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Why is the Land Rover Defender so popular?

The Defender is to the countryside what the black cab is to London. The Queen has one, Sir Winston Churchill had one and Sir David Attenborough uses one for his adventures. It’s the ultimate iconic British vehicle.

The Queen of the UK with her Land Rover Defender

Land Rover was designed to rove the land, regardless of conditions. And we’re sure you will agree, to this day, the Land Rover Defender does just that. The original was built in 1948, made of aluminium and inspired by the World War 2 Jeep with the additional of Rover mechanics. A legend, a true classic, lets learn some more on how the Defender has kept its reputation, 70 years later.

Until 1990, the descendants of the original Land Rover were simply referred to by their series number and the length of their wheelbase in inches. But the debut of the Discovery in 1989 presented some confusion as it too was badged as a Land Rover. And so, in 1990, the original Land Rover gained its own name for the first time: Defender. It was a nod to its service to the armed forces, and the vehicle has kept the name ever since.

The Defender debuted in 1990 with the new 200Tdi engine shared with the Discovery. It was uprated again to the 300Tdi engine and the L380 manual gearbox shared with the Discovery and the original Range Rover in 1994. That year also saw the end of V8 Defender production for the UK, although the 4.0 V8 engine was fitted to the ‘50’ special edition vehicles, created to mark Land Rover’s first half-century in 1998.

A convertible Land Rover Defender 4x4 in red

The V8 was also fitted to the popular North American Specification cars from 1992. The NAS model was made in relatively small numbers, the 110 came first, fitted with a full external roll cage, followed by the 90 NAS the following year, which would become one of the most collectible of recent Land Rovers.

In 2001 the Defender entered the new millennium, gaining modern creature comforts such as electric windows, central locking and heated seats for the first time. But there was no question of the Defender going soft. In 1996, the Ministry of Defence placed an order for almost 8,000 military specification Defender XDs. The XD stood for ‘extra duty’, but the model is simply referred to by its codename: Wolf.

The Land Rover Defender Wolf, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence

It first entered service in 1997 and has seen action around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defender proved its toughness in peacetime too as one of the mainstays of both the Camel Trophy and the G4 Challenge, which Land Rover created in 2003.

The Sandglow paint of the Camel vehicles and the Tangiers Orange of the G4 cars have become instantly recognisable, and these two events allowed Defenders to prove their worth as competitor vehicles, support cars, and even prizes. But there can be few tougher customers than Lara Croft, who drove a Defender in the 2001 film Tomb Raider. Land Rover Special Vehicles Operations built three for the film, and a Tomb Raider special edition went on sale that year in the same Bonatti Grey.

Special edition Tomb Raider Land Rover Defender from the 2001 Lara Croft film

There have been many weird and wonderful Defenders over the years, the SAS painted one pink and called it the Pink Panther, Utility companies put a cherry picker on the back of theirs, the fire service has specially converted fire tender Defenders of course not forgetting the Bond movies – the list goes on.

One of a kind SAS Pink Panther Land Rover Defender

With Bond movies in mind, that brings us to the new Land Rover Defender 2020. Just when the crowd thought the Defender has retired, Land Rover decided it was time to bring it back. The new model represents 70 years of innovation and improvement, honouring the history of the vehicle for rugged solidity while thoroughly remaining a Defender for the 21st century.

The New Land Rover Defender
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So, why is the Defender so popular? For one main reason, it is extremely functional. And the emotional appeal has made the Defender withhold its iconic British presence around the world for the past 70 years.