The working Defender market


22 March 2024
Working Defenders come in many guises : credit: © Brett Fraser
When Tom needed a professional, he naturally chose a company which runs Defenders

Mother Nature decided to do some landscaping work on my garden in the recent storms, and the tree which lay across the lawn was a bit too much for my weedy and blunt chainsaw.

That meant I needed to call in a professional, and rather than rely on sensible recommendations from previous customers or friends I obviously chose the company which runs Defenders.

This selection method has worked well for me in the past with everything from kitchen fitters to IT specialists. But you need to make sure they quote for the job and not an hourly rate, as you’ll inevitably spend ages talking about transfer ’boxes and Td5s.

The tree man turned out to be one of those Land Rover owners who loves his Defender but treats it very much as a working tool rather than his weekend pride and joy. The 300Tdi 130 pick-up looked in decent nick under the mud and sawdust, but he explained it was very much a ‘Trigger’s Broom’, having had most things replaced or refurbished over the years he’d owned it.

At first he started doing this as he simply couldn’t afford a newer Defender, and he had the high-sided tipper body he wanted on his working vehicle. Then he considered swapping it for various Japanese pick-ups but soon realised they weren’t as ‘refurbishable’. So now he sets a little money aside every month for the Defender Renovation Fund and dips in when something big needs fixing.

130 Double Cab is the ultimate workhorse choice for maximum payload capacity 

This got me looking at the ‘working’ Defender market. I had naturally assumed that a 130 pick-up or something with unusual roller shutters on the side would be worth less than the equivalent standard car, but I was wrong. There is still a strong market for these from people who are like my tree chopping chum. For them, it saves a fortune if they can buy a Land Rover which already has a winch, amber flashing lights and other handy gadgets which cost the original buyer thousands to fit. They also usually have the sort of impeccable service history you tend only to get from large fleet operators.

Looking through the specialist auctions there were all sorts of interesting Defenders and I found myself wondering what they had been used for and what they might do in their next life. Scanning the stock, there were various lights, hi-vis graphics, strange roof attachments, towbars and hydraulic hook-ups. The oddest was a 110 with a huge telescopic pole which was apparently used for taking high-level pictures and has presumably been rendered obsolete by the rise of photographic drones.

Other highlights were a couple of 2016 110 station wagons which were direct from the MoD. One looked awful and sounded like all sorts of hassle. It had been given a fairly rough wrap in bright yellow, but the original classy Keswick Green was still visible inside on the seat boxes. Spend some time with a heat gun and some long fingernails and you’d be able to peel the vinyl off and presumably find some unusually shiny paint underneath.

Clamped to the roof rack were yellow flashing lights and Tannoy speakers which suggest it spent its 101,000 miles driving up and down a runway making loud noises to scare birds away before they could be sucked into the engine of a departing plane.

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It was enough to knacker the Defender’s engine though – it had seized, and large bits of it were sitting in the rear footwell and boot. To add to the complication, the 110 had never been registered and the buyer would even need to get certificates of conformity from Land Rover before it could get a V5 in the UK.

This all sounds like a load of grief to me, but the hammer fell at £14,000. That’s more than a friend of mine managed to get a few weeks ago for his 2016 XS with 60k miles and a suspected head gasket issue.

The other airport car was much more desirable. This was also a 2.2 TDCi but was a nicer XS trim, even if the white paint was not the classiest colour. It had a winch, the obligatory amber lights on the roof and so many spot lamps that it could have floodlit a Premier League match.

Its main attraction was the mileage though – just 9200. With these sort of working vehicles I do wonder how much time has been spent with the engine running and the car stationary though – the TDCi might have been running all day for the past eight years keeping the driver warm and all those lights lit but not actually moving very far. The buyer wasn’t as cynical as me though – it sold for a whopping £47k

I’m sure some of these auction oddities will be converted to campers and other fun cars for enthusiasts, but others will be put straight back to work – either in the UK or across the world.

A Transit, Navara or L200 of the same age as some of these Defenders will be worth little more than scrap value once they reach a decade old, yet these old Land Rovers still have a significant residual value – even with a blown engine. The fleet managers who have become used to this little bonus when they dispose of their vehicles are going to rue the working Defender’s demise more than any of us.


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