Our ‘History of a Legend’ series traces the rich and unique lineage of our original Land Rover. The previous chapter discusses the pivotal introduction of the Land Rover ‘One Ten’, Land Rover ‘Ninety’ and ‘Defender 130’ which marked some of the most significant changes in the vehicle’s evolution.
Until 1990, the descendants of the original Land Rover were simply referred to by their series number and the length of their wheelbase in inches.
But the debut of the radical and very popular Discovery in 1989 presented some confusion as it too was badged as a Land Rover. As a result, in late 1990 the original Land Rover gained its own name for the first time: Defender. It was a nod to its service to the armed forces, and the vehicle and all those which followed have taken the name Defender ever since.
The Defender debuted with the new 107BHP, 195lb-ft 200Tdi engine shared with the Discovery. It was uprated again to the 300Tdi engine and the L380 manual gearbox shared with the Discovery and the original Range Rover in 1994. That year also saw the end of V8 Defender production for the UK, although the 4.0 V8 engine was fitted to 385 ‘50’ special edition vehicles for the UK market; created to mark Land Rover’s first half-century in 1998.
In 1990 the original Land Rover gained its own name for the first time: Defender. It was a nod to its service to the armed forces, and the vehicle has kept the name ever since.
The V8 was also fitted to the popular North American Specification cars from 1992. Known by their NAS acronym and made in relatively small numbers, the 110 Station Wagon came first, fitted with a full external roll cage, followed by the 90 NAS the following year, which would become one of the most collectible of recent Land Rovers.
A special soft-top and a choice of bright colours – including the exclusive ‘AA Yellow’ – made it perfect for Californian beach use, and anti-roll bars meant the on-road handling matched the surge in power supplied by the 180BHP 3.9-litre V8.
The 1993 Land Rover Defender 90 North American Specification (NAS)
complete with external roll cage and exterior Portofino Red paint colour.
Back home, the Defender kept on getting better. For 1998 the powerful, refined 124BHP, 221lb-ft five-cylinder TD5 engine arrived. The following year the Defender received a suite of electronic driving aids which further extended its off-road ability.
The Defender kept on getting better. From 1998 the powerful 124BHP, five-cylinder TD5 engine arrived followed by electronic driving aids, further improving its off-road ability.
And in 2001 the Defender entered the new millennium, gaining modern creature comforts such as electric windows, central locking and heated seats for the first time. But there was no question of the Defender going soft. In 1996, the Ministry of Defence placed an order for almost 8,000 military specification Defender XDs. The XD stood for ‘extra duty’, but the model is simply referred to by its codename: Wolf.
Almost 8,000 ‘Extra Duty’ Defenders were built for the military in 1996.
It first entered service in 1997 and has seen action around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defender proved its toughness in peacetime too as one of the mainstays of both the Camel Trophy and the G4 Challenge, which Land Rover created in 2003.
The Sandglow paint of the Camel vehicles and the Tangiers Orange of the G4 cars have become instantly recognisable, and these two events allowed Defenders to prove their worth as competitor vehicles, support cars, and even prizes. But there can be few tougher customers than Lara Croft, who drove a Defender in the 2001 film Tomb Raider. Land Rover Special Vehicles Operations built three for the film, and a Tomb Raider special edition went on sale that year in the same Bonatti Grey.
The SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) Defender, designed and built especially for the 2001 film Tomb Raider.