Buying Guide: Defender

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No matter which model you choose, you're not going to be disappointed : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
Everything you ever wanted to know about every model from 1983 through to 2021

Land Rover Defender. Three words that speak volumes to enthusiasts and professionals from all walks of life, from adventure to agriculture; from family fun to military might. And even then they don’t adequately sum up the world’s most versatile vehicle, which has been in production since 1983.

There have been a lot of changes in the world since then, as well as a lot of upgrades to the evergreen Defender, but it still remains the world’s most competent off-roader. Every vehicle carrying the Defender badge is best in its class when it comes to getting down and dirty, but its appeal goes far beyond the off-road course. In fact, demand for all Defenders is such that it outstrips supply – meaning that most models don’t just hold their value, they actually appreciate.

With prices consistently high for all Defenders, it’s important that you get maximum bang for your bucks. That’s why this month we’re offering you the ultimate Defender Buying Guide, in which we’ll explain in plain English what to expect from each model from every generation. We’ve also met and interviewed lots of Defender owners who talk candidly about their purchases to help you make the right choice.

Buying any car can be a fraught experience. It’s a jungle out there. But we all know there’s no better car to negotiate that jungle than the go-anywhere Defender, so let’s get cracking…

First of all, here's what we have lined up for you to see: 

Ninety and One Ten, Defender Tdi, and Defender Td5

Defender TDCi, New Defender and Defender Specials 

 

NINETY and ONE TEN: A star is born:  

Land Rover’s dominance of the all-terrain market was being seriously eroded by Japanese 4x4 pretenders – until a radical new model was introduced

EVER since 1948, the Land Rover had been a massive success story. But like all successful cars, it was soon copied by other manufacturers and, by the 1970s, its position at the top of the 4x4 tree was getting wobbly, thanks to some very well-engineered rival models from the Japanese – particularly the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Luckily, it was something that Land Rover’s owners, the nationalised British Leyland company, recognised and eventually cash was set aside to modernise the ageing technology of the slow, leaf-sprung Series models. It was too late to stop the onward march of the best-selling Toyota, but at least it allowed Land Rover to remain a key player.

Stage I of that investment came in 1979 with the introduction of a powerful V8 petrol version of the Series, while Stage 2 resulted in the launch of the coil-sprung One Ten in 1983, followed by the Ninety a few months later and the 127 in 1985.

The first models came with the same engines as the old Series III, but the 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines were enlarged to 2.5 litres. A turbo diesel version followed in 1986, but as this was essentially the old naturally-aspirated engine with a turbo bolted on, it wasn’t as reliable as the old workhorses. Many have now been replaced by retro-fitted Tdi engines from scrapped Discoverys – as have the rather agricultural early four-cylinders and the thirsty V8 petrols.

Don’t be afraid of Ninetys and One Tens professionally converted to Tdi power. It’s a relatively straightforward swap, as these engines were used from 1990 onwards in production Defenders, and without that extra power the early four-cylinder models lacked the oomph you need to keep up with today’s traffic on the roads. They are more economical, too, typically returning mpg figures of 30+.

Although these vehicle are known as Land Rover Ninety or One Ten, they are Defenders in all but name. It’s just that the Defender name wasn’t coined until late 1989, to avoid confusion with the new Discovery model.

The fact that so many Ninety and One Tens are still on the road is evidence that Land Rover are still tops in the toughness and durability stakes. After all, how many 1980s Land Cruisers do you still see today?

What to look for

Engines and gearboxes are usually pretty bulletproof if properly serviced, although the Diesel Turbo model remains iffy. Even if they do fail, secondhand replacements are relatively cheap thanks to the sheer number of donor Discoverys on the scrapheap. A bigger problem is a rotten chassis. Rear crossmembers are usually the worst affected, but happily they are the easiest to replace.

What to pay

Pre-Defender Ninetys and One Tens remain the cheapest entry to ownership, and there are some bargains to be had, but if the asking price seems too good to be true, it probably is. If that £2500 “bargain” has got a rotten chassis, you’re looking at as much money again for a new galvanised frame, even if you have the know-how to fit it yourself.

