Designed by Maurice Wilks, the Land Rover 'Ninety' or 'Defender' was launched in 1948 and is simply in a design class of its own.
I had a neighbour who, on his 18th birthday, received one from his father, thinking his son would learn about the workings of the combustion engine by tinkering with the vehicle.
His decision was also swayed by the fact the Land Rover doesn't go that fast, so his son was unlikely to be added to the list of young driver fatalities, although he would still able to enjoy a sense of freedom and exploration.
The son - now married with kids - still has his Defender, and still tinkers with it. The last time I saw him he was busy painting it beige.
I came close to buying one myself. Over drinks with John, a very good friend of mine, our conversation turned to mutual Defender appreciation, and we seriously considered buying one together.
Joint ownership was a means to justifying the purchase, in that neither of us live close to rugged terrain, and it would be a 'Sunday car', alternate weekends, and for appreciation only.
One of the elements which interests me about the Defender is its colour. The early Defenders were 'green', a light green and then later, a bronze green (down to surplus paint being left over from the WWII).
In the mid-50's you had the choice of all of four colours- bronze green, blue, grey, and beige, with steel wheels, colour-matched to the bodywork.
In, I think the 60's, roof and wheels in 'white' were introduced, that have become an iconic signature and styling of the marque. This seems, at first, exceptionally odd... White?
I get the white roof, it was down to reducing components and helping cost. It meant just one roof panel was kept in stock. And practically, I guess slightly cooler in summer. Plus I'd like to think the contract was so that it could be spotted in foul-weather on a rugged hillside from a distance. I'm guessing, and hope Defender enthusiasts can tell me if I'm correct or way off the mark!.
It's possibly like looking at a painting, I'm maybe wanting to read more meaning into the piece of art than even the artist intended.
The white wheels however? That's not something at the design stage you could imagine would be the conclusion following in-depth design development. Nor simply the result of a design team brain-storm.
I cannot imagine someone shouting out, "Hey, I've got it!...although it's going to spend most of its life off-road and in mud up to its axles, let's give it white wheels!"
The wheels being solid steel (over alloy) I get. For strength and durability (and you can bash them into shape if ever required), but to then paint them white? I guess it was for the same reason as the roof- cost reduction through reducing the production processes.
But I don't think it was just a cost engineering decision alone, but more considered than that, as the Defender, whatever the body colour, looks aesthetically correct with a white roof and white wheels, despite being a 4x4 off-road vehicle that just loves mud.
Many cars marques have tried white wheels and ended up with the equivalent of the pop duo Wham! Capturing and reflecting only a brief fun moment in the 80's, then looking a bit dated. Even applying white wheels on the muscle of a Mustang and against the backdrop of Miami beach, it still looks fundamentally wrong and a design mistake.
Design is a funny thing, while copious research and strategy goes into the process, many ideas generated and rejected, and cost plays a very vital role, sometimes, something just feels and looks right, and you cannot quite put your finger on why.
I think this might have been the case with the Defender. The colour combination addressed cost and production process and it just looked spot-on correct. And on that basis, it went ahead. And rather than a moment in time, it's become a long lasting and timeless, classic colour combination, part of the Land Rover's brand DNA.
Christian Louboutin has successfully confirmed the validity of its European Trade Mark regarding its red soles (Pantone 18. 1663TP) at The Court of Justice, I think Land Rover could probably do the same with their white roof and white wheels.
Staggeringly three-quarters of all Defenders ever built over the last 65years are still in regular use. Wow! Sadly however in December '15 production in the UK at least will cease. But with soaring sales, I don't think it's the last of this design icon or colour-way.
John... we should really buy one, and fast!