It’s 2007 and Land Rover is launching the 2.2-litre Puma-engined Defender, with the biggest raft of changes in years. We’re putting it through a full Autocar Road Test.
It’s not doing well. I like Defenders but under hard emergency braking the 90’s stability is particularly concerning.
Then our photographer arrives at Millbrook Proving Ground and starts shooting, and makes increasingly extreme demands to put the car into increasingly dramatic poses. Except that whatever we try to do, it doesn’t look dramatic at all.
“Can you wade that pond?” Sure. “Can you make the tyres scrabble up that hill with a wheel off the ground?” No, but I can just drive up it.
Whatever we chuck the Defender’s way, it simply shrugs its shoulders and gets on with it. Another gentle reminder that, whatever the compromises, if you get this car into its right habitat, it’s unbeatable.
A Defender is for… learning to drive - Steve Cropley
My ’81 Series III pick-up had the distinction of teaching a dozen kids to drive. We bought it as an MoT failure from a farming friend. Our village abuts a farm on which we were allowed to drive so when our two boys could reach the clutch at 11 or 12, the Landie taught them to drive.
It taught their friends, too. I became blasé about heading for the woods on Sunday afternoons, sitting on a rock, opening the paper, and letting them get on with it. Until, that is, one little lad hit a tree while struggling with the steering. It hardly marked the Landie, but it might have hurt the kids. After that, I took more care.
A Defender is for… scaling hills - Richard Bremner
The Defender wasn’t called a Defender when I first drove one back in 1977. It was a brand new 88in example, a short wheelbase hardtop working as a demonstrator at the Stoneleigh Agricultural Show near Warwick. The main element of the demonstration was a chance to experience a Land Rover’s prodigious hill-climbing abilities, by ascending a surprisingly steep and tall grass bank.
My chance came because I was a BL Cars trainee working in the exhibitions department, one of their number generously deciding that I should sample one of the company’s key attractions.
The instructor went first, to illustrate. You needed low-range and a bit of a run-up before you were suddenly seeing sky and little else through the Land-Rover’s windscreen. Once close to the top we stopped, he carefully engaged reverse and allowed the Land Rover to descend, very slowly, to the bottom.
All of which looked easy enough. Except that for the run-up, a shortage of space meant that you had to start your ascent parallel to the bank before turning into a dead straight attack on its summit.
Back then, a Land Rover’s steering gear required quite a few turns from lock-to-lock, and I didn’t manage to get the car straight before our ascent began. But we did have momentum.
We climbed, and climbed quite fast, but were also heading up at an angle that was rapidly opening up. I was told to stop, at which point the Land-Rover began to slide sideways down the hill.
After a second or two its wheels hit some divots, lifting one side of the car up for the start of a roll-over. And then we started to bounce earthwards on the downward pair of wheels. At which point I glanced at the instructor’s face, and immediately knew that we were in uncharted and dangerous territory.
We bounced a few more times until the ground levelled out, and the Land-Rover came to a rest, unharmed. I was not offered another go. But I did learn how tough these cars are.
A Defender is for… wedding chauffeuring - Matt Burt
I’ve never owned a Defender, but my mate Andy has owned two, including ‘Deuce’, a silver 90 TD5 County that is his daily driver.
Before Deuce came ‘Tad’, christened after the last three letters of the registration of the red Defender 90 TDI.
On the morning of his wedding in 2006 he decided that I, as his best man, should ferry him to the church in Tad.
I suspect Andy assumed I was the least nervous of the two of us, and therefore the most competent to be behind the wheel at that point of time, although from my perspective, safely chauffeuring a bloke to one of the most important events of his life in a vehicle that’s unfamiliar from the driver’s seat brings a certain amount of pressure.
As well as that, I’m not certain the ‘right elbow on the window frame’ look works quite as convincingly when you’re dressed in a morning suit as opposed to a wax jacket and wellies.
But as we pottered through the Cumbrian lanes (to a soundtrack of AC/DC’s Back In Black) it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the Defender driving experience is not one to be daunted by. Quite the opposite; it is tremendously liberating to be high up, looking down on the world, in a vehicle that’s easy to place on narrow roads.
Happy to report that Andy’s final journey as a single man passed without incident. His first as a married man occurred in a rather plusher Range Rover, which meant I got a second drive in Tad.
A Defender is for… life, not just for Christmas - Andrew Frankel
His thinking was simple if flawed. He had three car-crazed teenage sons who were learning to drive and going to have crashes. What was the slowest, strongest car on the market?
That’s how my father’s Series III Land Rover came into my life. No matter that it had an oil tanker’s steering and lock, a gearbox gate measurable in feet and no brakes.
He made me take my test in it too, reminding me no Frankel had ever failed and, as an added incentive, leaving me at the test centre. If I failed, it was seven miles home on foot. The look on the examiner’s face was priceless and I expect pity played a large part in maintaining the family’s unbeaten run.
I’d often wonder what happened to that car were it not for the fact that I still own and drive it regularly. And 33 years later it has never, and I do mean never, broken down.
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