Why I own one... 
Dave Phillips, Wadenhoe: 1984 Ninety

Dave, pictured right, loves the no-frills interior of the Ninety

I bought mine from a friend about eight years ago for a little over £2000. It was standard mechanically, but tired. When the transmission failed (worn driveshaft splines) I took the opportunity to swap the sluggish 12J naturally-aspirated diesel engine for a 300Tdi from a scrapped Discovery Commercial. Norfolk Land Rover specialist Nigel Hammond did the conversion for me.

Under my ownership, my Ninety has also had a new rear crossmember, new footwells and welded outrigger and bulkhead repairs. The tatty and rusted original steel wheels have been replaced with new old-style Defender steels. I’ve also fitted a new galvanised front bumper, suspension and bushes all round and upgraded the lighting. At present the original and tatty vinyl seats are masked by Britpart waterproof seat covers. I won’t replace the centre seat with a cubby box, because that’s where my dog, Billy, likes to sit.

I’ve also replaced the original doors with two-piece Series doors, with sliding windows – simply because I like the retro ones better.

There are still great examples to be found. A friend has just bought a totally-original Ninety with just 33,000 miles on the clock. It is like a time machine and worth every penny of the £7000 he paid to its previous (and only) owner. It’s too late to appear in this buying guide, but he’s agreed to have it featured in LRM at a later date.

If you’re looking for an everyday vehicle, my advice is to buy one already converted to Tdi. It will save you doing it yourself later.

Ninety/One Ten Specs:

• 1983-1985: 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol: 77bhp, 124lb-ft; 2.25 diesel: 62bhp, 103lb-ft; V8 petrol 3.5: 91bhp, 166lb-ft.
• 1985-1990: 2.5-litre petrol: 80bhp, 129lb-ft torque; 2.5 diesel: 68bhp, 113lb-ft; 3.5 V8 petrol: 113bhp (134bhp from 1986), 185lb-ft.
• LT85 five-speed fitted to V8 models. LT77 five-speed gearbox fitted to all four-cylinder models.

 

DEFENDER Tdi: The winds of change

The Defender name makes its debut, but the biggest change was the Tdi engine under the bonnet

THROUGH the 1980s while Ninety and One Ten owners were moaning about the lack of power, Solihull’s engineers were already on the case. They were working on Project Gemini – code name for the third member of the Land Rover family, the Discovery, which would make its debut in the autumn of 1989. The new model was getting an all-new engine – the 200Tdi – and that same engine would also be employed under the bonnet of its stablemates, the Range Rover and the Defender 90 and 110 (as well as the extra-long-wheelbase 130).

Tdi engine bay is inviting to the home mechanic

The new 200 Tdi – 25 per cent more powerful than the unreliable Diesel Turbo it replaced – allowed the Defender to cruise comfortably at speed, as well as delivering the power it needed for towing heavy loads. It was replaced in 1994 by the more refined 300Tdi, which boasted identical power and torque, but was able to meet ever-tighter European emissions regulations – something that would be the main influence upon Defender design right up to the demise of the old-style Defender in 2016.

At the same time, the LT77 gearbox – a design that dated back to Series days – was replaced by the less agricultural R380 box, which also made reverse gear easier to find (bottom right instead of top left). A worn LT77 could lead to the driver accidentally selecting reverse before driving off at traffic lights – much to the horror of drivers sitting immediately behind.

Many enthusiasts see the Tdi Defenders as the best vehicles ever produced by Land Rover, mainly because they were the last non-electronically-controlled diesels. They’re certainly best for old-school mechanics to tinker with. Perhaps that’s why these models are still fetching high prices, despite most being over a quarter of a century old.

What to look for

Tdi engines are pretty bulletproof and so are the gearboxes. But chassis are just as prone to rust as anything else made from steel – although some say the British steel used in the 1990s was of better quality than the imported steel used later. The longevity of earlier frames suggests there might be something in that argument. But again, the rear crossmember is likely to rot first.

