The new visitor attraction, which opened to the public today, forms part of a new Defender tour and showcases replica models in various stages of production, each one meticulously built using identical parts and in precisely the same way as the original Series I.
The display gives an insight into life on a car production line in the late 1940’s using original tools and a draftsmen’s drawing board where visitors are also asked to wear authentic overalls known as ‘cow gowns.’ The attraction boasts an area dedicated to telling the story of the creation of the original Series I by Land Rover founder Maurice Wilks using previously unseen video footage provided by his family.
The Celebration Line is located in the heart of the Defender production line which is housed inside one of the original production buildings at Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull factory. The opening of the attraction marks the start of a year of celebration as the Defender enters its final year of production in the UK.
Jaguar Land Rover Heritage Director, John Edwards, says the heritage line will take visitors back to the beginning of the world’s most famous 4×4 manufacturer. He said: “Land Rover has a rich heritage based around the Series I and Defender models, and we wanted to create something extra special that would give visitors and enthusiasts a unique insight into how it all started back in 1948.
“It has been a huge task to recreate a production line from almost 70 years ago, from sourcing original parts for the Series I models, to authentically re-creating the working environment and uniform of employees who were here. The team involved has been meticulous in their research, planning and creation of what is a fitting tribute to the legendary heritage of Land Rover.”
The company turned to one of the world’s leading Land Rover enthusiasts and restorers and curator of the famous Dunsfold Collection of historic Land Rovers, Phil Bashall, to help create the vehicles for the production line. Phil built his first Series I Land Rover at the age of 13, but admitted he was shocked when Land Rover told him of plans to build a full replica 1948 production line.
Phil admitted: “It’s been a struggle at times, but a real labour of love to source all of the original parts needed for vehicles that stopped production so many years ago.”
Phil had a large number of the ‘nuts and bolts’ he needed tucked away in his own ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of Land Rover parts – he has amassed over 8,000 original parts but it was still a long and painstaking search to find all the brakes, clutches, gaskets and pedals required for the exhibit. He enlisted the help of skilled craftsmen and the Land Rover Series I Club to build a replica chassis for the Series I models, along with some of the aluminium bodywork for the vehicles.
Once Phil had collected all of the parts over a period of months, it took him and his mechanic five weeks to build the five Series I models. His guiding light in the challenge and the man who co-ordinated the Celebration Line project is Roger Crathorne. Roger, known simply as ‘Mr Land Rover’, was born in Solihull and joined Land Rover as an apprentice in 1963. He retired last year having completed more than 50 years’ service.
For Roger, seeing the completed exhibit line is a dream come true and the perfect illustration of what makes Land Rover unique in the world of motoring. He said: “No other car maker in the world has anything as authentic and with such meticulous attention to detail as our heritage line. It has taken months of searching and dedication to put this project together, but it has been worth it.”
The new Defender factory tour lasts approximately three hours. The tour begins at the beginning of the production process – the body shop. Here bodies are manufactured prior to being shipped to paint. The tour then continues in final assembly where visitors can see the engine and gearbox lowered onto the chassis and watch as the labour intensive process of assembling the painted body panels begins.
Today, the tour welcomed its very first visitors, the Writtle family from South Gloucestershire [pictured}. They said: “We are huge enthusiasts of this iconic vehicle and own 11 between us. It feels like we have won the lottery as we have secured one of the few Limited Edition Heritage vehicles from the recently announced Celebration Series.
“We were amazed how little the Defender manufacturing process has changed in the last six decades with individual craftsmanship still at the heart of each vehicle produced. We also witnessed Jaguar Land Rover’s rigorous quality control processes, including testing in the monsoon chamber where vehicles are subjected to 343 high-pressure water jets for 14 minutes to ensure there are no water leaks.”
Today, 450 people are employed on the Defender production line, including a family who has seen three generations dedicate themselves to the manufacture of these iconic vehicles.
Tours cost £45 per person. To arrange a visit to the home of the Land Rover legend during its final year of UK production, visit https://shop.landrover.co.uk/driving-experiences/find-a-centre/solihull or call: +44 (0)121 700 4619.