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Passing Time in Britain's Iconic Off-Roader


One of the great things about a used Land Rover Defender is that hardly anyone’s going to know you’re driving an old model.

They've looked much the same since 1983 and the general lines go all the way back to 1948! Originally known as the One-Ten (long wheelbase) and Ninety (short wheelbase), the Defender name was introduced in 1990. There’s been progressive upgrading over the years, from new engines – the diesel motor has changed six times – to minor trim alterations. But all the way through, the Defender has retained its stoic, workmanlike character, even when dressed up with top trim packs to appeal to urban off-roaders and retro-trendies who had tired of their Morgans and early MGs.

When you buy a Defender, you also buy into the whole Land Rover “thing”, from the thrill of being able to buy a new rear light assembly for less than 30 bucks to the off-road and social activities of Land Rover clubs sprinkled around the country. You can also buy into oil leaks, ongoing mechanical niggles and sometimes major mechanical heartaches; a used Defender is not a vehicle to buy without help from someone who really knows what they’re doing. Get a good one, keep it properly maintained, and it’ll reward with ongoing reliability, its unique personality and its forte, outstanding performance off-road. Large numbers of V8-powered ex-military Land Rovers have recently come on the road as the Army upgrades to Pinzgauers. Although they will have been heavily used, buyers speak well of their standard of maintenance. Like the army machines, most of the early civilian 110's had V8 engines, but 2.5 petrol and 2.5 turbo diesels were also available. Defenders between 1990 and 1994 usually had the well regarded 200Tdi direct-injection turbo-diesel with the five-speed speed LT85 gearbox.

In 1995 this was replaced by the similar but highly developed 300Tdi with a refined R380 5spd gearbox. Unfortunately it wasn’t developed quite well enough; batches were prone to timing-belt misalignment, leading to premature failure and likely catastrophic engine damage. It was dropped in 1998 in favour of the new electronically managed five-cylinder Td5 with an uprated R380 gearbox. The 300Tdi didn’t go down because of its belt problem, but because it would not be able to meet new anti-smog laws. Some Land Rover enthusiasts prefer the 300Tdi to the newer engine and it’s still being built, in a developed form, in Brazil. Along with the Td5 came optional ABS and traction control. Don’t assume that they will be on all Td5 models. The Defender received an upgrade in 2003, including a modified dash, strengthened one piece rear door, new alloy rims, electric windows, central locking – and the cupholders that had become obligatory in SUVs. It was the last significant change until the 2007 model.

Good used Defenders command a good price, partly because there aren’t that many around. Among the older models, 300Tdi engines usually attract a premium, especially if fitted with a modification that deals with the timing belt issue. Later vehicles with ABS and traction control will fetch more than those without.

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