Denys decides

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By Nick Dimbleby

15 October 2020

Defender new or old "I want to show the innovation that has taken place over the years" : credit: © Nick Dimbleby

New Defender, Heritage Defender or Series I? Denys Shortt OBE is a Land Rover enthusiast who owns all three. Nick Dimbleby discovers which one he prefers...

The Land Rover enthusiast movement is a broad church. You might be a fan of old Range Rovers or perhaps 80in Series Is? If you like Puma-engined Defenders with wide wheels, a lift kit and every conceivable off-road extra, is there any reason why you shouldn’t also like P38A Range Rovers in Autobiography trim? As well as the models, there is also the condition. Do you like classic Land Rovers that are immaculately restored, or do you prefer them to be as original as possible, with flaky paint and shedloads of patina? There are so many models to choose from over the years, and, of course, we haven’t even mentioned the new Defender yet…

Denys Shortt OBE is a man who’s as passionate about Land Rovers as they come. He’s been driving them since the age of 15, when his parents let him loose on the family farm in their brand new Series II. That experience in his formative years led to a life-long fascination for the vehicles from Solihull, and success in business has allowed Denys to indulge his passion. Since that Series on the farm, Denys has amassed a collection of no less than 20 Land Rovers of all shapes and sizes, not counting the ones that he has sold along the way.

“My aim is to have the best collection in the world!” he says enthusiastically. “Of course, ‘best’ is defined by Land Rover owners in so many ways. For me, I want modern and old, showing the innovation that has taken place over the years.” Illustrating that perfectly is Denys’ two latest acquisitions: HUE 222, a beautiful 1948 Series I, and 6 DCS, a 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 First Edition, complete with Expedition Pack. These two models span Land Rover’s production history from 1948 to date, so they’re a fascinating look at how the company has progressed over the past 72 years.

Classic’ Defender leads, new Defender follows

Of course, no Land Rover collection would be complete without an example of the previous-generation Defender, especially the sought after Heritage model that was produced in limited numbers. Denys is fortunate enough to have two of these: a standard 90 Station Wagon and a 90 soft top that was specially built for him by Land Rover Special Vehicles. The latter vehicle is the twin to the last Defender ever built (H166 HUE), and although there have been a few copies produced by companies outside Land Rover, H166 HUE and 54 HUE are the only two Heritage soft tops to have been built and sold by Land Rover themselves. 

Of course, these four vehicles are just a small part of Denys’ collection. He also has an immaculate Defender 6x6 fire engine that previously offered fire protection at Land Rover’s Solihull factory, a recently cast Defender WMIK, several other Defenders of different wheelbases, an Australian trayback Series I, as well as a 1978 Range Rover that is being rebuilt.

But it’s the various iterations of Defender that interest us today. Having a Series I, two Heritage Defenders and the new Defender First Edition together in one place (quite possibly for the first time) allows us to compare and contrast the Land Rover bloodline from 1948 to present day. As the owner of them all, Denys is well placed to deliver the verdict.

Classic lines

“For me, the original Series I is the epitome of simplicity. It was a bolt-together car, and in far-flung places like India and Africa that made it easy to repair,” he says. “The charm of the Series I today is that it is so basic: it has no heater, no radio, sliding side windows. Just everything you need to get the job done.” 

Denys enjoys driving HUE 222, and confesses that he feels very lucky to have been able to acquire a vehicle that has carried the famous HUE number plate since its first registration in December 1948. Of the 15 HUEs that were registered in that month only two survive: HUE 222 and – of course – the most famous Land Rover in the world: HUE 166, Land Rover pre-production number one, now resident at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon.

Original 1600cc engine sits under the bonnet

Although HUE 222 normally sits alongside Denys’ other Defenders in a temperature controlled garage, Denys is keen to stress that his vehicles aren’t pampered show queens. “I live on a farm and use my Land Rovers every day. I admire the many uses that the Land Rover has been put to over the years, and I especially love the old photos showing farm implements in use with the Series I.” Even so, HUE 222 hasn’t yet been hooked up to a PTO-driven threshing machine or an old plough yet, but as Denys says, ‘never say never’!

