History of a Legend: Series III

The third part of our series tracing the history of the Defender. Launched in August 1971, the Series III would go on to prove Land Rover's enduring appeal.

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Our 'History of a Legend' series traces the lineage of our beloved Defender. 

Part 2 charts the rapid rise in popularity of the Defender – or Series II, which was the latest model when it launched in 1958. 

Read on for the next chapter of the story...

The Series III ran from 1971 to 1985 and coincided with some of the darkest days of the British car industry, and the broader UK and global economies. It is a testament to the Land Rover’s enduring appeal – and its importance to the nation as an export – that the Series III sold almost as well as its predecessor did in the better economic times of the 1960s.

The vehicle itself didn’t change radically in this time. The most obvious difference between Series II and III is the later car’s moulded grille and revised interior, which brought a slightly less spartan dashboard and instruments that moved from the centre of the dash to in front of the driver. It was also the first Land Rover with an optional fresh-air heater.

With its moulded grille and outstanding capability, the Series III started to appeal to a wider audience

Two major changes came at once in 1979. Firstly the Stage One 109 offered a V8 engine, borrowed from the Range Rover but detuned from 135bhp to 91bhp. For the first time, these V8 units also got the long bonnet and flush front familiar from the current Defender that was needed to accommodate the size of the bigger engine.

The V8 was also used in the new Forward Control truck, announced in 1972. It was a military vehicle, designed to haul howitzers. The design reprised that of the commercial Forward Controls built in the ‘60s, with the cab perched high over the front wheels. It was a capable, reliable vehicle and hugely popular with soldiers, who named it after its carrying capacity: the One-Tonne.

Series III

Land Rovers were becoming more popular as leisure vehicles bought by private owners. The desire for comfort without compromising the car’s abilities would be central to the design of later Land Rovers, but the trend started with the ‘County’ version of the Series III, introduced in 1982 with such refinements as tweed seats and tinted glass.

There were more milestones to mark. In 1976, the millionth Land Rover was made: an 88in Station Wagon in special metallic green paint and velour trim. In 1978, Land Rover Limited became a separate entity within British Leyland. Soon after, Rover car production moved out of Solihull, leaving it to Land Rover. In 1985, the last Series III rolled off the line and into the Heritage collection, an exact facsimile of the last customer car which preceded it. True to Land Rover’s global reach, it was an Africa-specification Station Wagon.