Since 1948, the Land Rover Defender has been the stalwart off-roader of the discriminating adventurer. Rugged and simple in functionality, its ladder frame chassis and aluminum body has spawned multiple variants including ambulances, military vehicles and even fire engines. The only thing that sucks about the Defender? You guessed it, not available in the United States. But it was once.
In 1993 Land Rover launched the Defender in the U.S. and Canada. Range Rovers had been available since 1987, but utility vehicles had not graced our shores since the 70’s. In order to comply with strict DOT regulations, extensive modifications were made to the safety equipment and lighting. Each was outfitted with a full external roll-cage and larger side-indicator and tail lights. Air conditioning was also installed.
The first production run numbered 525 units. Each of the County Station Wagons had a 3.9L V8 engine and a manual transmission. All were painted white except for one, Ralph Lauren’s. The initial batch of 110’s, named after the wheelbase length in inches, sold quickly. The following year Land Rover introduced the Defender 90 with a soft top. Later versions included a removable fiberglass roof panel or fixed station wagon hard top.
The engine was increased to 4.0L in 1997, just in time for new safety standards to kill the whole program. The Defender would need to be fitted with airbags for both front seat passengers and door panels would have to be reinforced to withstand greater side impacts. Huge modification costs and low production volume forced Land Rover to pull the Defender at the end of 1997.
Since then, a number of limited editions have teased us from across the pond. The future does hold a glimmer of hope, though. The current design will be deemed obsolete within the next couple of years according to new crash standards, and many feel certain the next version will be designed to be legal in America.