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.
When USA Defender builder, ECD, builds your custom Defender from the ground up, the most significant aspect is being able to fully customize your build down to the color of the stitch. If you’ve seen our Showcase, you might have been inspired by a build or two throughout our history. You also may have noticed that every build’s style may lean a little towards the classic or the modern style of Defender. While every style of build has its perks for value and cool factors, you may be wondering whether one or the other fits you. Here are some tips on how you can tell whether a modern or Original style of Defender fits you.
The first step in picking a style is deciding which model or wheelbase you want for your restored custom Defender. You can have a original Defender 90, a restored restomod Defender 110, or an ultra-rare D130. This is often the hardest decision for some and making that decision reflects on your lifestyle and what you plan on using your custom Defender for. Is it a daily driver for the family or a fun summer beach cruiser? Once you decide on a model, the fun part of designing begins.
An Original style Defender rebuild often features classic Land Rover Defender colors, such as the popular Arles Blue, British Racing green, and Keswick green colors. This style also features a white roof with either white steel wheels or steel wheels painted in the builds body color. The classic Defender look is certainly iconic, and die-hard fans drool overseeing steel wheels, 5-speed transmission, and classic seat style. With an original Defender style, you’ll also be able to play up the external accessories. A roll cage with a basket, big Hella spot lamps, a fully geared front bumper with brush guards, and a rear step ladder can make your build look all like the utility or safari Defender it was initially designed for.
Not only are the accessories functional benefits, have beefed up wheels and add-ons for your Defender can ensure it is fully prepared to take on any rugged lifestyle meant for traveling the great outdoors. Also, consider making your custom Defender a soft-top for that added classic look and an awesome build for road trips through the summer.
Modern Defenders are rebuilds with more added modern conveniences and luxuries. The automatic transmission, streamlined colors, and shiny new takes on accessory designs are also popular for those who love seeing the classic Defender brought into the 21st century. Some popular modern Defender colors are Santorini black, Bonatti grey, or Zermatt Silver, usually in a gloss finish. Contemporary wheel styles include Sawtooth or Khan, also in a glossy black finish. While modern Defenders take on a more slim and clean look, accessory upgrades such as a panoramic roof, Masai panoramic rear glass, and a stylish bumper with daytime running lights can truly add a futuristic look to an otherwise beast of a nostalgic vehicle.
Fit for suburban city drives and head turns in the parking lot of your favorite grocery stores; the modern Defender is sure to get a double-take wherever it goes. Plus, if you have other modern vehicles in your collection, such as an Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, or a Lamborghini, you can design your custom Land Rover Defender to match.
Whichever style you choose for your original Defender, it will undoubtedly be badass and get you a few inquiries. The British classic is still rare and is not something anyone else around you is likely to have. Being a custom one-of-one vehicle with a unique history just adds to the Land Rover Defender’s cool factor.
In order to fully get to know the Land Rover Defender, we must cast our minds back to World War II Era England. During the war effort, the English automotive manufacturers halted the production of their vehicles in exchange for the production of military machinery and weapons.
Consider Rover, for example — Rover was known for manufacturing luxury motorcars since 1901. In the late 30’s, they began developing Tanks such as the Rover Meteor Tank and later on Rolls Royce turbine engines.
In the years after the war, there was no demand for the luxury vehicles Rover originally produced. During this period, all raw materials were limited to construction and industrial equipment manufacturers. The lack of demand and resources available to Rover put the company in peril.
Enter Maurice Wilks…
At the time, Wilks operated as Rover’s Chief Designer, with an idea that would secure Rover’s future. Wilks formulated plans to produce an all-terrain vehicle similar to the Willy’s Over-lands used during the war, but with an emphasis on farm use.
This genius struck him while using army-surplus vehicles during his frequent farming. The vehicles were too small for agricultural work and tractors weren’t versatile enough in transport and mobility.