Luxury touches were few in the 1990s​​​​​​

Bulkheads and footwells are also prone to rust, but welded repairs on a Defender are much easier to perform than on a Range Rover Classic or Discovery 1, and because of the residual value of any Defender, most repairs are money well spent.

A test drive may reveal vague steering and handling, but it’s amazing how new bushes, shock absorbers and steering components can transform that handling.

What to pay

The old-style Defenders’ upsurge in popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the unscrupulous in the trade, who will sometimes tart up old wrecks and ask big money. Avoid.

An honest-looking Defender with faded original paintwork isn’t a problem. At least it means the owner isn’t trying to Botox a clapped-out old girl.

Hard and fast values are more or less impossible, because vehicles of this age vary so much, depending on the life they’ve led and how much pampering they’ve received, but as a rule of thumb expect to pay £5000 for something decent and £10,000 or more for something very special.

You’ll know you’ve found the right one when you meet it.

Why I own one…
Andy Walker, Finedon, Northants: 1994 Defender 90 300Tdi

When I tell people I paid £600 for my 1994 Defender 90 pick-up, they can’t believe I’d got such a bargain. What they don’t know is that when I bought it in December 2012 it had sat in a barn since 2009, with the engine in bits. It had a bent conrod and the previous owner – a friend’s brother – had made a half-hearted attempt at repairing it, but had given up because he couldn’t get the piston out of the block.

Once I got it home I managed to get the piston out and put it back together, with a new cylinder head. Basically, I tidied it up and built it in my garden. It had spent the first part of its life as a farm vehicle, but I wanted it for off-roading, so I fitted a +2 in lift kit, a winch and winch bumper. The seats are non-standard – from a Mazda, in fact – because the originals were shot.

I have a Discovery 2 as my everyday vehicle, so I don’t bother taxing this one: I trailer it to off-road events three or four times a year. It’s only done 170,000 miles and it runs perfectly.

My advice to anyone thinking of buying a Tdi is to check the chassis for corrosion. The engines are usually pretty bulletproof.

 

DEFENDER Td5: High fives

Land Rover’s reputation for cutting-edge diesel engines grew with the introduction of the five-cylinder common-rail Td5

The five-cylinder 2.5-litre Td5 Defenders arrived in 1998 and are particularly popular with enthusiasts, because they were the last of the Solihull-built engines and are generally pretty long-lasting – as long as they are properly serviced, at the correct intervals. But you don’t have to be an enthusiast to appreciate the welcome boost in power – 122 bhp and 221 lb-ft – compared to the Tdis’ 107 bhp and 195 lb-ft.

The new engine was the first of the common-rail type fitted to Defenders and it is noticeably quieter and more refined than the Tdis, although no more economical. Top-end 20s (mpg) is what you can expect with an unladen Defender – less if you’re fully-loaded or towing. Talking of which, Td5 Defenders with their ample low-down torque make great tow vehicles and are particularly popular with caravanners.

Electronic-controlled Td5 engine is more complicated than its diesel predecessors

Like the preceding 200Tdi and 300Tdi engines, the Td5 was also pressed into service in contemporary models of the Discovery and, in most cases, has outlasted its parent vehicle. Increasing numbers of Discovery 2s are being scrapped because of severe chassis corrosion, which means secondhand Td5 donor engines are readily available for transplant into Defenders.

What to look for

Like all Defenders, Td5-era chassis are prone to rust if not properly cleared of mud and, particularly, road salt. Rear crossmembers and outriggers are the first to go, although chassis can rot beyond repair – particularly in coastal areas.

The Td5 models were the first to get electronic engine management, so make sure everything electric is working properly. If a previous owner has fitted lots of electric goodies like radio/CD, lights or extra power sockets, make sure they’ve been fitted professionally. After all, new wiring looms don’t come cheap.

Momo steering wheel is a nod to luxury

There’s a wide choice of models available, including specced-up XS and County editions with heated windscreen and front seats, air con, ABS and traction control, if you’re seeking comfort.

