1983 was the year The Police released ‘Every Breath You Take’ and it became a big hit. 1983 was also the year Land Rover launched the Defender, and it too became a big hit. Although, it wasn’t really called the ‘Defender’ back then. Rather, there was the Land Rover 90, the 110, the 127 and the 130 – all variations of the same vehicle with different wheelbase lengths. Land Rover christened it the ‘Defender’ in 1990, when they began making a second vehicle, the Discovery.
After nearly forty years in production and many send-off special editions, the iconic Defender has finally been phased out of production and a new one is expected to be revealed at September’s Frankfurt Motor show.
1997 Defender 90 Hard Top. Photo by: John Kloepper
I have a theory that Land Rover Defenders are the most versatile vehicles ever made. They came with petrol, diesel and electric powertrains and in 3-door, 5-door, soft-top and pick-up body styles. Militaries use them as military vehicles. Farmers use them as farm tools. The Red Cross uses them as ambulances. Fire brigades use them as fire engines. The police (that’s the actual police not the aforementioned band) use them as police cars. Off-road enthusiasts use them as off-roaders. Families use them for the school run. Arab sheikhs use them as chic fashion accessories to pose in in Knightsbridge.
It’s funny how such a utilitarian off-roader can evolve into a fashion statement. Just take a look at the ‘Defender by Paul Smith’. Or the ‘Defender by Kahn’. In fact, some versions of the Defender have been known to fetch well over £100,000 – like the V8 70th Edition which Richard Hammond got himself as a Christmas present. Don’t be fooled by the hefty price tags, mind, Defenders are actually very unrefined to use in the city – and don’t even think about taking one on the highway.
Designer Paul Smith standing next to the 'Defender by Paul Smith'. Image Courtesy: Paul Smith
That said, the Defender serves so many purposes for so many people around the world and it is no easy task for Land Rover to come up with its replacement. One route they could take is to make the new Defender a retro-styled homage to the original one – like BMW did with the Mini and VW did with the New Beetle. This would make the Defender a hot sell amongst city dwellers looking for a stylish SUV to roam about in but would be a loss for the fire fighters and the farmers and the off-road enthusiasts who bought the Defender for its rugged utilitarianism.
That is why Land Rover is ensuring that the new Defender retains the old one’s off-roading capabilities. And although we haven’t seen the new Defender without its camouflage on, leaked pictures of a LEGO set suggest that it takes design cues from the old Defender. Official specifications have not yet been revealed, but we do know that the it will have the option of both coil and air suspension. Land Rover also claim that the new Defender will have a more luxurious interior, a much more comfortable ride and will be able to travel at higher speeds.
A LEGO kit depicting what the new Defender might look like. Image Courtesy: Autoblog
The new Defender will also be sold in the US where old Defenders have become a collector’s item and fetch ridiculously high prices in the used car market. Land Rover imported a few thousand into the US back in the 90s but had to stop in 1997 because it could no longer comply with new safety regulations. Safety and reliability have never been the Defender’s strong suit. As the saying goes, “If you want to go into the Australian Outback, take a Land Rover. But if you want to come back again, take a Land Cruiser.”
So, will the new Defender be as good as it ought to? Well, Land Rover has been giving the Defender a tough time in its testing phase. Recently they took it to the UAE and let officials from the Red Cross take it for a spin in the desert. Land Rover and the Red Cross have been partners for the past 65 years. If the Red Cross finds that the new Defender is fit to rescue people in crisis in some of the most hostile environments in the world, then the new Defender will almost certainly be good enough to fulfil every other duty assigned to it – provided it doesn’t break down.