Defender: Rebirth of an Icon, part 3


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Since 1983 and the introduction of coil springs, the Defender had enjoyed a steady series of improvements, but the final nine years of production saw massive changes, as Greg King explains…

Like many LRM readers, I remember well when Defender Td5 was launched in 1998. The move from 300Tdi, a simple and relatively efficient engine, to Td5 (aka Storm during its development) was seen as a retrograde step by many in the Land Rover community. The introduction of a fly-by-wire throttle, full ECU engine management and electronic injectors was seen as incompatible with the traditional ‘fix it with a hammer’ image of historic Land Rover diesel engines.

By 2006, the reliability of Td5 had been proven, with only relatively minor updates done on the unit over its life – mainly at 2002 Model Year for Job 2 Storm – consisting of head dowel changes and emission-related updates. However, with Discovery 2 ceasing in 2004, Defender was the sole model to take the Td5 engine, and a further tightening of EU emission loomed. What would be the plan with Defender?

To answer that question we must go back to 2000, when Ford bought Land Rover to join its portfolio of premier brands: Jaguar, Aston Martin, Lincoln and Volvo.

Ford’s impact on Land Rover was huge, with everything from its quality management joining the Solihull vehicle teams to learning between brands and parts sharing. For Defender, a one-piece tail door and side doors with a single inner pressed frame were introduced, along with lots of smaller changes to improve the build quality of models.

It was only natural that Ford’s most robust powertrain, the Transit 2.4 Duratorq TDCi engine, would be investigated as a potential replacement for the Td5 unit. It had the drivability characteristics that would suit Defender and, as far as packaging size goes, it almost worked.  But, most critically, it was able to meet EU4 emissions compliance without significant investment.

The initial plan for 2007 Model Year was quite constrained: a power unit change only, retaining the R380 five-speed transmission and fascia from the outgoing model. But by early 2006, the programme had evolved and the powertrain package would not just include the 2.4 Puma diesel engine, but also the Getrag MT82 gearbox used in Transit (as well as the Ford Mustang, of all vehicles!)

Packaging the unit with the existing LT230 transfer box was a challenge: the MT82 gearbox was physically smaller than the R380, and with the longer extension housing, a lot of work was done to prevent beaming, where the whole powertrain twists slightly under high torque loads. The sump changes required to protect Defender from oil starvation when running at extreme angles meant that the bonnet would have to change form to accommodate it, so a new all-steel panel was designed.

The first major interior overhaul for 25 years

Meanwhile, the body and interior team’s work on the fascia had evolved into a completely new design, utilising a more conventional and hugely more efficient HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) unit, sharing common instrumentation with Discovery 3 and Freelander.

But one problem remained: every Defender driver – especially tall ones – knows that front cabin space is at a premium. I remember the interior team burning the midnight oil on getting everything to package successfully. With the new fascia negating the requirement for the vent flaps below the windscreen, these were deleted on all models, but the recesses were left, as this was seen as a nod to the historic feature on the vehicle.

With side-facing seats becoming non-compliant for passenger vehicles, Discovery 2 60/40 seats were used as a design base to create a new second row in the 110, with the third-row folding seats, based on the 40 per cent section of Discovery, now forward-facing for the first time.

Comfort assessments were done for the second and third row seats – something I’m not sure was ever done on the side facing seats previously, which had been of a ‘spade back’ type that dated right back to the Series I era. The front seats were also not ignored, with a new higher back for comfort, as well as a Transit-derived headrest.

Chassis-wise, it was business as usual. A bulk of the Td5 chassis design remained, including the axles and fuel tank cradles and tuning to springs and dampers to suit the new vehicle weights and altered vehicle powertrain attributes.

Early in 2007, the updated Defender was revealed. It was, without doubt, the biggest revision of the vehicle since 1983 when the coil sprung One Ten had been introduced. And the motoring press took it seriously – Autocar, for the first time in decades, did a full road test review of the vehicle, acknowledging the level of change on the vehicle, and the great leap (relatively) in drivability this brought. The six-speed gearbox markedly brought down noise levels, especially at motorway speeds, even if the new speed limiter brought a cap to fast progress at 84 mph. This meant that N rated mud tyres – suitable up to 87 mph, such as the Goodyear G90 – could be used if required.

