My daily driver is a 1999 Land Rover Defender. More specifically, it is a right-hand-drive TD5 90 CSW. Unfortunately, the model designation can’t hope to appropriately define the truck. Here’s a quick run-down of the more salient facts.
My Defender has four wheels, three pedals, and two gear levers, all attached to a diesel engine that will never die. If you can name any other options or conveniences offered by vehicles of the same vintage – “Nessie” (she grew up in Scotland, so she’s aptly named) – doesn’t have a single one.
The roof, door seals, and windshield all leak from different places at inopportune times – a feature common to even the latest vehicles of the entire Defender line which was retired in 2015.
The exhaust note (accentuated by pronounced turbo whine) is unpleasant and the exhaust gas itself brings Tesla drivers to tears. The five-cylinder diesel engine and lack of soundproofing combined with exterior wind noise all preclude in-cabin conversation above 50 km/h. The steering is less than vague. The overall ergonomics are nothing short of primitive.
Visibility, however, is fantastic – particularly through the bottom – where pavement, gravel, mud, or a poorly placed Toyota Prius can be seen through a number of thoughtfully placed viewing holes in the aluminium floor pan. The clutch is stiff and requires a challenging ‘up and down’ motion that is a skill acquired through patience and a very strong left leg.
Performance figures include the ability to wade through a half-metre of standing water, climb anything you might put in front of it, pull the roof from your house, and – on good days – the ability to overtake a municipal garbage truck.
To be transparent, the other car in my garage is a late model German sports coupe with bells, whistles and a small satellite navigation woman living in the dashboard who has never understood me. It is a responsive, fast, quiet and safe piece of quintessential automotive engineering. Yet on any given day I still have to make a conscious decision which vehicle to drive.
There is nothing quite like a Land Rover Defender. To throw a word like iconic at the Defender is trite. In the 1990s, Land Rover claimed that 70% of Defenders built since it’s inception in 1948 were still around. It has been argued that the first vehicle ever seen by a majority of the developing world is/was a Defender. The Queen once (maybe twice) drove one. Children the world over – when asked to ‘draw a car’ – will typically draw the likeness of a Defender. I did.
The Defender helped define an automotive genre eclipsing the wildest dreams of the Solihull workers who originally bolted them together with left-over aircraft aluminium from the second World War.
Sure, it might be uncomfortable, archaic, aesthetically unpleasing, ultimately lacking in convenience and little changed over the years. But faulting it for these shortcomings seems a bit of an injustice. The Defender is purpose-built and meant to do exactly what it does. And what it does better than any other in-class vehicle (if you can find one) is pretty much everything you ask of it…over and over. And over.
Not a day has passed in recent memory when someone hasn’t asked me about Nessie while I’m going about my business. Owning a vehicle that strangers want to talk about is, in itself, worth talking about.
I love mine. If you stick around I’ll tell you more about it. Including how I got it.