Three seat comfort in HUE 222

The speedo is perhaps a little optimistic…

After getting into the driver’s seat of HUE 222, the Series I’s simplicity and innate charm is immediately apparent. Neither the seat nor the steering wheel are adjustable, but somehow it just works. Everything you need is immediately at your hands (or feet), and the minimal gauges tell you all that you need to know: speed, fuel level and ampage. The engine whirrs into life with a turn of the key and a push on the starter, after which it’s a case of depressing the clutch, selecting first gear and heading off.

Series I: Fun for a short journey

Anyone who has had the pleasure of driving a Series I will identify with the sense of character that shines through when you take the wheel. As we bump along the undulating off-road track that Denys has let us use for the test, it’s hard to stifle a grin. Put simply, Series I Land Rovers are enormous fun, and when they’re as nice to drive as HUE 222 they’re an absolute delight.

Denys is quick to point out that on a cold day or on a long journey however, the Series I isn’t necessarily his first vehicle of choice. “Although the seating position is good, it does feel small inside if you’re above average height. It’s also cold and bumpy, smells either of fumes or petrol depending on which way the wind’s blowing, and it’s only really tolerable for fairly short distances.” The Series I is charming on a short drive or when bumping around off-road, but not the best choice for a 250 mile non-stop motorway journey to the Lake District from Oxfordshire.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll not be looking at Series IIs, Series IIIs or early Ninetys or One Tens, although Denys does own a Stage One V8 as well as several other Land Rovers from the 1970s and ’80s. Instead, we’re going to jump forward 67 years, moving from one of the first Series Is to a couple of the last 2015 Defenders. We’ve included two in this comparison, partly because Denys owns them both, but mainly because there’s a great deal of difference between the look and the drive of the soft top versus the hard top. 

Soft-top Defender Heritage is one of only two built by Land Rover

54 HUE (the soft top) was commissioned by Denys from Land Rover Special Vehicles, and visually it was intended as an interesting mix of Defender 90 Heritage and early Series I. Denys’ intention was to make his bespoke 2015 Defender as close a recreation of HUE 166 as possible, and this included deleting the option of a radio. Clearly great minds think alike, as this is the exact specification of the final Defender to roll off the production at Solihull back in January 2016. This vehicle (H166 HUE) now resides in the Land Rover Classic collection at JLR Classic’s headquarters in Ryton, Coventry.

Interior of the Heritage soft-top has the special red/yellow gear levers 

There are just two subtle differences between the 54 HUE and H166 HUE: Denys’ soft top has air conditioning and the aluminium door handles seen on the Autobiography and Works V8 models, while the last off line makes do with standard handles and no air conditioning. Denys’ vehicle also proudly sports a Land Rover SV Commissioning plaque.

Special commission plaque

Engine is barely run in

The soft top was manufactured by Undercover Covers, and this is fitted to the vehicle using the standard aluminium soft top frame and upper body that was normally only available on export models. Although it’s a perfect fit, Denys does say that the vehicle is noisy when the soft top is in place, although on a fine day with the roof off, the open air Defender driving experience is great fun.

Another iconic shape 

A quieter option is X11 HUE, a standard 90 Heritage Station Wagon that Denys has also owned since new. During this time it has mostly been on display in Denys’ garage, so it is a super low-mileage example that is barely run in. If you ever want to know what a showroom-fresh Defender feels like, then a spell behind the wheel of X11 HUE will tell you all need to know.

“X11 HUE really is a dream to drive,” says Denys. However, like its soft top non-identical twin, Denys considers the cabin to be a bit cramped. “The lack of elbow room in a Defender is well known,” Denys laughs. “But it’s still a nice place to be both off-road and on-road. The only downside with the standard Heritage edition is that this model has no air-conditioning. With the recent 32°C weather that we’ve been having, this has to be a con…”

Denys gets to grips with the 2020 Defender

There are no such problems with the latest 2020 Defender however. In fact, the air conditioning is so effective that I had to turn it down during our photoshoot, for fear that the lenses that I had left inside would get too cold, causing condensation to form on the inside when they were brought out into the 30°C heat. Not a terrible problem to have, but a good example at how efficiently the new Defender does things.