What to pay

Because of their popularity, there is no such thing as a cheap Td5 Defender. True, there are some hard-worked, high-milers around with an asking price of £5000, but what you save on asking price you’ll no doubt cough up on repairs in the near future. If you’re looking for a decent, honest Td5, be prepared to shell out £8000.

The good news is that £10,000 should buy you a very well-looked-after Td5 with below-average mileage – and one that should prove a reliable performer for many years to come.

Why I own one...
Tom Cross (Twinwoods 4x4), Bedford: 2000 Defender 90 Td5

It’s a 2000 model that had been heavily modified for off-roading. When I bought it in 2012 it had 33 inch wheels, a lift kit, snorkel, etc. To be honest, I bought it for off-roading, but I soon got bored of mending it all the time. Since then I’ve been gradually returning it to standard.

It was my first Td5 Land Rover, but I liked it and six months later I bought a Td5 Discovery 2. My only complaint is that the Td5 can be a bit sluggish, so I have had mine remapped for more power. I’ve also fitted Exmoor Trim seats, a home-made cubby box, sat-nav, a heated front screen, LED lights all round, a reversing camera, drawer system in the rear and security mesh on the rear windows and door. It’s also got a new rear crossmember, because the original was rusty. I fitted a new wiring loom too, because someone in the past had fitted the wrong loom.

I wouldn’t want to get rid of it now, but if I was buying another it would be a standard one that hasn’t been messed around. I bought this one for £7500 and I’ve spent as much again returning it to standard.

My advice to anyone thinking of buying a Td5 Defender is to look for something as original as possible.

Td5 Specs:

2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel: 122bhp, 221lb-ft torque.
R380 five-speed gearbox, permanent four-wheel drive.

DEFENDER TDCi: Puma springs a surprise

There were some shocks when the Ford-derived TDCi engine made its debut in Defender. Would it prove as reliable as its  illustrious predecessors?

THE introduction of the TDCi series of Defenders in 2007 was controversial – and it was mainly down to the origin of its new engines. The TDCi was actually a mildly-modified version of Ford’s 2.4 diesel Duratorq engine, part of a family of engines that had already appeared in a whole raft of vehicles, dating back to 2000 when it appeared under the bonnet of the Ford Mondeo saloon car. It was also the engine that powered the White Van Man’s Transit, which was something of a culture shock. After all, previous Defender diesels had been designed by Land Rover, for Land Rover.

As always the change was necessitated by the EU moving its emissions goalposts yet again. This time around, owners Ford – knowing the venerable model was reaching the end of the line – wasn’t prepared to invest in the hugely expensive cost of developing an all-new engine. But the TDCi was taller than previous Defender engines, necessitating the obvious  'power bulge' in the redesigned bonnet to accommodate it.

Revised fascia and six-speed gearstick tell you this is a TDCi

Other changes from preceding models were more welcome: like better heater and forward-facing rear seats in station wagon models. The rather clunky six-speed gearbox was less popular.

The relentless tightening up of EU emissions restrictions meant the original 2.4 TDCi engine was replaced by an even greener 2.2 version in 2012, which matched its predecessor for power. This was as far as it was possible to push the traditional-style Defender to meet legislation and the company admitted that it would be ceasing production of the evergreen model in 2015.

No doubt JLR expected Defender sales to dwindle in its final years, but the opposite happened. Suddenly, Defenders became fashionable and dealer order books filled. Supply couldn’t keep up with demand and Land Rover cashed in with some bling-laden special editions until production finally ceased on Friday, January 29, 2016.

More than five years on, and despite the launch of an all-new Defender, old Defender is popular as ever and secondhand values of all models have appreciated and are holding steady.

What to look for

TDCi Defenders aren’t cheap, so before making that investment, get your vehicle thoroughly checked. If you’re not sure, get a professional to do the job for you. An AA or RAC inspection is usually money well spent.

Enthusiasts’ fears of having a Transit engine under the bonnet have been largely groundless, but there’s no doubt that the modern, sophisticated power plant will not take the sort of abuse that Tdis in particular simply shrugged off. Servicing at the recommended intervals is vital. Unless your seller has paperwork to prove that this has been done, walk away.

