After a production run of 67 years since the original Land Rover launched in 1948, production was announced as ending in December 2015, in major part because there is simply no way a Defender could be made to meet increasingly stringent safety regulations.
The model first appeared in 1983 as the Land Rover One Ten. In 1984, the Land Rover 90 was added (the numbers indicate the wheelbase in inches). At the time, these two models, plus the Range Rover, were the full extent of the range.
In 1989, a third model was released, called the Land Rover Discovery. To avoid confusion (although it was still confusing to all but the enthusiasts), from 1991 the Ninety and the One Ten were renamed the Defender 90 and Defender 110.
In the North American market, Defenders sold between 1992 and 1997 were identified only as “Land Rover” with no reference to wheelbase.
Initially available with a part time 4WD system, this option was quietly dropped by 1984 due to poor demand.
The 2.5-litre diesel engine (2495cc, 152.3 cu in) is a long-stroke version of the earlier 2.25-litre unit, updated with fuel injection and a revised cylinder head. It was turbocharged from 1986.
Poor build quality and unreliability afflicted the Land Rover in the early 80s, along with other British Leyland products, and left the way open for Toyota and Nissan to move into the market.
In the 1980s, Jaguar Rover Australia developed an Isuzu-diesel powered 110 for sale (Australia only). They then developed a military version and the Australian Army ordered several thousand Land Rover Perenties in various configurations. Six wheel drive versions used a turbocharged 3.9-litre Isuzu diesel engine while 4WD used a naturally aspirated version.
Derivatives and clones of the Defender have built in Spain (Santana Motors), Iran (Morattab), Turkey (Otakar) and Brazil (Karmann). Defenders have been assembled in Pakistan, Malaysia and South Africa.
Despite styling and ergonomics that would be the despair of modern motorists, Defender owners love them with a passion. Even the woeful build quality until the late 1990’s hasn’t put them off. In fact, it is just these attributes that add to its appeal. Not for nothing are Defender owners called masochists!
On the plus side, you won’t find an SUV with greater chassis strength and driveline integrity.
The ride can be bone-jarringly hard, and even worse in the short-wheelbase models; it improves slightly when fully loaded. Getting comfortable behind the wheel is difficult, and almost impossible if you’re tall.
Land Rovers have earned a reputation for “putting the good oil back in the ground” so check any potential purchase for oil leaks, especially around the rear main seal. Rust is a perennial problem, especially around the firewall and if advanced, it will require complete replacement. Original equipment shock absorbers get tired quickly. Valve clearance adjustments are required every 20,000km and camshaft belts every 80,000km.
Servicing costs are no worse than any other 4WD.