► 2 millionth Defender auctioned for charity
► Unique SVO edition with celeb-built touches
► Sold to an overseas bidder for £400,000
Until last night, it was still possible to buy yourself a brand new Land Rover Defender, although you would have needed very deep pockets. Production of this genuinely iconic car ends in January after 68 years, and the final examples sold out months ago to devotees and speculators.
But one remained unsold: the 2 millionth Defender. This milestone was reached in May, but the car was saved for an extraordinary single-lot auction at Bonhams last night.
In a genuinely thrilling sale conducted by master auctioneer Robert Brooks, the bidding stalled a couple of times before two telephone bidders – one in Europe and one in Qatar – sent the price through the roof.
Privately, Land Rover had hoped to raise around £200,000 for the two charities which will split the proceeds of the sale, the Red Cross and the Born Free Foundation. But the duelling bidders sent the price up in £10,000 increments to £400,000. The car will be going to Qatar.
Land Rover took a huge risk in offering the car for auction. What if nobody bid? ‘There have been a lot of sleepless nights, and I mean literally sleepless,’ one told me.
But they needn’t have worried. Bonhams said more bidders registered for this sale than for any previous single-lot sale. Most of the other milestone Land Rovers have never been sold – the 100th was presented to King George VI, and the very last car made will be kept by the company.
And of course, this was no standard farm-spec Defender. 33 VIPS helped to build the car. Adventurer Bear Grylls fitted the wheels. Stephen and Nick Wilks, the sons of the Wilks brothers who created the car in 1947 assembled the roof. Entrepreneur and Defender owner Theo Paphitis fitted the rear seats and lights. Actress Virginia McKenna, founder of the Born Free Foundation fitted the number plates.
The Defender 90 Station Wagon was created by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations and has bespoke details that mark its significance. A map of Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey, in whose sands the Wilks brothers first sketched the Land Rover, has been engraved in raw, hand-brushed aluminium on the car's front wing. A unique ‘no. 2,000,000’ badge adorns the rear of the vehicle, and an aluminium plaque, signed by everyone who helped to assemble the vehicle is fitted to the driver’s seat plinth.
This is, of course, the most expensive Defender ever sold, by quite some margin. There was very un-Bonhams-like cheering and applause when the hammer finally came down at the record-breaking price. It felt like the right way to mark the passing of one of Britain’s greatest cars.
In CAR's September issue, Ben Oliver drove an original Series I Land Rover back to back with one of the last-of-the-line Heritage Editions - read the feature in the CAR+ archive here.