By the 1980s, Land Rover had more than 50 years of experience building 4x4s capable of any work put in front of them. But the market was changing. Buyers were looking for that same manoeuvrability but with a touch more comfort. You know, for fox-hunting and polo matches and meetings of shadowy societies in abandoned castles on the moor. And that’s exactly what Land Rover gave them.
Land Rover buyers who were looking for a vehicle that could keep up with their sporting tastes were the focus when the brand revamped its Series III Land Rover, which had slowly evolved from the 1948 original into a broadening line of models of different wheelbases and configurations. Replacing the 88-inch and 109-inch models previously on offer were the Ninety and One-Ten, named for their slightly increased wheelbases over the Series models which preceded them.
Aside from the front-end that stayed with us up until the demise of the old Defender back in 2016, the new models featured many new features aimed at smoothing out some of the more… rustic parts of Land Rover ownership. Check out the promotional video below to see what I’m talking about. Of course, the Ninety and One-Ten (and the One-Twenty-Seven long-wheelbase pickup that launched soon after) were still tremendously agricultural machines.
But credit where credit is due. The Ninety and One-Ten, particularly in County trim, were stylish machines with the luxury of roll-down windows up front and sliders for the rear passengers, plastic door trim, and a heated and washer-equipped rear window. It sounds quaint now, but this was a significant step up from the Series III and suggested that Land Rover was gunning for rivals with their entire lineup, not just with the Range Rover and the Discovery, launched shortly after these models.
Since then, the Ninety and One-Ten finally got their “Defender” moniker while Land Rover’s lineup has grown substantially in the lifestyle direction. The Range Rover and Discovery were joined by the Freelander, the Range Rover Sport, the Evoque, and the Velar. The Defender was there, mostly for eccentrics. And perhaps for cops and road crews in England, but the money was in suburban driveways.
And that’s where the brand does all its business these days, with perhaps very. minor exceptions. The agricultural and construction markets have left Land Rover in the past, and seem more than looked after by the vans and pickups on sale these days. And yet Land Rover hasn’t given up on the Defender.
The last week we finally got a chance to see what this new Land Rover, intended to live out the legacy of the Series, the Ninety and One-Ten, and the original Defender, has in store for us when we finally get to start seeing them on our roads. It’s an impressive machine, and, like the Ninety and One-Ten, an attempt to take what worked all the way back in 1948 and reintroduce it to us in a way we can use today.
Out of all the takeaways you can pull out of Andrew’s first time behind the wheel of the 2020 Land Rover Defender, the biggest one is perhaps that, despite the name, the new Defender is a complete reimagining. Capable, yes, but much softer. Independent suspension, electronic off-road aids, and a price-tag of nearly $US60,000 ($97,322) will do that. Unlike the One-Ten County of the early ‘80s, there’s no doubt that a long drive in one of these will be comfortable. The luxury touches are the real thing this time. Whether that means the new Defender, which keeps the wheelbase-derived model names despite the models growing a bit during the redesign, is a worthy recipient of the nomenclature is up in the air. We’ll just have to drive one again to really find out for certain.