The usual Defender problem areas like rear crossmembers are prone to rust, so a comprehensive Waxoyling of all ferrous parts, plus wax injection of the chassis, is desirable.

Although the relatively small TDCi engines perform well in propelling a big, heavy Defender, nobody could accuse them of being exciting performers. A 0-60 mph time of over 14 seconds is poor by modern standards, so many have had an
ECU remap to boost power; likewise a larger intercooler. Check that they have been fitted by a competent engineer.

Miles of wiring tell you this is the most complicated of the old-style Defenders

Modern Defenders have a lot of electrics, including electric windows. Check that they’re all working as they should and that all warning lights on the dash extinguish after starting.

What to pay

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You’re not going to find a Defender TDCi for under £7000. In fact anything under £10,000 is likely to be high-mileage and probably looking a bit tired.  But if you’re lucky you might find a cracker for £12,000 or so, but coveted special edition models and as-new, low-mileage examples are going to set you back at least £20,000.

Why I own one...
Greg Benjamin, Rushden: 2004 Defender 110 TDCi 2.4

I paid £18,000 for my 2004 110 station wagon in 2017 and since then I’ve spent somewhere between £30,000 and £40,000 on it, including a new engine, turbo, gearbox, transfer box, rebuilt axles and propshafts.

It had 50,000 miles on the clock when I bought it. The engine blew up at 72,000. It turned out it had been badly remapped in the past and diesel had been flushing the cylinder bores, which meant no lubrication – and it had seized solid.

Some of the money I’ve spent wouldn’t be considered essential by some – like the new Exmoor Trim seats, galvanising and repainting, heated windows and mirrors, LED lights all round – but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I like to have the confidence that I can take it anywhere.  My wife Jan and I love overlanding and we’ve driven it to France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Norway and Sweden. She loves it just as much as I do and we wouldn’t dream of selling it. We had planned to drive it to Italy this year, but due to Covid it looks like it will be Hadrian’s Wall instead.

My advice is to watch who you buy one from. Mine had been owned by a contract hire company and I think it had been abused. They’re lovely vehicles when they’re running right.

Why I own one...
Libby Wiliamson, quarryevents.co.uk2015 Defender 90 TDCi 2.2

I bought it in July 2020. It was fairly basic spec but it had electric windows and was very tidy with low mileage (11,000 miles). I wanted it for greenlane and overseas trips to Morocco etc., so I needed something fairly reliable. I think I paid £28,000 for it.

The first thing I did was remove the bull bar. I then changed the grill and light surrounds to black gloss ones and fitted new lights all round, apart from the headlights which had already been upgraded. I fitted white ZU alloy wheels and General Grabber X3 tyres, which I knew were good on- and off-road.

The seats have been changed from standard vinyl to a set of Exmoor Trim Premium Puma heated seats with a matching cubby box. Other improvements include new Exmoor Trim billet aluminium black door handles and door hinges, a Stage 1 remap by JE Engineering to 155 bhp, safari snorkel, Momo steering wheel and Bison exterior cosmetic cage.

The best things I’ve fitted were air con (stops it steaming up in winter and keeps it cool in summer) and Fox suspension, which has improved the ride quality massively.

I use it as an everyday car, as well as greenlane trips around the UK. I recently took it to the Lake District for a few days on the greenlanes and will hopefully be doing a trip to the south of France and Alps soon (Covid dependant). Next year I’ll be taking it to Morocco.

I don't use it too much for work at Quarry Events Ltd as I have a Td5 90 that I'm a little less precious about and which gets covered in mud on a daily basis.

The only issue I have had was a knocking/ticking noise when the clutch was in. This turned out to be a badly-worn clutch, so I fitted a new LOF clutch, which has resolved the problem completely.

I don't have any plans to change it; it’s my dream Land Rover. I’ve just about got it how I want it and now I intend to have some adventures in it. To me it's priceless.

