The Land Rover Defender is a precious British icon. Seen with the likes of the Queen herself, a variety of celebrities, and ripping up mud everywhere throughout its history. The journey of the Land Rover Defender begins with Land Rover trying to make a competitive utility vehicle that fell under their broad “Land Rover” name. The Land Rover Defender was born in the 1980s’ as a direct competitor for the Jeep during the Second World War with the idea, from original designer Maurice Wilks, that it would be a fully encompassing all-terrain vehicle with versatile capabilities for day-to-day farm work.
Technically speaking, the original Defender wasn’t that original at all and was built from several different hand-me-down parts, including a Jeep chassis, external body panels, and an engine borrowed from its Land Rover predecessors.
Reimagined with the purpose of being a multi-use vehicle, the Land Rover Defender officially earned its name in the 1990s, further categorized by its wheelbase size, hence the Land Rover Ninety and One Ten. It wasn’t until the 1989 Land Rover Disco that the name being marketed was fine-tuned to be Defender 90, Defender 110, the Land Rover 127 became the Defender 130, etc. From the start of its production, the vehicle has become iconic following its use in British wars and farmlands alike throughout its formative years. The original vehicle did come with its own set of headaches and problems, not to mention compared to today’s vehicles, the sometimes 100bhp vehicle truly lacked in get-up and go. But its robust heritage and persistent character are what everyone fell in love with.
After making its way around the world, with Land Rover Defender production happening on virtually every continent, the Defender had yet to conquer the North American market where demand for a station wagon-style family vehicle was on the rise. While Land Rover had its Range Rover vehicles on the ground in the US, it didn’t have a range of utility vehicles. This proved difficult as the United States Department of Transportation’s strict regulations meant that the original Land Rover Defender had to be heavily modified for crash safety, updated lighting, windshields, seatbelts, and more. This, in combination with the unique requirements to satisfy American buyers, led to the development of the Land Rover Defender North American Spec in 1993.
The NAS vehicles were limited in quantity, only in the D90 and D110 models, and specifically produce
d to pass US regulations. Fitted with 3.9L Rover V8, Traditional Land Rover colors, full external roll cages, and most importantly, air conditioning, the NAS Defender was produced from 1993 to 1997. Due to the economic demand of building the specialty vehicle, Land Rover called it quits on the model, with the final vehicle rolling off the line in 1997 as the more popular Range Rover and Disco models flourished.
The original Land Rover Defender production halted completely from Land Rover factories on January 29th in 2016, hinting that a newer Defender would be revealed in the near future. Defender fanatics everywhere sat on the edge of their seats for years, speculating whether the Defender would keep its original looks or take on a whole new look entirely. Rumors swirled and leaked concepts of the “New Defender” angered Defender enthusiasts worldwide, while some welcomed a change to the British classic.
In 2019, everyone’s fears (and some joys) were confirmed when Land Rover announced the new generation 2020 Land Rover Defender, complete with an all-new design. The new 2020 Defender was engineered to meet regulations globally, allowing it to be sold everywhere, including the US, where the Defender hasn’t been sold since 1997.
With rounder lines, a decrease in leaks and problems, new JLR engines, and much less colorful options, the new Defender became available in both the D90 and D110 models along with extended trim levels, Standard, S, SE, XS, HSE, X, V8, and V8 Carpathian Edition, along with a few special editions. Recently they announced the Defender Trophy Edition, which pays homage to the Trophy Land Rover vehicles and includes the classic heritage yellow color, advanced off-road capabilities, and several optional Packs.
The New 2020 Defender still touts the ability to go anywhere and do anything; it’s still marketed as an off-roading beast built to take on the most rigorous excursions, despite its smooth and pretty exterior. Pricing for the new Defender is higher than the original Defender, starting at $47,700 for the lowest spec model, but that’s to be expected with the flurry of modern advancements and safety features that have been added; not to mention AC, AC, AC for everyone!
With engine options starting at 296 bhp for the lowest model, the new Defender is certainly light years ahead of its former self, albeit missing most of its original character. It is still a considerably powerful SUV with the intention of still allowing its buyers to experience the exhilarating lifestyle that requires sand tracks, winches, and brush guards, even if you don’t get them with the car.
For those who want the modern conveniences of the new Defender but the heritage and style of the old, restoration shops around the world make it possible for the vintage Defender to become a truly timeless classic. Shops like ECD even offer the ability to add a new Tesla Direct drivetrain to your vehicle and are available right here in the US (yes, that means a classic-looking Defender, made available to you here). In contrast, other shops allow you to modify the heritage Defender with some slight modern modifications at a marginally lower cost. Think $180,000 starting for full customization vs. $145,000 from a builder like Arkonik or Twisted (well-known British builders). Either option will give you the original Defender look you seek. Still, the details will add up depending on exactly what you’re looking for in a lifestyle vehicle like the OG Defender.
Even though it lacks character, no one can deny the intrigue of the new Defender. Looking at the two, which fits your lifestyle more? Would you take one over the other?
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© 2022 ECD Automotive Design. All images are the property of ECD Auto Design and cannot be used without our consent. E.C.D. Automotive Design is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with Jaguar Land Rover Limited, or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, including Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC. DEFENDER and RANGE ROVER are registered trademarks of Jaguar Land Rover Limited.