1990 was an interesting year in Land Rover’s history. Building on the impeccable credentials of the Series models, a new-era evolution was developed in the 1980s; named Ninety and One-Ten to denote their respective wheelbases, early models were visually very similar to the Series III that came before, with the key aesthetic markers being the redesigned grille, full-length bonnet, and wheel arch extensions to cover the wider track. It was all change under the skin though, with the 1980s Land Rover modernised thanks to a Range Rover-derived permanent all-wheel drive system which featured a two-speed transfer box and lockable centre diff. The model also had coil springs for a more civilised ride, a significantly updated interior, a larger single-piece windscreen, and a whole range of engines offering improved torque and frugality.
In 1990 the Defender name debuted, seeing the numbers written out numerically (as it were); the model line-up now featured the Defender 90, Defender 110, and Defender 130, the latter’s name simply being a spec-related rounding-up rather than denoting a much longer wheelbase! The example we have here is a Defender 90 SW (which stands for Station Wagon, signifying that it has windows and bench seats in the back), powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. While the 110 is perhaps more practical for family use, it’s the shorter and sleeker 90 that presents the archetypal Land Rover silhouette and, with that gruff and torquey turbo-diesel, it’s the model everybody’s clamouring for these days; 1980s/’90s-era Defenders are very much in demand right now, and this one is a thoroughly enjoyable example of the breed.
The owner is something of an aficionado of rugged off-roaders, military vehicles and suchlike, having some fairly massive and impressive machinery in his collection. This Defender 90 has only been in his possession for around two months, as he was looking for a daily driver and this one fitted the bill – a solid, reliable, complete Landie that could instantly be pressed into daily use. However, in the meantime he had an opportunity to buy a slightly more unusual Land Rover (and trust us, it’s pretty hardcore – an ex-military Defender, fully bullet-proofed with riot shields and desert camo, that’s seen action in Afghanistan and elsewhere) which will be the new daily driver, so this one is now surplus to requirements.
The owner restores cars for a hobby as well as fixing up various vehicles as a business, hence the presence of a ramp for our shoot, but he assures us that he’s had to do very little to this Land Rover since he’s owned it. It is, at its core, a complete and properly usable example.
The V5 is present in the owner’s name, showing fifteen former keepers. The Land Rover is HPI clear, and the paperwork file includes a sheaf of old MOTs along with a receipt for the new windscreen.
The interior is in decent condition, with the owner citing the fact that it has rubberised floor mats between the rear bench seats as a very useful feature – it can simply be hosed out! A new set of protective seat covers have just been fitted up front (we didn’t fully remove them but the seats appear to be in good condition underneath), along with a new set of front mats. The aftermarket steering wheel adds a splash of colour, and by all accounts its size and diameter provide a little more feel and control for everyday driving.
The interior features anti-theft kill switches (obviously we won’t reveal where they’re mounted…), and all of the switchgear is present and operational.
The owner tells us that around the 101,000-mile mark, the previous owner fitted a second-hand speedo reading 187,000 as the original had failed; they’ve now had the original unit repaired and have refitted it, adjusting the mileage to 105,000 as estimated according to the MOT history.
Satin green is a strong look for a Defender, isn’t it? Suits the lines of it very well, half militaristic and half Barbour jacket. This one has been repainted in its original green and, while the paint job is perhaps not the most flawless you’ll ever see, the car wears it very well – all in-keeping with its nature of being a brawny machine designed for bouncing across muddy fields and over great big rocks.
You can see from the underside that great big rocks haven’t been a dramatic feature in its history however, as the chassis is largely free from battle scars as well as being reassuringly rot-free where it matters. Up top there’s a smattering of the inevitable dings you’d expect to find on such a vehicle, the door bottoms have evidently received some attention, and the offside rear quarter looks to have been reshaped after some minor impact damage (perhaps there has been a big rock in its back-story after all), but realistically there are two types of Defender: pristine examples that amble up the Kings Road, and rough-and-tumble bruisers which are used as intended. This is the latter, and it wears its intentions on its sleeve. A usable Defender that does everything such a machine is meant to do. It's also worth noting that a replacement windscreen has recently been fitted – the last MOT had an advisory for a windscreen crack, so the owner saw fit to replace it with a new one.
Land Rovers go on forever if they’re looked after, and this one appears to all be in great working order throughout the drivetrain. In July of this year it was treated to a full service – as well as a new battery – and it all works as it should. The motor fires happily after a few spins of the starter, settling into an even idle; the owner has taken it on motorway journeys as well as more Land Rover-ish pursuits and reports that everything’s doing what it should with no issues. We can see that the crossmember has been replaced in the not-too-distant past, and the owner assures us that there are no areas of concern with the transmission, braking, steering or suspension.
The Defender badge is front-and-centre of the cultural zeitgeist right now, thanks to the new-for-2020 model making impressive waves since its recent launch. In a perverse way, it actually helped that lockdown kicked in before any UK journalists were able to drive the thing, because Land Rover instead decided to give the press fleet to key workers to deliver essential Covid-related supplies, which really helped to bolster the brand’s reputation. Defenders? They’re for good guys.
This has always been the case, of course, and the enthusiasm for classic Defenders has received a real shot in the arm of late. These instantly recognisable British workhorses are inextricably interwoven through the very fabric of the national identity, and the idea of a 1980s/’90s example is extremely attractive these days, thanks to their myriad improvements over the Series models in terms of refinement and sophistication. They’re rugged old hectors, these Defenders, and they won’t let you down.
And this one? Quite simply, it’s a decent and usable Defender that doesn’t need anything doing to it – it’s ready to drive away and enjoy. The mechanicals are all in good order, the bodywork is reasonably presentable but not so tidy as to stop you fording streams and cavorting over mountains, and the dependability is baked-in.
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