If you’re thinking of buying a Defender TDCi, make sure you know a little about its history: what it's been used for and that the mileage is genuine. Most importantly, have a good look at it before buying.

TDCi Specs

• 2007-2012: 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 122bhp, 221lb-ft torque.
• 2012-2016: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 122bhp, 265lb-ft torque.
• Six-speed MT85 gearbox, permanent four-wheel drive.

 

NEW DEFENDER: Shock of the new

No other Land Rover can compete with the new Defender's off-road ability

WHEN Land Rover showcased its potential Defender replacement concept vehicle at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, enthusiasts recoiled in horror. The Tonka Toy lookalike DC100 and its topless version, the Sport, were a dismal flop with Land Rover fans everywhere and thankfully the company binned them and went back to the drawing board. Nine years later, new Defender was the end result.

Here at LRM we describe the new Defender as JLR’s Marmite car, because people tend to either love or hate it. It was never going to be easy for the new model to be loved, because the original Defender was such a hard act to follow. Nothing new there: exactly the same resistance to change came in 1994 when the original Range Rover Classic was replaced by the new and unloved P38 Range Rover.

We’re hoping that’s where the similarities end, because the P38 soon gained a reputation for being the most unreliable car Land Rover ever produced. It was said to be too complicated, over-reliant on electronics and prone to expensive failures.

Regarding new Defender, here at LRM we have heard some disquieting stories from some owners about multiple faults plaguing these Slovakian-built cars, but they have been outnumbered by gushing praise from other owners who are delighted with their purchases. To get an idea of the polarisation of opinion on new Defender, check out the two owners’ reports on these pages and you’ll better understand that Marmite reference.

But what we can say for sure is that when new Defender is on song, it is by far the best-performing Land Rover ever in an off-road situation, with astonishing technology enabling it to wade deeper, climb steeper and get through everything from deep mud to big boulders. Meanwhile, on Tarmac, its monocoque build means it is in a different class to the chassised Defenders that went before.

Its initial popularity shows no sign of waning and the few models that have reached the secondhand market are attracting plenty of would-be buyers.

What to look for

Nearly all the problems we’ve heard about so far are electrical, so it is more important than ever to check that every single feature in these feature-laden cars functions as it is supposed to. There’s a lot to go wrong, so make sure there are no niggling faults, no matter how small.

What to pay

There’s currently a waiting list for new ones, so secondhand ones are fetching much the same as new ones – in other words, £50,000 and upwards.

Why I own one…
Denys Shortt, Gloucestershire: 2021 Defender HSE 110

​​​​​

I bought my 2021 Defender HSE 110 in January this year and paid around £75,000. It is the new 300D diesel opposed to the 240 diesel and I chose it because it is powerful, nippy and economical. I had already owned a 240D and the dealer (Listers) gave me a good price to change it.

I chose the HSE because it was a spec that I liked and it offered me full leather inside. It is my everyday car. I use it on a farm and the leather makes it easy to clean. I added the auto tow bar and that has proved very useful. I haven’t changed anything else because it comes with everything!

I use it on my cattle farm and driving to work each day. I use trailers quite often as I have a Land Rover collection that I move around. Also, I use farm trailers a lot.

I’ve had no problems whatsoever with it. I do the software upgrades when requested and it has been a dream car.

I want to keep this as long as I can. It is the best Land Rover I have ever had. Better than my Range Rover in my opinion – more practical and easier to wash down. It has covered 4000 miles so far.

Rumour has it there's an engine somewhere under all that black plastic

I do not think they are being discounted so my advice to anyone thinking of buying one is spend time choosing the right one. Mine is Pangea Green and I love it. The 300D engine is perfect – it’s fast.

I own 20 Land Rovers, many of which make up my collection (go to landrovercollector.com) including HUE 222 (a 1948 Series I which is the only HUE Series I in private hands), a 2015  end of line Defender Heritage 90 soft top, a 2015 Range Rover and another four Defenders.

