It’s honest. If the appeal of the Land Rover Defender can be summed up in one brief sentence, it’s that this rugged little truck doesn’t have much in the way of pretense.
Not that people don’t try to gussy them up. Heck, even Land Rover themselves make an Autobiography version of the Defender with tacked-on luxuries stolen from the classier Range Rover. But that’s all wrong – like the Jeep Wrangler, the Defender is a last-of-breed machine that stays true to its roots. Perhaps that’s why everyone likes it so much.
I certainly do. I grew up driving early Land Rovers long before anyone thought to install leather and enormous alloy wheels. Like a Lotus, there’s little here to divorce you from the experience of driving, just steel, oil, glass, combustion, and rubber. Proper Land Rovers should never be too clean. They should never be smooth. They should never be entirely finished.
This one belongs to a neighbour of mine, Scott Pelly. He’s had a few Defenders over the years, including a much-missed 90, and found this one locally through introduction to an importer. It’s originally a German vehicle, and thanks to Canada’s grey market import rules, was brought in at just over fifteen years old.
It’s a child’s drawing of a truck, all straight lines and big tires. The shape of the Defender hasn’t really changed much over the years, and if you start looking closer, you’ll see that the similarities to its 1950s and 1960s ancestors are right there in front of you. It actually looks like you could pull the doors off my old ’76 and bolt them right on.
This Meccano-like simplicity works the other way too, and has allowed Scott to attach a fresh rear door off a later-model Puma Defender. He’s also got a skid full of spares from the UK, everything from extra rear doors to a new rear seat from a nearly-new Defender. The front seats are already replaced with heated units from a much newer car. Like all British cars, installing them raised a few issues, but it’s a Land Rover: bolting on whatever you want is just a case of having a large enough hammer and access to a large vocabulary of swear words.
If the short-wheelbase 90 is the Defender that everyone lusts after as a toy, then the 110 is the workhorse machine. It’s big enough for the whole family, and that’s important, because this is a vehicle that kids simply fall in love with.
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Pelly’s two children are pretty typical, into hockey and video games and the like, but when the whole family loaded up their Defender and headed south to the Mars-like geology of Moab, something pretty amazing happened. No iPads. No getting glued to a screen. Instead, it was a proper family road trip, following progress on the map, watching out for landmarks, checking out the landscape. That’s the thing about a proper Land Rover – it turns life into an expedition.