The Defender proved as popular as ever, with sales from its loyal customer base upgrading from the Td5 models, although it has to be said that the military market was now less of a focus through strategic changes in the company’s marketing and sales focus.

The 60th anniversary SVX had many features from the concept

Back in 1999, Land Rover revealed a Special Vehicle Xtreme Defender concept vehicle, which “represented the off-road potential of every Land Rover”. For a number of years, it had been positioned in the foyer of the Gaydon design studio, with me for one looking at it in detail every time I had a reason to visit. This was to be the inspiration of the first limited edition Puma-engined Defender in 2008 –celebrating the 60th anniversary of Land Rover.

Many of the key elements of the concept were carried forward, albeit toned down. The vehicle gained new alloy wheels, grille, headlamps and headlamp surrounds closely  mimicking the concept, with new subtle black-on-black satin graphics added.

The full soft top version, like the concept, gained a silver painted roll bar, in a much larger diameter than previously used on the NAS 90 and previous limited editions, but honouring the SVX concept vehicle. A unique spare wheel mount in the soft top, lockage storage and matting were included, along with Recaro seats, an upgraded audio system with a subwoofer and factory sat nav. Quite a reworking for a limited edition!

Station wagons were also offered, minus the silver roll bar. Little under a year later, SVO revealed the Fire and Ice limited edition, with Recaro seats, SVX-type grille and alloys, plus a unique contrast paint theme.

Over this period, Ford were in difficulty, losing over $2.7 billion in 2007. Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally had been tasked with returning Ford Motor Company to profitability by 2009, so started the break-up of many of the brands within the Premier Automotive Group. Aston Martin was sold in 2007, with Jaguar and Land Rover sold the following year to Tata.

This was an unsettling time for the company, as Tata was an unknown quantity. Would JLR still get the investment it required for new models? Looking back now, it was a great move for both Tata and JLR, but as with any ownership change of a business, it can be a destabilising time.

Up to this point, Defender models fell into two EU categories – N1 (commercial vehicles) and M1 (passenger cars: namely, 90 and 110 station wagons). 2011 bought a re-categorisation of all Defender models into the N1 (commercial) category, which, at least within the UK brought the added benefit of lower van vehicle excise duty on station wagon models. The vehicles had to also be re-specified for weight – basically, the way the declared load-carrying weight was distributed – to be categorised N1. This meant that in many cases spring rates increased, although due to the length of the 130 models, the overall maximum loaded vehicle weight had to drop from 3500 kg to 3380 kg to be within engineering specification of maximum axle weights.

An X-Tech limited edition was also launched in 2011, which included the SVX type grille, new sawtooth wheels (for the first time), embossed headrests and rear graphics.

The 2.2 Puma engine brought EU5 emissions compliance

A year later, there was another significant change – and the final architecture change on Defender – the introduction of the 2.2 Puma engine. It was much the same requirements that drove 2.2 Defender development as 2.4 before it – the latest emissions requirements – in this case EU5. This included a significant drop in particulate matter (soot). The only way to achieve this on a mid-size diesel engine is through a DPF (diesel particulate filter). This traps the soot, and every 100-250 miles, once almost full, the engine will change the injection timing so it produces very hot exhaust gases for a short period. This creates a reaction in the filter that regenerates and burns off the soot trapped, before the engine switches back to normal timing mode. It was clear from lessons learnt on competitors’ passenger cars that short runs didn’t generate the heat needed to regenerate, causing the filters to block up on occasion.

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Defender needed the DPF to regenerate as easily as possible. The solution was to place the DPF filter as close as possible to the turbo exhaust outlet, so that maximum heat could be radiated into the DPF filter as quickly as possible. This means that the filter would see enough heat to regenerate in some types of road use, rather than solely using active regenerations as mentioned earlier.

The engine also offered other benefits, including a lift in top speed to 90 mph, as the factory tyre options on Defender now allowed this. Due to the success of the X-tech limited edition in 2011, another run of X-techs were released just a few months after 2012 Model Year 2.2 had gone live.

And so marked a steady run of detail changes and options over the next couple of years. In 2013, premium seats became available, a high-back variant of seat, initially in part-leather, then in a range of premium leathers.

LXV limited edition was launched, to celebrate Land Rover’s 65th birthday. This included the use of the new premium leather seats, with special orange detailing throughout, and grey sawtooth wheels.

