The classic Defender lineup was launched in 1983 as the replacement to the Land Rover Series. It’s a capable utility vehicle that became known worldwide as a British off-road icon.
It wasn’t always named the “Defender,” however. In 1983, the first model launched by Land Rover in the range was launched as the “One Ten,” and in 1984, the “Ninety” was launched. There wasn’t much creativity with the names, as they represent the wheelbase length of the vehicles. The 90 and 110 were modernized in comparison to the Series. Mechanical upgrades included coil springs for a more comfortable ride, four-wheel drive, modern interior upgrades, and additional engine options that produced more power than the Series.
The classic 90 is a nimble two-door available as a hard-top 4×4 and also as a pick-up truck. The classic 110 is available as a five-door 4×4. Those most commonly used as utility vehicles, the 90 and 110 would be marketed as recreational vehicles as well. The objective was to target a different audience – families. With plenty of space and seating available, it made sense. To entice buyers, minor changes were made to the vehicle, though it would come as a new trim style, the Country 4×4. The biggest change to the 110 for the Country 4×4 was the seats, as they saw an improvement in comfort suitable for families.
The 127 was introduced to the lineup in 1983. It had the front half of a 110 4×4 and the rear half of an extended-length 110. The extra length in between was welded on. The 127 was used mostly for commercial and military. It essentially resembled a “crew cab” version of the 110.
1989 marked the introduction of the Discovery, which prompted a name change in 1990 for the 90, 110, and 127. They were referred to as the “Defender 90,” “Defender 110,” and “Defender 130.” While the 127 was renamed the “Defender 130,” its wheelbase length remained the same.
In 1993, the North American Specification (NAS) Defender, was introduced and available as both a Defender 90 convertible and Defender 110. The NAS Defender was built to meet the safety and emissions standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation. To meet the standards and comply with the regulations, heavy modifications to the Defender had to be completed. Starting with the drivetrain, the NAS Defenders featured a 3.9L V8 engine (Rover V8) paired to a 5-speed manual transmission with upgraded transfer cases. Both the NAS Defender 90 and Defender 110 were fitted with full, external roll cages for safety. Lighting features such as the turn signals and tail lights were enlarged, making them easier to see on the road. Though not related to safety or emissions, the NAS Defenders were only sold in Alpine White.
A special edition classic Defender was introduced in 1998, called the Heritage. The Heritage Defender was created as an homage to the beginning of the model range in the 1940s. Offered in only two original colors, dark “Bronze Green” and light “Atlantic Green.”
The next biggest change to the classic Defender would come in 2007 when the vehicle was required to meet emissions requirements. The “Puma engine” produced 122-horsepower. In addition to the engine, the interior got some modern upgrades as well. The dashboard was upgraded to include a full range of gauges on the instrument cluster. The seating layout also had to be changed to meet safety requirements. This change would remove the inward-facing seats. For the Defender 90, this meant becoming a four-seater vehicle. For the Defender 110, this meant becoming a seven-seater vehicle, reduced from nine seats. At seven seats though, the Defender 110 still provided more seating than the average SUV, which typically only seats five.
In 1994, the NAS Defender 110 was no longer available, leaving only the NAS Defender 90 available in the United States. Since the NAS Defender 110 was no longer available, a “removable hard-top” version of the NAS Defender 90, as well as a regular hard-top 4×4, was released.
1997 marked the end of the NAS Defender 90 due to another change in safety regulations. Although the engine was upgraded and given a 4-speed automatic transmission, the much stricter safety regulations could not be met. New regulations included front driver and passenger-side airbags and side door impact protection.
Production of the classic Defender ceased in 2016. However, it was announced in 2018 that it would be brought back for the 2020 production year. Speculation about the design of the new 2020 Land Rover Defender continues, as it has not yet been fully revealed, though it has been confirmed new models will still keep the Defender 90 and Defender 110 namesake. Unlike the classic Defender, the new 2020 Defender 90 and 2020 Defender 110 names bear no relevance to the length of the wheelbase.
The release of the 2020 Defender leaves many people wondering how it will affect the market for custom Defenders. If anything, we think purists and enthusiasts will be even more drawn to the original classic Defender.
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