Why The Land Rover Defender Didn't Go Retro

Design / Comments

Head Designer Gerry McGovern says it would have been kiss of death for the legendary SUV.

Land Rover Director of Design Gerry McGovern makes no apologies for the looks of the all-new Land Rover Defender, which represents a radical departure from its predecessor - a rugged, go-anywhere off-roader whose origins stretch back some seven decades to the original Series I.

Granted, if you do have complaints about the design, you would be in the minority, he told Gear Patrol in a recent interview. McGovern doesn't give much stock to the opinion that the new Defender should have been styled more "retro," as many critics have implied, because to him, backward-looking design is an admission that you have no new ideas.

Front View Driving Land Rover
Front View Land Rover
Rear View Driving Land Rover

"I think retrospectivism is the kiss of death, quite frankly," he told Gear Patrol. "It's a slippery slope. It actually conveys that you haven't got any new ideas of the future, because you're looking back too much."

McGovern was careful to note the distinction between "retrospectivism" and an acknowledgement of the automaker's roots, however, saying "I think authenticity - particularly in a premium brand - is important. But you don't let that manifest itself in the product to the point that the product looks like a facsimile of something that was created 60-odd years ago."

"For me, that's not honest design. That car created 60, 70 years ago was right for its time, but things have moved on."

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Front View Driving Land Rover
Side View Land Rover
Side View Driving Land Rover
Side View Land Rover

In short, redesigning the Land Rover Defender for the modern era came down to balance - incorporating enough backward-glancing elements that it's recognizable as Land Rover's defining vehicle, without simply turning out a conservative, unimaginative evolution of a design that, while right for its time, arguably doesn't feel at home in our current milieu.

Whether or not McGovern and Land Rover struck that balance effectively is a matter of opinion, but at the least, he says, photos have failed to do the new design justice; you just have to see it in person.

Side View Driving Land Rover
Front View Land Rover
Side View Land Rover
Source Credits: Gear Patrol

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