2015, then things must be pretty heated up for the guys over there because this is a car that has to appeal to earlier mentioned warlords, dictators, peacekeepers, farmers and posers, not forgetting the usual daily grind for those who like having their lives as rough as can be. Because in its present form, that car is as hard as a bed of nails and as uncomfortable as sleeping on them too! But how can that be accomplished? Well, they claim that they are going to stay as close to the original roots as they can, while at the same time making the car as comprehensively modern as can be. That sounds like an insurmountable task as would the devil suddenly becoming born again. How are they going to do that? You could probably turn a 70 year old woman into a record breaking 100 meters sprinter but to say a Defender being 'comprehensively modern' is just a Valentine wish!
The brand's global PR manager, Dave Roynon, admits some people hated the DC100. "We're doing lots of market research, we're doing lots of studies," Roynon says. "We did DC100 to see what the reception was..." he says no details are out as yet, but that the current car's immense go-anywhere hard-working reputation will remain because otherwise it wouldn't be a Defender. "The capability is almost a given," he says. "It has to be as capable, it has to be as robust, it has to go everywhere the existing Defender goes, and it has to be as practical as the existing Defender. But then how do we then say, dial in the latest legislation requirements? How do we meet the safety requirements? How do we meet the fuel economy aspirations the world has?" The material that will be used to build the car is also undecided but Land Rover is investing heavily in aluminium monocoque construction for its new Range Rover, Sport and Discovery models and the current Defender uses aluminium panels on a steel chassis. Because this is a very important car for both the company and the world's rebels, there shouldn't be any hurry in working out the exact parameters of its construction, engine and all the components that makes it as unique as it is today. In fact, given that the next car will be around for probably another hundred years before they replace it again; common sense dictates that they should take at least another 20 years more to properly pen it out. But just as Volkswagen completely re-imagined the Beetle nearly 20 years later as a modern product-and, subsequently, Mini did the Cooper hatchback and Fiat the 500-Land Rover might find its greatest success in building a new Defender that's thoroughly modern underneath, and merely skinned like the boxy behemoth loyalists expect. But if the truck isn't truly robust, and can't be repaired by bush mechanics in Sub-Saharan Africa, can it be a proper Defender? We'll have to wait on McGovern and Land Rover for an answer, meanwhile we will keep you posted.