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The History and Evolution of the Land Rover Defender

The Land Rover Defender is a definite throwback to an earlier time. As a matter of fact, it was part of the original Land Rover automobile design that started rolling off the assembly lines back in the 1940s. As far as this particular model, the Defender is concerned, the first ones were turned out in 1983 and the last one was produced in 2016. Although there are plans to completely redesign the Land Rover Defender and start producing the automobile again, this particular article will focus on the models that were produced from the early 1980s up until just two years ago in 2016.

If you're familiar with the earlier versions of the Land Rover, namely the 90 and 110 models, then you probably already have a rough idea what the Defender is all about. There's no doubt that when you see it, you’ll know it's a Land Rover. It has that traditional look that only these types of automobiles have. It also has the reputation to go with it, which is what makes it such a highly sought-after vehicle in the first place. If you want to learn more about how this particular vehicle has transformed from its early days to the later model years, all you need to do is keep reading through the paragraphs below.

1983 Land Rover Defender

Aside from the other major Land Rover vehicle, the Range Rover, this was the only automobile made by the company during the 1983 model year. As previously mentioned, the Defender was aptly named either the 90 or the 110. These numbers were used to denote the length of the wheelbase, marking the two major types of Defenders that were available for purchase. In addition to the different sizes in wheelbase, the vehicle was also coil-sprung, which marked a first for Land Rover. If you really want to get technical, the 110 is the true 1983 model that started it all, as the 90 came after the 110 had proven to be a remarkable success.

1984 Land Rover Defender

Although much the Land Rover Defender was unchanged from the previous model year, there were some key differences in 1984, namely with regard to the 90. Obviously, this one had a shorter wheelbase than the 110. It also stood a little taller, thanks to a taller windshield. This also marked the first time that the vehicle had windows that actually rolled up. Prior to that, the windows merely slid from one location to the next, much like you would slide a window on an airplane.

1985 Land Rover Defender

In 1985, the biggest changes involved the power plant. This was the first time that the Land Rover could be purchased with a gasoline engine instead of a diesel power plant. There were two options, an 83 horsepower 4-cylinder or a 114 horsepower V8. Both engines were married to a 5-speed manual transmission. Of course, customers could still purchase the automobile with the standard diesel engine if they so desired.

1986 Land Rover Defender

This model year saw Land Rover upgrade the diesel engine with a turbo diesel option. For the most part, this was done to ensure that Land Rover remained competitive against the ever-increasing popularity of Japanese models. That being said, the company also worked tirelessly to keep the engines as close to the original design as possible, so as to not alienate their existing customers.

1987-1988 Land Rover Defender

In 1987, a bigger block was provided for the turbo charged diesel engine. This resulted in a 13 percent increase in horsepower and a whopping 31 percent increase in torque. In addition, the car was also provided with larger bearings. All of this was done to attract new customers as well as to keep the traditional customer base interested in buying new Land Rovers. The vehicle remained largely unchanged in 1988, as Land Rover was reluctant to make too many changes to the vehicle too quickly.

1989 Land Rover Defender

The new turbo diesel engine that had been introduced a couple of model years prior had proved to be somewhat problematic. In short, it had a tendency to be prone to failure at the most inopportune moments. In 1989, Land Rover introduced a new breather system that allowed the engine to stay cooler for longer periods of time, thereby fixing the majority of the problems that had plagued earlier models.

1990-1993 Land Rover Defender

This marked the first time that the Land Rover was actually known as The Defender and not as the 90 or the 110. For all intents and purposes, its largely the same vehicle but there are some important changes that should be noted, starting in 1990. The most important change involved an engine that had enough power to allow the vehicle to operate at highway speed and even tow heavy objects without straining. Prior to 1990, this is something that simply wasn't possible. In addition, Land Rover included a new oil filter that actually fit into the breather system. Earlier models had been largely unreliable because of a malfunctioning or non-existent breather system and this finally solved an issue that had been plaguing Land Rover vehicles since the 90 and 110 had started production. By the time these changes were made, Land Rover finally seemed to be happy with the vehicle that it was producing and for the next three model years, everything was virtually identical the 1990 model.

1994 Land Rover Defender

In recent years, Land Rover had largely focused on creating turbo diesel engines. 1994 saw them produce another model with a more powerful V8 engine. This particular form of the Defender was usually shipped to certain countries where fuel costs were relatively low and customers wanted a product with more power.

1995 Land Rover Defender

Land Rover decided to create another vehicle, dubbed the 130, that was essentially a Defender with a longer wheelbase. It was virtually identical the 90 and 110 that had come before it, both of which were still in production.

1996 Land Rover Defender

There were a number of changes for the 1996 model year, namely a brand new turbo diesel engine that was nicknamed the 300tdi. A roll cage was also added, in addition to alloy wheels.

1997 Land Rover Defender

The most important change in 1997 was directly related to the fact that BMW actually owned Land Rover from 1997 until 2001. As such, a lot of changes were made to the engine in order to create a V8 gasoline engine that was just as powerful as the turbo diesel engine. Most of those changes came in 1997. In fact, it was the first time that a Land Rover Defender was capable of going from 0 to 60 in just nine seconds.

1998-1999 Land Rover Defender

These two model years marked a time when the Land Rover Defender finally got a truly upgraded engine, mainly the TD5. It was designed to be an inline 5-cylinder, hence its name. It was actually built because of emissions regulations that would have effectively rendered the traditional TDi illegal in Europe. It also produced more horsepower than any engine before it, coming in at 221 horsepower.

2000-2001 Land Rover Defender

A lot of changes occured for the 2000 and 2001 model year, not the least of which included brand-new instrumentation and important upgrades to the chassis. In addition, the car provided better illumination for instrument packages and a more comfortable ride, thanks to upgraded suspension.

2002 Land Rover Defender

There were even further improvements made to the new TD5 engine in 2002, making it even more efficient. In addition, ABS brakes were added and an option for leather seating was also included.

2003 Land Rover Defender

In order to complement the previous model year’s ABS brakes, the 2003 edition offered a traction control system that was for more comprehensive. It was designed to make it easier for drivers to control the vehicle on unforgiving terrain or in bad weather.

2004-2005 Land Rover Defender

Over the next two years, Land Rover made the decision to offer some luxury features that had not ever been previously offered on any Land Rover. Namely, the company was now offering the Defender with electric windows and heated seats, two options that allowed the company to truly compete with other high-end automobile manufacturers.

2006 Land Rover Defender

For years, Land Rover had incorporated a two-piece rear door but it caused numerous problems. It was difficult to secure and even when drivers thought that it was properly closed, it was well known for coming open every time a bump was hit. In 2006, Land Rover finally fixed this issue by replacing it with a one piece door.

2007 Land Rover Defender

In order to meet ever more stringent emissions laws, Land Rover ceased production of its TD5 engine and opted to install the Puma engine, made by Ford. From that point forward, no Land Rover would be powered by an engine that was designed in-house.

2008-2009 Land Rover Defender

Most of the changes that occurred over these two model years involved changes to the dash, largely in order to make it more user-friendly. For the most part, Land Rover was aiming to create a more high-end product so they followed interior designs from other automakers in order to remain competitive in their chosen market.

2010-2011 Land Rover Defender

2010 saw even more changes to the interior and in 2011, Land Rover finally took the seats that faced each other in the back and made them forward facing seats to match other vehicles on the road. This effectively reduced the number of back seats from four to two, but it also made the vehicle appear much more luxurious. In other words, Land Rover was looking for a way to make the vehicle appear less like a utility vehicle and more like a luxury item.

2012 Land Rover Defender

In 2012, there was yet another engine change. Once again, it all had to do with the ever-changing emissions laws. As such, the engine that had been used previously, the Ford Puma engine, was removed in order to opt for a smaller engine that produced better emissions. The engine itself remained unchanged, although it was a scaled-down version of the original. This allowed Land Rover to comply with emissions laws, but it also reduced the amount of horsepower that was available.

2013 Land Rover Defender

This was a year that marked quite a bit of change for Land Rover, as there was a major upgrade to the exterior of the vehicle. In 2013 they introduced the soft-top vehicle, something that was a clear departure from the utility vehicle roots they had held true to for so long. It proved to be a popular variant, and for a short time, it seemed to revitalize sales of the vehicle.

2014-2015 Land Rover Defender

There were a lot a big changes on the horizon for Land Rover during the 2014 and 2015 model years. Much of it had to do with the way laws were changing in order to impact vehicle and passenger safety. At the time, a requirement was being made that all vehicles have interior airbags, something that Land Rover had a long avoided doing. They knew that they would have to include them for the 2015 model year and that it was basically impossible for them to do so with the standard design. As such, they started redesigning the vehicle from the ground up in 2014. This meant that by the time the vehicles rolled off the showroom floor in 2015, they would not only look different, but they would also be quite different. They would finally comply with all safety and emissions standards, something that marked a first for the venerable company.

2016 Land Rover Defender

Late January 2016 marked the last time that a Defender would roll off the assembly line. The company had long known that the design was for the most part, obsolete, and that a complete redesign would be necessary. The redesign that had occurred only a couple of years earlier had served as something of a stopgap for the company, but it quickly became evident that it wasn't enough. As such, Land Rover halted production of the Defender in 2016, with plans to create an all-new design in either 2018 or 2019.

Regardless of the particular model year you own, this is a special vehicle. Even with regard to its rather problematic issues, it's still something of a legend. For true aficionados of Land Rover vehicles, it's hard to beat the Defender in any capacity. This is truly a vehicle that's hard to beat, and it's a ton of fun to drive.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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