Iran may be well and truly off the radar for most UK car manufacturers but one of the best-kept automotive secrets is that motorists there can actually get behind the wheel of a locally-made Land Rover.
The car might be made by Iranian manufacturer Morattab rather than Land Rover, but when the Solihull-based car-maker stops production of its iconic Defender in 2015, Iran will be one of the few places drivers can still buy a version of it in the shape of the Morattab Pazhan.
The western world’s sanctions against Iran which remain in force are among the toughest ever imposed on any country, meaning few if any companies do business there.
But Morattab is an SUV manufacturer based in Tehran which has been making all-Iranian clones of the Series Land Rover since the late sixties, originally from knocked-down kits (CDK) sent from Spain.
The forerunner to the Defender, which Land Rover still makes and will do so until 2015, versions of the Series Land Rover have been made under licence in a variety of countries over the decades, including Germany, Belgium, Spain and Turkey.
The Iranian model is a version of the Series IV Land Rover, and its production in Iran came about as a result of a partnership with Spanish company Santana Motor.
Santana signed an agreement with Land Rover in the 1950s to produce a version of its famous off-roader and production started with a Spanish version of the Series II in 1959.
Over the years Santana produced several Land Rovers, making its Series IV or 2500 as it was known, from 1983 until 1994 when the entire production line and tooling were sold to Morattab and shipped to Iran.
It is the descendant of that vehicle which is still produced today in Tehran.
When originally launched by Santana, its Series IV had already been superceded by the technically more advanced Land Rover models being made in Solihull.
It differed from the final Land Rover Series III, on which it was based, in that it had suspension with leaf springs rather than the coil springs used by Land Rover.
Since Morattab started full production in 1970, the Iranian Land Rover has evolved considerably with many different versions produced over the years, including a 3-door station wagon, 4-door pick-up and 5-door station wagon.
Originally it was powered by a modest Iranian-built 1.8-cylinder petrol engine, based on a unit sourced from Nissan.
Latterly known as the Morattab Pazhan it came with a 2.4-litre petrol engine and later a 3.0-litre V6.
In 2004 Morattab redesigned it in a bid to match the Land Rover Defender and the vehicle even had selectable four-wheel drive.
Regulations in Iran meant that only petrol engines were offered and latterly the complete cabin versions were no longer produced, leaving only a double cabin pick-up in production, which is believed to cost the equivalent of £12,000.
Now powered by a 3.0-litre Hyundai petrol engine, the Pazhan comes equipped with hydraulic telescopic vertical coil link suspension, power steering, altitude meter, angle meter, and air conditioning but lack luxuries such as power windows, central automatic locking and automatically adjustable seats.
Land Rover’s relationship with Santana had been a successful partnership and the Solihull firm had ended up with a 30 per cent stake in the Spanish firm.
However a growing relationship with Suzuki saw Land Rover release its equity in 1983 and at the same time Santana also dropped Land Rover from the name of its vehicles.
Mike Gould, a renowned Land Rover historian who has written several books on the car-maker, said: “Land Rovers were made all over the place from kits.
“Santana had a relationship with Land Rover, having a minority shareholders in this Spanish company.
“This ended in the 1980s when Land Rover introduced the coil spring One Ten.
“Santana continued making the leaf sprung vehicle - latterly as the ‘Annibal’ - and even campaigned against the ‘softer’ Solihull-built version.
“Santana eventually went bust in 2011 but had previously sold the tooling to Morattab.”
Automotive historian and author Martyn Nutland said: “After Santana sold Morattab the whole Series lV Land Rover production caboodle our friends in the desert have taken it on from there.
“As far as I know the very latest models have reworked suspension all round and the Pazhan is a competent machine but its production, development and marketing do seem to be hampered by regulatory constraints.”