For years Land Rover has represented the epitome of off-roading capabilities. The heavy, boxy stanced juggernaut has conquered every continent, taken passengers on safari and is still used by peace keeping and aid organizations in the completion of their duties. Along with Jeep it is perhaps the most recognizable name in production 4×4 vehicles. This year the Land Rover Defender turns 60. While it is only marginally different than previous Defenders, it is still a rugged piece of machinary. But unfortunately for North America it will not be sold here. Now before I get more “you think every piece of Euro-crap is good” emails, let me explain why this is significant.
Land Rover only builds 25,000 Defenders annually, the majority of them are used by farmers and aid organizations, the automaker says. While still maintaining an air of sophistication and class, the Defender is the most affordable Land Rover in Europe (approximately $38,000) and has the look of a vehicle ready to go to work.
It comes in many different configurations, including a two-door, four-door and truck. Part of the Defender’s versatility is it’s bolted together construction, as opposed to unibody. This gives it a durability in offroad use that does not diminish as the rigors of abuse weaken unibody vehicles. It also makes repair of body panels and converting from hardtop to convertible as easy has using hand tools. But despite it clearly being one of the most respected and durable vehicles on the planet, U.S. regulations make it impossible to be imported.
Unlike other countries, the regulations in America, especially those for safety go WELL beyond the usual airbag/seat belt variety. In fact, in America vehicles not only have to provide these standard features but the car also has to be designed with the assumption that the driver and/or passenger are not going to use them. The designer of the Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish, Ian McCallum, explains that unbelted passengers and pedestrian legislation prevent vehicles ranging from the bull-nosed Defender to the diminutive Hyundai i10 from ever coming to the States.
So even though we are required to wear seatbelts, use child seats, or any number of other things, automakers are required to assume we are idiots who won’t. Something to think about while you are stuck in traffic, not smoking, talking on your cell phone, or eating a twinkie with transfat.