 

Why I own one...
Steve Firth, Canada: 2020 Defender P400 SE

Ever since he got it, Steve's dash has been lighting up in the all the wrong ways

I paid $102,000 for my 2020 P400 SE and threw another $7000 at it in JLR accessories and to paint the bumpers. I didn’t choose this vehicle: it was a replacement for my first one, a P300 S, which had a faulty loom or ECU and a gearbox that failed three times. Eventually they swapped it for this one.

The P400 has only done 24,000 miles but also has a lot of issues [Steve has supplied us with a list of 48 faults – too long to list here – Ed.] Land Rover have agreed to take it back, but I will lose $44,000. My girlfriend Taryn doesn’t want me to get another JLR product, but I’ll probably end up with a Discovery 5.

New Defender is the perfect vehicle for a hard working life. It’s very comfy, well-mannered on road and delightfully rugged off-road. But the P400 engine has no place in a Defender and is dreadful in every way.

I have been a Land Rover groupie since I was 13. This was my 47th Land Rover! After a lifetime of trust and loyalty, I feel very let down.

New Defender Specs:

• P300 (petrol), 2.0-litre, 300bhp;
• D200 (diesel), 2.0-litre, 200bhp;
• D240 (diesel), 2.0-litre, 240bhp;
• P400 (hybrid), 3.0-litre, 400 bhp.

​​​​​​

And now for something special...

Versatile Defenders have been pressed into varied roles – for work and play

THE Defender shared the Meccano-like construction of its Series predecessors, which means that all models are extremely versatile and are in effect blank canvases on which owners can easily bolt on the bits to express their own individuality.

It also means that Land Rover themselves have created plenty of special editions over the years – some for special tasks, some just to add a few creature comforts. There are literally hundreds out there, but here are just a few of our favourites…

BMW 2.8i

Land Rover South Africa answered local demand for a petrol-engined model with the legendary straight-six 2.8i between 1997 and 2001, when Land Rover was under BMW ownership.

The power (192 bhp) and torque (207 lb-ft) were a welcome change from the Tdi engines of the period and were snapped up by fans of the V8 petrol, which had been discontinued in the Defender.

Some 1395 were built, in a factory near Pretoria, and a few have escaped to the UK, where proud owners include LRM editor, Patrick – no doubt reminding him of his youth exploring in the Veld.

NAS 90

Land Rover stopped selling utilities in North America in 1974. When it decided to make a return in 1993, it did so with what is considered by many aficionados as the finest Defender ever produced, anywhere.

Each one had a 3.9-litre V8 engine, air conditioning and full external roll cage. Most were soft tops, although removable hard tops were available later, along with an auto gearbox option from 1997 onwards. Production ceased when Defender could no longer meet stringent US safety standards.

Very few ever reached the UK, but they do occasionally come up for sale – usually with an eye-watering price tag.

Defender 90SV

This is the nearest you’ll get in looks to the NAS 90, with its black canvas soft top and groovy good looks, but there the similarity ends, because there was no V8 under the bonnet – just a standard
200Tdi diesel.

Only 90 were ever made for the UK market – in 1992 – and all painted in the sort of distinctive turquoise that you could get away with in the 1990s. Because of their rarity, they seldom come up for sale.

PS: 'SV' stands for Special Vehicles, who built them.

Defender 50th

50th Anniversary edition came in Atantis Blue. And very good it looks, too!

​​​​​​For Land Rover's 50th anniversary in 1998 a special edition was painted Atlantis Blue and fitted with a Safety Devices roll-over protection cage for the front seat occupants. Some 385 were sold in the UK, although hundreds more were sold worldwide.

They command good prices when they come up for sale.

Defender Heritage

Also in the 1998 50th anniversary year came the Heritage model, available in 90 and 110 and finished in Dark Bronze Green or Light Pastel Atlantic Green with a metal mesh-effect front grille, in tribute to the original Series Is of 1948.

Body-coloured alloy wheels and wing mirrors and silver-painted door and windscreen hinges added to the retro effect. As with the Defender 50th, it was powered by the Td5 diesel engine.

Another rarity, beloved by collectors.

