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The Land Rover Defender: History, Buying Tips, and More

All things Land Rover Defender on Automobile.

Land Rover Defender Essential History

You might think the Land Rover Defender's history stretches all the way back to 1948, and while you wouldn't exactly be wrong about that, you wouldn't be exactly right, either. While the Defender does trace its roots back to the original line of Land Rover "Series" vehicles that began in 1948, the Defender proper was a new addition to the marque in 1983.

The "Series" Land Rovers were built across three generations before the Defender made the scene. The first, appropriately named Series I, ran from 1948 to 1958. It was followed by the Series II, built from 1958-1971. The Series III ran from 1971 until 1985, two years after the debut of the Defender.

Two main models of the Defender were built: the 90 and the 110. The numbers refer to the wheelbases of the two variants, with the 110 the longer of the two, and the first to be produced. An even longer 127 model (later known as the 130) was also built.

Although most of the world got the Defender in 1983, Americans would have to wait until 1993 for the Defender to makes its way across the Atlantic. The Defender's run in the U.S., then, was rather short: It left the American market in 1997 due to advances in safety regulations (airbags and side-impact door protection) that outstripped the Defender's design and equipment set.

Despite the relatively short run for the Defender in the U.S. market, Land Rover built the legendary off-roader all the way up to 2016, when the company finally retired the aged Defender ahead of its eventual comeback. An all-new Defender is due to bring the nameplate back—including for the U.S.—for 2020.

 

Land Rover Defender Highlights

Although the vehicle we know and love as the Land Rover Defender made its debut in 1983, it wasn't until 1990 that the Defender name was used, to distinguish the existing vehicle from the then-new Land Rover Discovery. Before the Defender name, the two versions of the off-roader were simply "Ninety" and "One Ten"—the numerical versions of the names came with the addition of the Defender title.

Another historical driver of the Defender's nature is the post-WWII steel shortage in England, which led Land Rover to make the Defender's exterior body panels out of aluminum—a trait which stuck even after steel became more plentiful again.

Land Rover Defender Buying Tips

It's true that the U.S. only got a very limited run of the Defender's original production, but fortunately, earlier examples are getting old enough to allow legal importation in most U.S. states. Prices span an incredible range depending on rarity, originality, or degree of modification—auction sale prices this year have run from as little as $10,000 to more than $100,000. Accordingly, if you're looking to buy a classic Land Rover Defender on the cheap, your best bet is likely to be an earlier model; look at examples built between 1983 and 1990.

If you're working with a larger budget, nearly any Defender is within your reach; models from the 1990s, being among the newest examples legal to import to the U.S., tend to fetch a premium, although the extent of restoration or modification often plays a larger role in the price toward the higher end of the market.

Land Rover Defender Articles on Automobile

The Defender has only been around 3 years longer than Automobile has, and we've covered the brilliant British off-roader more times than we can count. Here's a collection of some of the best Automobile Land Rover Defender content on the web:

The Defender is back, but not really.

They're also the reason it's hard to confuse a Land Rover for anything else.

The SUV's off-road chops—and jumping abilities—are highlighted in rehearsal footage.

An image is leaked via a prototype's gauge cluster.

Where rad meets off-road.

We had the privilege of driving some of Arkonik's best Defenders.

Finally getting with the times.

These reborn, six-figure Land Rovers redefine what an old Defender can deliver.

A dot of red in a sea of black, green, and tan Landies.

An unusually optioned 110-series Land Rover.

Noise, Vibration & Harshness.

A sweet (and salty) goodbye.

The end of a 68-year off-roading era.

 

Land Rover Defender Recent Auctions

Auction listings from Bring a Trailer:

 

Land Rover Defender Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1983
  • Last year of production: 2016
  • Total sold: More than 2 million when combined with Series vehicles.
  • Original price (base): around $5,000
  • Last auction price: $60,000 (Bring a Trailer)
  • Characteristic feature: Boxy design, mountain goat abilities

 

Land Rover Defender FAQ

You have questions about the Land Rover Defender. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked Defender queries.

Q: How much will the 2020 Land Rover Defender cost?

A: In the U.S., the 2020 Defender will start from $50,925 (including $1,025 destination fee).

Q: Why is the Land Rover Defender so expensive?

A: The average transaction price of a new car in America was about $37,000, so in a sense, the Defender isn't especially expensive.

Q: When did they stop making the Land Rover Defender?

A: The final year of sale in the U.S. was 1997, but Land Rover continued to produce the Defender until 2016.

Q: Is the Land Rover Defender reliable?

A: Reliability is, naturally, a relative concept. Is the Defender more reliable than most 70-year-old cars? Yes. Is the Defender 70 years old? No.

Q: Will the Land Rover Defender increase in value?

A: If taken care of, it's likely that most Defenders will continue to appreciate slowly for the foreseeable future. That said, don't expect to retire on the strength of your Defender collection—unless the Queen of England is among the previous owners.