The 2020 Defender that you see on these pages is a demonstrator kindly loaned by Listers Land Rover, as the one that Denys has ordered had yet to be delivered when our photoshoot took place. However, it’s absolutely identical in colour and trim to the one you see here: a 110 First Edition in Pangea Green, fitted with the Expedition Pack (roof rack, side ladder and pannier). As a finishing touch, Denys will be adding the personalised number plate: 6 DCS. 

The fascia of the new Defender combines classic Defender simplicity with the latest tech

After barely a day behind the wheel, Denys is a big fan of the new Defender. “It’s fast and has terrific road holding,” were his first impressions. He also considers it to be a spacious vehicle: “No more elbow outside the window!” Another big improvement is the interior comfort: “It really is very quiet inside, and I love that there are lots of places to store things. The open dashboard is fantastic with an amazing amount of storage space. That really is a win.”

As well as his collection of classic Land Rovers, Denys’ company DCS Group operates a fleet of modern Land Rover company cars for its management team. As such, Denys has driven every model made by Land Rover over the past couple of decades, so he is well placed to compare the latest model from Land Rover with its current range. “The Defender uses a similar platform to the latest Range Rover and Discovery, so it’s fantastically accomplished both on and off-road. What I particularly like is that the engineers have kept the character of the Defender, but with the modern feel of the Range Rover and Discovery.” Ironically, the previous generation Defender used an iteration of the original Range Rover’s chassis when it gained coil springs in 1983 – the 2020 model is repeating the process, but in reverse!

Looks like a great place to spend a few hours on or off-road doesn’t it?

Another first for the new Defender is the fitment of Land Rover’s latest infotainment: Pivi Pro. This fully integrated system is operated from the central touchscreen, and Denys rates this as one of the most user-friendly interfaces he’s come across. “Other cool stuff is the TV screen mirror (known as Clear Sight Rear View in Land Rover’s parlance) and the all-round camera system that looks as though there’s a drone following you outside the vehicle – it’s amazing!”. 

As for the exterior design, Denys is generally a fan: “I like the way it looks from the front and the back, particularly the rear lights. The way that they have been integrated into the body is great. However, the side view can be debated,” he reckons. “It can look a little slab sided from the side, but overall I like it.”

 

Choose your weapon

So which vehicle is top of Denys’ list ?  “Well, it depends on what I’m doing!” he says, not unreasonably. “For pottering around the lanes and bimbling around the farm, there’s not much that can beat a Series I for entertainment value – especially on a sunny day. However, I’m not sure I’d want to be doing any type of long trip in a hurry.

“It’s the same with the Heritage Defenders,” says Denys. “They’re fantastic to drive when you’re not in a hurry, or if you’re going somewhere where it’s a bit more about the pose than the practicality. At the end of the day, the new Defender is the vehicle I’d choose to take on a long journey or if I had to get there no matter what the conditions. It’s a superb vehicle that really does do everything extremely well. I’ve got three words to describe it: fast, modern, innovative. It really is a credit to Land Rover – as long as it stays reliable.”

You could argue that there’s as much of a quantum leap between 1948 Series I and 2015 Defender as there is between 2015 Defender and 2020 Defender. How you feel about that is up to you, but as far as Denys is concerned, the new vehicle is a winner. It’s also the latest Land Rover to join the Shortt Land Rover Collection – and you can’t have a better endorsement than that.

 

110s old and new. Which one would you like on your driveway?

110 versus 110

Also in Denys’ stable is Y10 HUE, a 2013 Defender 110 XS that has effectively been fitted with what Land Rover call the Expedition Pack with the 2020 Defender: winch, snorkel, roof rack and rear ladder. The equipment was fitted by Silverstone-based specialists ACHSV, and it also features bi-xenon headlights and LED top lights, as well as grey 18 inch Sawtooth alloy wheels fitted with BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres.  

As such, this classic Defender 110 is about as close as the old Defender gets to the new Defender in terms of comfort and equipment, and you have to admit that it’s a close-run thing in the desirability stakes. It’s a tough decision that Denys fortunately doesn’t have to make… He owns them both!

Denys Shortt’s Land Rover website landrovercollector.com is a great resource for any enthusiast. You can also find him on Instagram: @landrovercollector