Tomb Raider

To celebrate Land Rover’s role in the movie of the same name, in 2000 Solihull built a look-alike special edition in 90 or 110 double cab, with winch, bull bar, snorkel and standard Td5 engines – and all in dark metallic grey.

The end effect was not dissimilar to something out of a child's toy box, but they remain popular with Lara Croft fans.

G4 Edition

To mark Land Rovers spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) G4 Challenge in 2003, special edition Defender 90 and 110 models were built. Besides featuring the original G4 Tangiers Orange livery, they were also available in yellow, silver and black. The orange ones are the most collectable.

Defender SVX

Built to mark Land Rover’s 60th anniversary, in 2008. Variants included a 90 soft top – the first Defender convertible since 1992 and the most valuable for collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Defender Works V8 70th Anniversary Edition

Two years after old-style Defender production ceased, Land Rover Classic division got hold of 150 late-model, pre-registered 90s and 110s and created stunning special models featuring 5.0-litre Jaguar V8 petrol engines and an eight-speed auto gearbox. Starting price was £150,000 – and any secondhand models coming up for auction will probably fetch at least the same.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The military Defender XD (aka Defender Wolf) was fitted with 300Tdi engines to complement and/or replace the British Army’s ageing fleet of naturally-aspirated diesel 90s and 110s. There are several variants, to cover the wide range of roles these military vehicles perform. The XD stands for Extra Duties.

Like all ex-military Land Rovers, these models fetch good prices on the civilian market.

Pulse Ambulance

Pulse Ambulance makes the perfect motorhome conversion

In 1996 the UK’s Ministry of Defence ordered 8800 vehicles from Land Rover. Of these, 800 were Defender XD 130s – converted into Pulse Ambulances with roomy van bodies by Marshall. All were powered by 300Tdi engines.

Stripped of its medical kit, the extra-long-wheelbase van-bodied Defender is justly popular as a roomy base vehicle for conversion to a luxury 4x4 campervan.

But they don’t come cheap. At the time of writing there is one advertised for £40,000 by Nene Overland.

Also, before buying, make sure you have the room to accommodate one. The dimensions of one of these behemoths is 5200 mm long x 2820 mm high x 2120 mm wide.

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DEFENDER TIMELINE:

1983: One Ten launched. Choice of 2.25-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, or 3.5-litre V8 petrol.
1984: Ninety joins its LWB stablemate. Both models get upgraded 2.5-litre petrol and diesel engines.
1985: Extra-length Land Rover 127 launched.
1986: 2.5 Diesel Turbo engine option.
1990: All-new 200Tdi diesel engine introduced and models renamed Defender 90, 110 and 130 to avoid confusion with newly-launched Discovery.
1993: NAS 90 special edition with 3.9 V8 petrol engine launched in USA and Canada.
1994: 300Tdi replaces 200Tdi. Identical power and torque, but features new direct fuel injection system.
1997: BMW M52 six-cylinder 2.8 petrol engine introduced in South Africa.
1998: Defender gets new electronic-controlled five-cylinder Td5 engine to meet Euro III emissions regulations.
2002: Td5 modified to meet ever-tighter Euro emissions. XS model introduced with ABS, traction control and some luxury features including air conditioning.
2007: Td5 replaced by Ford’s DuraTorq (aka Puma) 2.4 diesel engine, known as the TDCi when installed under Defender bonnets. Major interior improvements, including uprated heater and forward-facing rear seats.
2011: DC100 Defender concept vehicle launched at Geneva Motor Show.
2012: 2.4 TDCi engine replaced by new 2.2 model to meet Euro V emissions standards.
2016: Last old-style Defender rolls off the production line at Solihull.
2018: Special edition Defender Works V8 with 400 bhp 5.0-litre V8.
2020: All-new Defender launched. Assembled in Slovakia, it is a monocoque construction that shares no common components with the previous model.

MANY thanks to Quarry Events Ltd of Cranford, Northamptonshire, for allowing us to use their venue for the main photoshoot and this month's front cover. You can get more info at quarryevents.com or email: [email protected]

 

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