Land Rover Defender 90
Reinventing legendary icons tends to feelings run high. Think of Mercedes G, Porsche 911 and – in particular – the short wheel-based Land Rover Defender 90. Do you prefer thenew or old one? Or what about a new old one?
Growing up in Germany nothing symbolized Africa more than the square-edged Land Rover. No surprise, that the first car I purchased after coming to South Africa in 1994 was a Defender 110. Equipped with roof tent, second battery, fridge, gas cooker – basically everything you need for proper outings into the bush. All my coffee table and travel guide books for the German speaking market of Europe were originally researched in this piece of British primary rock.
The old Defender was officially terminated on 29th January 2016, after having produced more than two million units in the traditional factory in Solihull,
England,. Sometimes for an icon to remain what it always was, it just has to die.
But luckily for the fans the Landy went out with a bang. In the shape of three celebration models: a hyper-luxurious Autobiography, a fully-equipped Adventure edition and – my personal favorite – the Heritage. In 2016 I took this classic, with this beautiful old-school green paint job, Grasmere Green Metallic to be exact, on a farewell trip to Namibia.
The undesigned beauty originated on a beach. Literally as a drawing in the sand. In Red Wharf Bay on the Welsh Island of Anglesey, Maurice Willis made his famous, rather square and child-like sketch of a utilitarian 4×4 in the sand in 1947. The iconic Land Rover was born. The first model ‘Series I’ was presented at the automobile show in Amsterdam on 30th April 1948. Followed by the ‘Series II’ in 1958 and the ‘III’ in 1971. Subsequently the legendary 4x4s were named after their wheelbase. 90 was the shorty and 110 the longer station wagon. In 1990, when Land Rover introduced a second model, the Discovery, the icon needed a proper name as well. So from then onwards it was called Defender. Defending primal driving ever since.
I remember stepping onto the steel running board and climbing inside brought back a tidal wave of memories. It was (and still is) like a time capsule. I had forgotten how narrow it was. My right leg was flush against the door. The steering wheel is truck like, the seating position very upright. I remembered, the ignition lock is on the left, as the car started of as a right-hand drive. There are no electronic peeping sounds at all. Even when you don’t put your seat belt on, there is no ear-piercing reminder to do it. In the old Defender you make your own decisions. You feel like a grown-up again. It’s like a package of fags without the cancer warning. This is no honey drenched SUV. It’s a tough off road buddy – honest, reliable and confidence inducing. A distinctly analogue vehicle. If the New Defender is broadband, the old one is dial-up. I really enjoyed my 3500km trip through Namibia in the Heritage. It was time travel.
Back to the future. Land Rover took their time to develop a new Defender. For a car designer it is always easier to create an entirely new vehicle, than trying to reinvent a legendary icon. Mercedes-Benz faced this challenge a couple of years ago, when their famous Geländewagen, the G, reached the end of its life circle, after almost 40 years. When the old one was terminated, the new one took over immediately. From a distance it still looks exactly like the previous one, despite being a completely new vehicle.
Land Rover had appointed no successor, when the popular Defender with a huge worldwide fanbase was officially terminated on 29th January 2016. And in 2019 the New Defender finally made its debut. Proudly bearing both the name as well as the wheelbase numbers ‘110’ & ‘90’ of the old ones. And when Daniel Craig’s very last mission as the world’s most famous spy premiered in October 2021, after more than a year of Covid-related delays, the New Defender played an impressive cinematic 007 action role.
When the New 110 Defender was launched in South Africa at the end of 2020, Land Rover handed out some model building kits to the journos to create their own version - and take pics of it. I won the competition. Maybe because of the little Jurassic Park clip (see YouTube video), or because Mr Land Rover himself, Kingsley Holgate, signed it.
In my opinion the looks of the New Defender work very well. The modern one is different from Discovery and Range Rover, more individual, but with the same comfort. It is a stylish SUV with all the bells and whistles, including the latest terrain response system. And there are many subtle design elements proudly showing DNA samples of the original. Or as Land Rover design boss Gerry McGovern puts it: ‘It was inspired by the past not constraint by it’.
And as with the old one Land Rover offers hundreds of accessories to individually equip your personal Landy. Initially only available as the long wheel-based 110, the 90 followed in September 2021. And I experienced two variants of it, the one with the more off road oriented Explorer pack. Including gorgeous white steel wheels , raised air intake (previously known as snorkel) and the more fancy Dynamic pack with an emphasis on road use. Both come with diesel engines, the D240 features a 177kW/430Nm powerplant, the D300 a much more lively 221kW/650Nm one. Latter is definitely the better choice.
My perfect choice would be the fuji white gloss Explorer one, resembling a Star Wars Stormtrooper, with the D300 engine, off road tyres and steel wheels. Two options I wouldn’t combine though: sunroof and roof rack. You don’t see much through it and the wind noise makes any conversation in the car obsolete. The 90 Explorer is an honest car, just like its grand-daddy. And you can sense the heritage of seven decades. But the 2021 Defender is a totally new vehicle based on an unique architecture. After driving it extensively on and off the beaten track - and getting stuck once in the fine sand of the Atlantis dunes - I can honestly say, that the new one is still a Defender.
If you are still not convinced, there might be another option. Why not go for a brand-new old Landy? Family-owned Pon Steyn Motors in Somerset-West is maintaining, restoring and rebuilding Defenders since 1983. Bring them any old, worn out and beaten up Series I, II or III - and they turn it into an improved masterpiece. Even the leather stitching is en par with the ones in a new Range Rover – and more unique. A friendly staff member shows me around the premises, where dreams come true. Land Rover heaven. I admire galvanised frames, fully painted body shells, engine rebuilds to factory standard and some exciting upgrades, suspension and axle rebuilds and full interior re-trims.
And then I get the analogue keys to a fully refurbished, red 1997 Shorty. Another trip back in time. And another answer to my old/new Land Rover question. Instead of choosing between old and new, just follow the lead of G wagon and 911 enthusiasts: have both. Old and new will look stunning parked next to each other in your garage.
Defender 90 D240 Explorer
& D300 Dynamic
3.7-l. six-cylinder turbo, paired with an 8-speed auto PDK
2.0-l. 4 cyl./3.0-l. 6 cyl. turbo diesel, paired with a 8-speed auto
177/221kW & 430/650Nm
in 9/6.7 seconds
from R1 095 600 to R1 575 000
Driven by Dieter Losskarn
LossKarn 2023 ©