For 2014 model year, in line with a facelift on Discovery 4, the bonnet badging changed from LAND ROVER to DEFENDER and the remote control for the alarm and central locking moved to a common system with other Land Rover models.

Quality improvements: A new conveyor water test cell was introduced at Solihull

With just two years of Defender production remaining, behind the scenes two sizable projects were in progress – 2015 Model Year, with the introduction of Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and the final Editions models.

DSC was mandated by the EU for introduction on all N1 commercial vehicles, which included Defender. Although the powertrain (engine and gearbox) had changed numerous times since Ninety and One Ten introduction in the early 1980s, the chassis architecture had been largely unchanged. Certainly, the design team from 1983 would never have guessed that the platform would still be in use in 2015! Yet again, this was a significant change to the vehicle – steering angle sensors, yaw sensors and accelerometers were introduced, with a new system linking these new sensors into the powertrain, ABS and traction control systems. This ensured that in an emergency situation, the vehicle reduced engine torque and used the brakes on independent wheels to ensure that the vehicle remained stable and in control.

Heritage, Adventure and Autobiography would run to the final day of production

Two parallel teams were set up to do the final edition models: Autobiography, Adventure and Heritage. Because of the initial predicted small volume, the Autobiography sat with the SVO Bespoke team, whilst Adventure and Heritage were managed by the main SVO team, responsible for products like the Range Rover Sport SVR and Range Rover SV Autobiography.

Autobiography would be a post-build Special Vehicles conversion based on a part-built 90 station wagon, whilst Adventure and Heritage would be line-built, based on both 90 and 110 station wagon vehicles.

Both Adventure and Heritage would feature a new grille, reflecting its active or heritage style, with a new wheel style being used on Adventure for the first time. The colour pallet and graphics reflected the same active and heritage themes, with Phoenix Orange made available on the Adventure and Grasmere Green unique to Heritage. Adventure also featured new underbody protection, black contrast bonnet, roof and tail door, LED headlamps and in some markets a raised air intake and roof rack.

Interior-wise, Heritage gained branded Almond seats, colour centre console, leather wheel and new gear knobs with yellow and red rings to reflect the four-wheel drive/ratio knobs of historic series vehicles. Adventure gained full leather seats, again with the heritage Land Rover logo, leather door casings, fascia elements and new gear knobs.

Autobiography featured a full leather interior, including headlining, all side trims, door casings, full fascia, cubby box and Semi-Aniline leather seats – just like Range Rover SV Autobiography. All other touch points became machined from solid aluminium billet (just like the exterior handles and the fuel cap). Sawtooth wheels, a steering guard and rear step bumper were part of the changes outside, and as the project was being done by the bespoke team, a unique pallet of two-tone SVO colours was available, including a Matt Corris Grey option for the first time.

Finally, both Autobiography and 90 Adventure models (in some markets) received a power upgrade to 150 PS, up from 122 PS and a torque increase to 400 Nm, with the torque mapping cap eased in lower gears. To ensure long-term durability, this was paired with a super heavy-duty clutch and a heavy-duty four-pin rear differential.

Final year production line

The final 12 months of Defender was a busy time. Weekly volumes were higher than they had been for many years, with customers wanting to secure their piece of motoring history. Production was initially planned to end in December 2015, but such was the demand of orders, after appealing to Ford for extra engines, the final day of production was fixed for January 29, 2016.

9.22 am on January 29, 2016: The last Defender

The final day of production at Solihull was an amazing event. The normal formal air within Block 1 was replaced by a relaxed and almost carnival-like atmosphere, with workers, press, camera crews and senior directors within the company mixing like I had never seen before. The line had largely been cleared the day before, with just a handful of vehicles left, including Roger Crathorne’s special-order full soft top. So here at 9.22 am the final Defender – a bespoke soft top Heritage 90, was driven off the line for the day’s celebrations that followed.

With no immediate replacement for Defender, what would be the next series of events in Defender’s evolution? Find out in the final part...


About the author

Greg King is Mr Defender. He started at Solihull in 1993 as a 16-year-old Land Rover-mad apprentice and went on to work on the 50th anniversary 90, Storm Defender, Tempest (Discovery 2), second-gen Range Rover Sport, the Paul Smith Defender, 2 millionth Defender and Defender Autobiography. He then moved to start with JLR Classic on Land Rover Reborn and Defender Works V8.

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