Land Rover Killed Its Most Iconic SUV, but Devoted Defender Fans Brought it Back
The Land Rover Defender is one of the most iconic vehicles on the planet. I’d put the pre-2020 Defender up against the Porsche 911, Jeep Wrangler, and Dodge Challenger as one of the most recognizable shapes of all time–automobile or otherwise. The only difference is that Land Rover killed its iconic Defender, replacing it with a Bronco-shaped SUV that’s only a Defender in name. But devoted Defender fans in an old London pub came up with an idea to keep the British icon alive. And it just might work.
The Land Rover Defender is dead
Yes, Land Rover still makes a Defender. They would be foolish not to offer an SUV with their most recognizable nameplate. But while there is a clear lineage from the 1948 Land Rover Series I through the 2019 Defender, the 2020 redesign looks nothing like its predecessors.
The new Defender is a unibody vehicle, technically a crossover. In Land Rover’s bid to push the familiar nameplate upmarket, it added a range of resplendent luxury features. While the early series of Land Rovers were no-frills 4x4s, the 2023 Defender starts at $53,500.
Imagine for a moment that Stellantis announced a complete redesign of the Jeep Wrangler. Then it slapped a Wrangler badge on a unibody Jeep Recon. Fans of America’s favorite 4×4–which can trace its lineage back to WWII–would be enraged. This gives you an idea of how many Land Rover fans feel about the new Defender.
It’s unsurprising that a group of Defender fans in a London pub came up with a plan to resurrect their beloved SUV. It might surprise you that the new 4×4 is already in production
Long live the Land Rover Defender
Like many Land Rover fans, Jim Ratcliffe complained to his buddies in London’s Grenadier club about the design of the new Defender. But Sir James Arthur Ratcliffe is not any old Defender driver. He also happens to be an engineer and the billionaire CEO of Ineos Chemicals.
So while Ratcliffe’s barroom conversations about the 2020 Defender might have begun like pub-talk all over London, they ended in a very different way. Ratcliffe resolved to approach Jaguar Land Rover about purchasing the tooling for the 2019 Defender, to build and sell continuation SUVs. He put together a plan, approached the company, and made his pitch. But no dice.
Then Ratcliffe began looking at his old Defender, wondering if he could design something better. He decided to retain the steel ladder chassis, beam axles, and four-corner coil springs of the Defender. He also kept its full-time 4WD with two-speed transfer case. But in the interest of modernizing the SUV, he sourced 3.0-liter I6 engines (offering both gasoline and diesel) from BMW.
Ratcliffe retained Austrian manufacturer Magna Steyr–builder of the G Wagen–to help engineer the rest of the vehicle. He studied heavy-duty African-spec version of Toyota Land Cruisers, Mercedes Unimogs, and Jeeps. He ended up adding a load-bearing roof and some other features to the Defender’s design. Finally, he bought an entire factory, located in Hambach France, from Mercedes-Benz.
Land Rover would not let Ratcliffe call his new SUV a Defender, so he needed a new name. He returned to the pub where it all started to host a promotional meeting and decided to name his 4×4 after the bar itself: the 300-year-old Grenadier in Belgravia, London. Thus the Ineos Grenadier was born.
The Ineos Grenadier is in production
There are countless automotive startups. Especially in the age of electrification, many prove to be vaporware. But the Ineos Grenadier actually appears to be happening. Ineos went into production in July 2022. Ratcliffe has pledged to complete over one million miles of off-road testing and is currently putting the first production SUVs through their paces around the globe. See the Grenadier tested in the video below:
Want your own Ineos Grenadier? Ratcliffe is aiming to make his first U.K. customer deliveries in December 2022. If you live in North America, have no fear. Ineos has already opened a branch in Raleigh, North Carolina. With any luck, it will be importing Defender-like SUVs soon.
Next, check out more 4×4 Jeep Wrangler alternatives or see the Ineos Grenadier reviewed in the video below: