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It's nearly the end of the line for the perennial Land Rover Defender. This Heritage limited edition harks back to the early days

Our Verdict

Land Rover Defender

The Land Rover Defender is an institution and unbeatable off road, if crude on it

What is it?

Say hello to Huey Junior. Huey Senior, for those who don’t know, was the original 1947 pre-production Series I Land Rover, so-called because it carried the registration plate HUE 166.

This limited-edition (only 400 will be made for the UK) Heritage model carries the HUE 166 number on its front wing and on labels stitched into the seats, and is one of three run-out models that will draw 67 years of Defender production to a close next January.

As well as the evocative badging, these exclusive Heritage models also come in this very attractive shade of Grasmere Green metallic paint, with Almond Cloth seats, steel wheels, a white roof and a Heritage Style Grille, to complete that 1940s look.

If you fancy one, you’ll need to look lively and sprint down to your nearest Land Rover dealer. They may seem expensive at nearly £31,000, but plenty of people will want to buy one for a slice of history, and they’ll be confident that this brand new classic will become highly collectable in the future.

What's it like?

As a kid, I used to trundle about a farm in a Defender (a B-plate 1984 soft-top 90 model, to be precise), regularly sharing the open-backed load area with a sheep or a bale of hay. As a result, I have first-hand experience of just how astonishingly good all Defenders are off road.

It was this go-anywhere ability that once saved my dad’s bacon, too. He was due to be the best man at a friend’s wedding, but woke up that morning in December 1963 to find himself completely snowed in at the family farm in Wales. It was only because there was a Series II Landie lurking about on site that both he and my mum - who was dressed to impress but accessorised with a pair of wellies - were able to complete the 100-mile trek and make the nuptuals.

So, does that mean climbing up into the cab of Huey Jr here was a pleasurable trip down memory lane? No, not really. You see, as gifted as Defenders are off road, I’ve always thought they were uncomfortable, slow and noisy.

Back in the late 1980s, when Flossy and I were cosied up in that 90, the Defender was a 40-year old relic then; I would much rather have been riding in the back seat of one of the new and far more comfortable Discoverys - a car that was no slouch off road itself.

That original Disco is long gone now, and even the current Discovery 4, complete with a fancy TDV6 engine and air suspension, is on its last legs and will soon be replaced. Time moves on, and things, more often than not, get better in the process.

So, pottering about Surrey in the cockpit of Huey Jr does beg the question: why has the Defender lasted so long, and why would you buy one now?

Just to get in, I needed to remember that special origami trick of how to fold my 6ft 3in frame to fit into the cramped - but admittedly supportive - driver’s seat of a Defender. Once aboard, you sit behind a vast steering wheel that feels like a leftover from the days before power steering - the days when a large-diameter wheel was essential for extra leverage.

It’s got hardly any steering lock, either, so U-turns are near-impossible unless you’re in the middle of a field, so on road it’s best to think in terms of W-turns, instead.

The engine is pretty good, though. These late models use a Ford Transit-derived 2.2-litre diesel, which has a pretty effective slug of low-down torque. It may take 14.7sec to hit 60mph from a standstill, but it feels punchy in the low gears and, with good driveability, would no doubt be perfect for off-road use. Despite the comically long-throw gearlever, the six-speed manual gearbox is also surprisingly obliging and easy to use.

Beware of the shorter, stubbier gearlever for the transfer box, mind; touch it and this irksome blighter has the potential to waste five minutes of your life, as you wrestle with it in an effort to escape a box full of neutrals.

It was 1984, the year Land Rover introduced the 90 model, that Defenders finally lost their ancient leaf springs and gained something approaching modernity: the coil spring. However, live axles, front and rear, remain to this day, and they certainly are lively. I can’t think of a single moment when Huey Jr wasn’t bouncing and bobbing over some bump or other - or, for that matter, listing mid-bend like a stricken ocean liner.

You’ll be unlucky to get caught speeding, mind, as these Landies struggle to reach much more than 80mph flat out. But before you hit that heady speed, you’ll be wishing all Defenders came with ear defenders. The combination of wind noise and road roar is deafening, and that’s before the added percussion from the vibrating driver’s door.

How about the ergonomics? Well, you need to open a window if you want any elbow room, and the lights-on warning device in a Defender is an ignition key that you can't remove while the British Leyland-sourced light switch is still in the ‘on’ position.

There are attempts at luxury, such as air conditioning and heated seats. But even with the Alpine head unit - which includes a single-slot CD player - there's no disguising Junior’s bloodline, which runs directly back to Huey Sr and 1947.

Should I buy one?

After sounding less than enthused by the whole experience, you’re probably expecting the answer to be no, right? Well, on any objective level, it should be. By modern standards, the Defender is terrible on road, and this Heritage model, at £30,900, is woefully pricey, too. It may still be one of the best off-roaders on sale today, but are you really going to use this potential future collector’s item to go greenlaning in? No, I didn’t think so. So what is the point of even contemplating buying one?

It’s this, I think: on my trip through Surrey, I got stuck in a traffic jam on the M3. Sitting there, going nowhere, I became aware of the many, many looks, smiles and approving nods I got from the otherwise glum-faced motorists around me. All because I was sitting in this charming ‘old’ thing. And that’s the point about the Defender, in all its guises: it’s been too old for too long now, but for some reason, people still love it.

If you’re one of these smitten folk, and you’ve got the cash setting light to your pocket, you’ll enjoy trundling about in Handsome Huey here. No doubt you'll have a smile on your face and induce a few on the faces of those around you.

And who knows, maybe it will be a future classic. In which case, 20 years from now, someone equally eccentric might be willing to double your money, so it could even end up being a bargain, after all.

Land Rover Defender 90 Hard Top Heritage

Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £30,900; Engine 4 cyls, 2198cc, turbodiesel; Power 120bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 266lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1902kg; 0-60mph 14.7sec; Top speed 90mph; Economy 27.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 269g/km, 37%

 

Join the debate

Comments
24

29 July 2015
Pale green paint and a plastic grill, don't make it look like a 40's Land Rover.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

29 July 2015
Frightmare Bob wrote:

Pale green paint and a plastic grill, don't make it look like a 40's Land Rover.

It does to Steve Cropley.

30 July 2015
Yawn. Building 400 'for the UK' sounds as though the limit has been arrived at by calculating how many they can sell - by which definition most cars are limited editions.

29 July 2015
They really should offer ready-dented body panels and half an inch of genuine farmer's muck on the inside with a bale of hay as optional extras. I was alright with that Grasmere Green, @John Howell, until you said it was metallic. If you have one of these, an old "cherished" plate appropriate to the era would be the order of the day, a 15 plate just does not look right to me.

29 July 2015
This model doesn't have air conditioning.


29 July 2015

It does, I was using it!

29 July 2015
As far as I know, models without air-conditioning have the grille flush with the headlight panels. With air-con, the grille is moved forward to accommodate the extra cooling bits. This one has the protruding snout, so it should have air-con.

Or were you making a reference to Land Rover's legendary unreliability?

289

29 July 2015
...they don't seem expensive, they ARE expensive!
Its not even a County version- its a blooming chicken shed on wheels. In fact you wouldn't even put chickens in any thing this leaky.
Putting a set of Wolfe steel wheels on, a light green paint job and some HUE stickers and trim tags which will last -ooh- about a year with wear and tear is an attempt at parting gullible people from their cash.
I don't doubt that they will easily find enough drips with a nostalgic tear in their eye to buy these, but really this heap of junk has absolutely no relationship to HUE 166 other than roughly similar shape.
I for one wont mourn its passing, it has been overpriced and unreliable for years, and mostly bought by gullible urban types who wish to portray the image that they also have an estate in the country, or that they are somehow rugged and interesting, whilst driving their kids to the local school in a vehicle offering poor passenger protection.
The original series Land Rovers are wonderful classic vehicles, current Defenders are just out of time and usurped as far as the farming fraternity by modern pick-ups...mostly Japanese.

29 July 2015
I think LR will greatly regret not developing this product which sits at its spiritual heart. Even without having had a penny spent on it for years, it is still the dominant visual draw in their showrooms. G Wagon, in all its mad incarnations, shows what could have been done...

29 July 2015
eseaton wrote:

I think LR will greatly regret not developing this product which sits at its spiritual heart. Even without having had a penny spent on it for years, it is still the dominant visual draw in their showrooms. G Wagon, in all its mad incarnations, shows what could have been done...

I agree.

Cyborg

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