Iconic 4×4 cars: The Land Rover Defender
Launched in 1948, the original Land Rover has gone on to become one of the world’s most iconic 4×4 vehicles. The Defender, with its last incarnation and previous models, are favourites for classic car restoration enthusiasts worldwide. Here is an homage to a piece of British automotive history…
Early incarnations of the original Land Rover model arrived in 1947 on the then named, ‘Centre Steer’, which was based on a Jeep chassis. The original Series 1 was launched in 1958 under the Rover mantle (which was in itself a sub-division of British Leyland). Even the car’s iconic green paint finish is a sign of its humble beginnings, as it was chosen due to an excess of military paint left over from the war.
Having survived 25 turbulent years at boardroom level, the Land Rover 90 and 110 was released. This would eventually go on to be renamed the ‘Defender’ in 1989.
The name change was more out of necessity than anything as Land Rover had also launched another popular model, the Discovery, at about the same time. The original Land Rover 90 and 110 had never actually had a name, so the Defender was launched in 1990. There were three sub-models, the Defender 90, Defender 110 and Defender 130.
The official Defender model launched with a 2.5ltr turbo diesel engine, which was later upgraded to a 5 cylinder model in 1998. The 5 cylinder Td5 engine would become the standard for Defender production. The beauty of the new Defender was its ability to comfortably handle high speeds over longer distances, as well as to do the dirty work off-road – the Series 3 and, to a larger extent, Series 2 were both loud and less efficient. However, the military version switched to a less powerful engine as the Td5 proved too difficult to service and maintain without the use of a workshop with diagnostic equipment.
The early Defender models remain widely available on the second-hand car market, often as project cars or complete factory rebuilds, but there are still originals out there. Land Rover also released a line of limited-edition models in the 1990s in a bid to support the manufacturer’s ambitions of raising its status – like the anniversary 90 that featured a 4-litre V8 engine – released in 1998.
The last revolution
The Defender underwent its next overhaul in 2007. In replacing the Td5 engine that had served so well, Land Rover reverted back to a four-cylinder engine that still managed 122bhp. This was designed by Ford (it was the engine used in the Puma) but with modifications for handling the sort of terrain and conditions that Land Rover was traditionally accustomed to, not to mention the switch to a 6-speed gearbox. Aside from the engine, the whole car was given much-needed modifications, some by choice and some by necessity. The exterior was mainly left untouched apart from the bonnet that had to accommodate a new engine. However, without straying too far from its iconic features, most of the changes occurred on the interior.
With Range Rover models proving to be most popular, Defender production finally ended in 2015. Fashion designer Paul Smith was commissioned to commemorate the Defender’s long service to the emergency services, Army, Navy, Air Force and farmers, with a beautifully multi-coloured, limited-edition model.