An Ode to the Enthusiasts…
(warning: this is a labor of love)
The long awaited Land Rover Defender is returning to the US Market this spring for the first time since 1995. The iconic British 4x4 stalwart has not been sold in the US for more than 2 decades due to its inability to pass emissions and safety regulations.
A Brief Bit of Context - The Atlantic Pass...
Over the past 20 years the Defender has become one of the most sought after vehicles in the USA. It has created a secondary market for older versions that have been completely rebuilt on the original frames, which sell for prices upwards of $100k.
The loophole here is that Defenders more than 20 years old could be imported to the USA and registered as classic cars that are exempt from US requirements.
This soon became a well-trodden path as importers would bring old Land Rovers (or LRs) from Continental Europe (left hand drive) and rebuild them from the frame up. Land Rover specialists around the USA would order replacement parts from the manufacturer, essentially building a brand spanking new 2015 defender on the frame of a Land Rover from the 80’s, and labeling it a classic car. These rebuilt Defenders became a staple showpiece in the garage of many affluent homes from the Hamptons to Jackson hole. For some this gold plated facade was enough, but for others its true identity had been lipsticked over and its utility neutered: reduced to the rare trip to pick up groceries.
For the purists, however, those enthusiasts who took the plunge and were seduced by its rugged heritage, there is a shared sense of camaraderie and pride; perhaps even an acknowledged wry smile at the system.
Since the production ceased on old blighty back in 2015, the question has begged, when and how will LR attempt to bring this iconic 4x4 back into production? How will they modernize it to relaunch in the US market (the largest SUV buyers market in the world). Will it be a Range Rover in the body of a defender? Will it lose its rugged can do anything capabilities? Will it become a Chelsea tractor more comfortable posing on the kings road than the Gobi Desert? These are some of the questions LR had to ask as they set out on the undesirable task to try and rebuild and redefine Britain's most iconic 4x4 export since the war.
When the stakes are high...
The new LR Defender shares the same bloodline as the original thoroughbred, however its avant-garde look and revamped feel certainly justifies it to be judged in its own unique right, not simply to be compared against. For a model that has not been fully updated for over 50 years, the fear - in line with the old adage, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” - was that it would lose its integrity, lose the very identity that made it the working man’s most reliable friend (alongside his dog). Fortunately, its crown of dependability seems not to have been lost.
As it stands, the 2020 Defender appears to be just as tough as its predecessor, though with some new technologies and a few added creature comforts of course. The 2020 Defender is fully customizable and adaptable to the need of its owner, with a multitude of add ons and extras - truly the swiss army knife of the road.
The question remains, what will be the impact on the price of the 80’s and 90’s defenders that have been seeking such lavish price points over the past decade?
My view is that the price of defenders in the US has been the main deterrent up to this point. The sought after car, almost a unicorn in the USA, has paved the way for LR to launch a defender that people can now actually buy. Starting at $50k, running up to $100k, people are going to be able to buy this car just like any other car in America: don’t be surprised to see some of these new defenders stalking the beaches of Nantucket this summer.
However, the long and short is that the original Defender is still the king and will always be the king. It’s heritage, design, and uncompromising performance, should