Re-designing an icon is fraught with peril, risking the wrath of enthusiasts and putting the design department under intense scrutiny. So when Land Rover unveiled the new Defender in Frankfurt, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as this creative but careful reworking of Defender’s design dna took centre stage

Replacing the iconic Land Rover Defender after nearly seventy years in production was never going to be easy. “The new Defender is respectful of its past but is not harnessed by it” explains Gerry McGovern, Chief Design Officer, Land Rover. “This is a new Defender for a New Age. Its unique personality is accentuated by its distinctive silhouette and optimum proportions, which make it both highly desirable and seriously capable – a visually compelling 4x4 that wears its design and engineering integrity with uncompromised commitment.”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 Massimo Frascelli

Massimo Frascella

Project L663 started in 2013, with first sketches done in the spring. “It was a complex programme, this is not just one car but a whole family of vehicles, with multiple accessories” says exteriors design director Massimo Frascella. “And a car that hasn’t been designed for 70 years. So, a lot of pressure on the team but a lot of excitement at same time”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior sketch 2

Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior sketch

Despite the DC100 concept being shown in 2011, the team started afresh. Reaction to DC100 had not been overwhelmingly positive, some feeling it was too simple and light-hearted as a basis for the new generation Defender. For L663, 3-4 weeks were spent on initial sketching then 40% scale clay models were produced – 5 of them. “One was clearly the winner, it stood out. In fact we went full size with it without waiting for the full review of all five we were so confident” says Frascella.

The designers were clear that the design should have an unmistakable silhouette, with a vertical front end, a chamfered edge to the front of the roof, a horizontal roofline, a cut off rear end, an upright screen and horizontal hood. “Put together it creates an unmistakable silhouette of something people will call, a ‘Land Rover’ – the original Defender. That was #1” says exterior designer Andy Wheel.

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 Clay work

Clay work

That simple silhouette is combined with classic proportions in the bodyside and deceptively simple surfacing. “It’s interesting the number of people who assume it’s just a planar vehicle with horizontal lines everywhere, whereas when you look closely not only is there a huge amount of plan shape to ensure we have high quality pressings but all of those lines do have taper” explains Wheel. “There’s a lot of taper in the beltline. Most of those lines describe chamfer, we want the vehicle to send out those subliminal messages that it looks tough, this is the real deal. It is very deliberate to send those messages of a hewn and solid form.”

Frascella is most proud of the efforts made to clean up the front fender, eliminating the typical shutline running across the forward part and ruining its beautiful form. Deep discussions were held with the engineers to ensure the headlamp could be loaded with the fender in place. “We went through all the possibilities and after a few months of detailed work we agreed a flypath that works. We moved the shutline out a bit and now it works. We did the difficult thing in cleaning up this whole corner here, a virtuous piece of design.”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior 6

Land Rover Defender 2019


The sharp rear corner is another example of virtuous design, with the plastic capping having several advantages. “It allows us to achieve the sharp formability of the corner but also improves the crash performance, and the vertical shutline visually shortens the rear overhang too” explains Frascella. Likewise the sliced rear end “It has a lot of curvature in plan, it keeps the overhang short visually. It’s perceived as a straight cut but it’s not flat at all. An example of the elemental but sophisticated look that underpinned this project.”

10.jpgCDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior render

Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior render

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior 2

The spare wheel on the tailgate was another challenge. Andy Wheel: “To many, having a spare tyre on the rear is nothing special but putting it on the back of a car in modern times is really challenging. All the current regulations on lamp visibility, both with door closed and open, plus fact that the tyre diameter and width is far greater than before, with a lot of mass hanging off the door.” To meet the 45 degree lighting regulations the lamps are visible through the gap between the tyre created by the mounting bracket. “That informs the design of the spare wheel carrier. Although out of sight it’s a work of art as a cast slug of metal on the rear, designed to be as lightweight as possible yet do the job and be a balanced execution. A real piece of architecture. Hopefully people simply say ‘I like it’ without realising the full reasons why.”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 rear lights

Rear lights

Like the headlamp, the rear tail lamp has no outer lens cover, with the small outer squircles being the DI lamps, moved outboard to satisfy global lighting regulations. “The first model we did had a clear lens cover. The 3D printed part that was made wouldn’t fit correctly on the day of the viewing so we reviewed it without fitting it. Afterwards we stood back and decided it looked better, it was more honest without it, so that was it!”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior sketch 4

Sketch for the new Defender


While the front face has some cues from the DC100, the design team reworked it as a confident, benign expression that communicates the authenticity of the brand. “We spent a lot of time on the lamp” says Frascella. “Whenever you work with round elements there’s a risk of making car look too happy, or too angry - instantly they are the eyes. We did not want this car to look aggressive, didn’t want it to look happy either, just reassuring and approachable at the same time. Every day when we walked through the studio last year we looked to that part to make sure it still conveyed that exact message.”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 exterior render 2

Defender (110) C-pillar graphic

The distinctive floating C-pillar graphic also conveys subliminal values. “On the 5-door 110 it describes where the underlying C-pillar structure falls, and is placed directly above the rear wheel. So it literally roots the body and the structure” explains Wheel. “A square is the most simple form to communicate a signal of strength, thus the right thing to do as a signifier for the Defender form language and messages we wanted to get across with this car. On the 3-door 90 the graphic is on there to provide a link between the 90 and 110 and provides some privacy for rear passengers, some shielding from without. Some will want the full visibility there so customers can opt to have the car with or without the graphic.”

CDN Land Rover Defender 2019 Massimo Frascelli 2

Massimo Frascella, Land Rover creative director and exterior designer

Frascella explains further: “Particularly on the 110 the C-pillar graphic gives a sense of solidity, it stops the cabin looking too elongated. It rebalances the whole ratio between body and glass, something that made the previous Defender so solid and robust. Of course, it adds a unique signature - no other car has such a square C-pillar like new Defender. We understand it could be controversial for some people but it gives strong character, a distinctive element. It also frames itself directly under the alpine lights so there’s a visual logic that runs right through there. On top of that we managed to create a functional feature of it: the plastic ‘collar panel’ beneath can be removed and all captive fixings for the external side pods and ladder options are ready installed there, with associated storage pockets on the interior.”


New Defender gallery


Land Rover Defender personnel

Chief Design Officer: Gerry McGovern

Exterior Designers: Massimo Frascella, Andy Wheel

Director Interiors: Alan Sheppard

Director Colour & Materials: Amy Frascella

Interior Designers: Martin Buffery, Nick Finney, Lee Perry

Project start: Spring 2013

Project Launched: September 2019

Land Rover Defender 2019