Out of necessity, Land Rover was conceived in 1947. The original Land Rover prototype was built using surplus materials such as a Jeep Chassis, Birmabright panels, a drivetrain from a Rover P3 and, strangely enough, a center steering column which was later scrapped from the production model.
What really set the Land Rover apart from the rest was allowing the vehicle to successfully rove British farm lands. The Series I Land Rover entered production in 1948 and launched at the Amsterdam Motor Show as a light-truck for farm and light industrial use. The Series I was a 1.6 liter Petrol Engine that produced a staggering 50bhp and a 4 speed manual gearbox with a 2 speed transfer case. This revolutionary design allowed the Series I to disengage the front axle from the transmission, allowing permanent four-wheel drive.
This changed everything.
The Land Rover was designed with a sole purpose: to dominate any form of terrain under any circumstance, regardless of conditions.
Land Rover’s success soon had buyers wanting a Land Rover with creature comforts. This led to the launch of the Station Wagon. Expanding their model range in 1955, Land Rover introduced the station wagon differing from the previous Tickford with a traditional Land Rover interior and aluminum body panels. Design elements such as a safari roof and seating for several passengers coupled with Land Rover’s superior all-terrain capabilities further expanded Land Rover’s reach.
No vehicle has seen more of the Earth than a Land Rover has. Seems fitting, doesn’t it? Decades and several name changes later with years of technological advancements, Land Rover announced in 1983 the 90 & the 110 names which reflected their wheelbase.
These vehicles were designed with creature comforts while keeping true to their utilitarian ancestral forms.
Differing from its predecessors with a modernized interior, one-piece windshield, stronger drive trains, and a more forgiving coil-over suspension suited for daily use — the ultimate off-road vehicle came to be. The period following the production of these models led to a rise in the demand for recreational utility vehicles for the family.
Land Rover responded by creating a family version of the 90: The Land Rover Discovery. While the 90 and 110 were still in production, they had to differentiate from the Discovery. And thus, the Original Defender was born as the utilitarian counterpart of the Discovery. Announced in 1990, The Land Rover Defender, effectively being the 90 & 110, received 2007 modernized features and major revisions to the interior, and continued to be produced all the way until it ceased production in 2016.
Despite the major success of the Land Rover Defender, these vehicles were only sold to the American market from 1993 to 1996, though in 2020 Land Rover has released a new iteration of the defender.
The Land Rover Defender to this day remains the epitome of off-road excellence, and companies like E.C.D Automotive Design keep the Defender name alive. They hold true to the power and nature of the original Defender’s adaptability.
Ready to test drive a custom Defender to find which style fits you? Email us at [email protected] to get started!
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?
We can’t really say this enough. The Original Land Rover Defender is, without doubt, one of the coolest vehicles ever built. It is no wonder why so many Hollywood stars own one of these. And if you get a vintage one, you get to experience that classic charm that only a model that has been out of production for over a decade can offer. You will be one of the few on the road who drive this iconic model and that is something that no one can take away from you! It’s guaranteed to get you noticed wherever you go and if you are someone who likes the attention, then this is the car for you!
The aftermarket support for the original Defender is limited but the ownership awards are great. Being one of the few owners in the world is one of the major reasons why you would want to buy vintage before getting a model that is still in production. When a model is out of production for a few years, the aftermarket support for it reduces. You find that there are fewer and fewer parts available for it and in some cases, there are no spare parts at all. But when the car is still in production, there are plenty of aftermarket parts available for it. But when it is no longer in production, they become rare and expensive. This is one of the best reasons why you should get a vintage model before getting a modern one.
If there was ever a car that would make you feel like a bad ass, it is a vintage land rover. The car oozes coolness and ruggedness and is sure to turn heads wherever you go. In fact, you might find yourself taking the long way home just so you can have a few more heads turn in your direction. And who doesn’t want that?
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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. We build restored defenders, range rover classic’s, and jaguar etypes.