The classic Defender lineup was launched in 1983 as a capable utility vehicle that became known worldwide as a British off-road icon. It was a replacement for the popular Series truck. Production for the Land Rover Defender started in Europe. It was initially designed as a capable, bare-bones offroad utility vehicle. And bare-bones it was. The original Land Rover Defenders had never been safety tested by the Euro NCAP and therefore major safety features were not added to the vehicle.
During its first years of production, the Defenders were never fitted with airbags or seatbelt pre-tensioners, safety features that are now standard on every street-legal vehicle around the world. For this reason, the iconic Land Rover Defender was never launched in North America as it did not meet safety regulations.
Until 1993, when 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 changes were made to the Defender to meet safety and emissions regulations in the US, there was not enough profit to be made to convert to NAS Defenders and ceased production for North America. Between the 1990s and 2000s, automotive safety departments in the United States and in Europe began more thorough testing of the safety features in vehicles. In 1995, the IIHS began frontal crash testing and later in the 2000s, side-impact testing. These are just a few of the changes set forth by North American and European automotive safety regulations that led Land Rover to pull the plug on the Defender. 1997 marked the end of the NAS Defenders entirely. The much stricter safety regulations could not be met. New regulations included front driver and passenger-side airbags and side door impact protection.
European production continued, however, side-facing back seats would be eventually be banned, causing Land Rover to change the layout of the interior. Forward-facing seats were introduced instead. A new drivetrain was also introduced to meet the Euro V emissions standards.
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. The new 2020 Defender will be produced for both the North American and European markets, meeting the safety and emissions standards set forth by automotive safety departments in countries around the world.
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