The Defender has been around for so long now that it’s become something of an icon in the automotive world. Its reputation as the ultimate off-roader is richly deserved. The ladder chassis, mechanical all-wheel-drive system, and simple, strong panel design, meaning it can really cope well with the roughest terrain.
The Defender Timeline
Originally introduced as “Land Rover One Ten” in 1983, and then “Land Rover Ninety” in 1984. Land Rover 127’s were built on a special production line as it began life as 110 4×4 chassis which were then cut in two and the 17 inches of extra chasses were welded on before the two original halves were reunited. Just like the Series III 109 V8 models, these models did not receive their own dedicated badging, and instead just had the metal grille badge saying ‘Land-Rover.’
The engine also went to a 2.5 long-stroke version of the 2.25 engines, with a Turbo being added in 1986. The Diesel Turbo produced 85hp (63kW), a 13% increase over the naturally aspirated unit and a 31.5% increase in torque to 150 lb-ft (203 N-m) at 1800rpm.
The Defender series Land Rover has been going strong since 1990, and it has undergone constant upgrades and improvements over its lifetime. The introduction of the 200 Tdi engine in 1989 produced 107hp (80 kW) and 195 lb-ft (264 N m) of torque. This was nearly a whopping 25% improvement on the engine it replaced, however, it was de-tuned slightly when installed in the Defender due to changes associated with the turbo position and exhaust routing.
The very special Limited Edition Tomb Raider was introduced. Only 250 of the Defender 90 and 100 of the 110s were made. It was painted dark metallic grey and featured special badging and details. The Tomb Raider’s came equipped with a roll cage, a roof rack, additional spotlights, winch, bull-bar and snorkel. They were available either as a 90 Station Wagon or a 110 Double Cab, with standard TD5 engines. The Defender used in the films (which is now on display at the Motor Heritage Centre, Gaydon) was actually a highly modified 110 High Capacity Pick Up with a specially fitted and tuned V8 petrol engine and a non-standard interior.
Further refinements to the engine were made to help achieve ever-more stringent emission regulations. The XS model was brought out with many luxury features. Other improvements made included a dash centre console, improved instrument illumination and the availability of front electric windows for the first time on a Defender.
The New Defender launched. The biggest change was the drivetrain, with the Puma engine as the heart coupled with a six-speed gearbox.
The engine’s lubrication and sealing system had been adapted for use in wet, dusty conditions and to maintain lubrication at extreme angles in off-road use. The power level remained the same at 122 hp (91 kW) but with a lower power peak speed for towing and better acceleration. Torque output rose from 221 lb-ft (300 N m) to 265 lb-ft (359 N m) due to the fitting of a variable-geometry turbocharger.
Other changes included the interior with a new dash and instruments from the Ford Transit. Some steering column switchgear were carried over. A new heater and ventilation system with improved de-misting and heater performance was also fitted, alongside inward-facing rear seats to meet the new EU regulations. For the exterior, the vents under the windscreen were no longer needed, and due to the new Puma engine being taller, a new bonnet was fitted to give the legal clearance between bonnet and engine.
Land Rover’s 60th anniversary, and for which, a new series of special edition Defenders were produced. Branded the ‘SVX’, three models were built. All of them were painted black with ‘satin’ effect body graphics on the vehicle’s sides and bonnet carrying the 60th logo. Bespoke 5-spoke alloy wheels were used and a new silver-coloured front grille design was used.
The 2.4 engine becomes a 2.2 variant of the same engine to meet the Euro V emissions. Although this was smaller, the same outputs remained.
More movie love for Land Rover as the James Bond film Spectre had 10 SVX Defender Concepts with the 2.2 Puma engine and plenty of modifications. New bumpers, a rose joint suspension with Bilstein shocks, and all the LED lights imaginable for that cinematic look. A hydraulic handbrake and disconnected ABS provided the necessary movie-stunt oversteer. Sadly, one was destroyed during filming.
Some may say the Defender isn’t a good-looking vehicle, but it was never meant to be anything but useful. It has had its part in history and is always the vehicle for choice when it comes to being strong and tough. It’s a work vehicle that has launched boats, rescued people stuck in the wilderness and has hauled numerous objects with its impressive 3.5-tonne towing capacity. Explorers, police, RAF, farmers, roadside breakdown, film stars, and even the Queen herself have been seen driving them. It even performs well as a Rally Car!
It’s not a cheap vehicle or even that economical, but there is a lot of love for the Land Rover Defender. Whatever wheelbase, body style or model you’re driving – its a piece of Land Rover history. You only need to see the silhouette of a Defender to know what it is!