A Photo for Sunday – No Defence

A right pair of Landies.

The Author.

Everybody in the enthusiast community has an opinion on the Land Rover Defender – be it the old stager lately retired, or its more contested replacement from 2019. Like most opinions in today’s febrile media environment, these are as fiercely held as they are emphatically expressed.

At this point therefore I feel compelled to make an admission: I don’t much care for the original Land Rover. I do understand the rudiments of its appeal and acknowledge its unquestionable position in the pantheon, but I am becoming a little tired of being metaphorically beaten over the brow about how marvellous they are. Because, no matter how often I am pinned to a stout object and guided towards the path of righteousness by a defender of the faith, I simply cannot summon up the requisite reverence.

Despite seeming to have barely altered over their long production life, the Land Rover in fact altered quite significantly, if not so much as to lose sight of the truth to purpose it once espoused. However, such a protracted lifespan did mean that by the time it was finally laid to rest, not only did it look rather the anachronism it unquestionably was, there were notably better alternatives to be had. Let’s be clear, for most of its later years a Land Rover was anything but a rational choice.

Despite this, old-school Defenders remain a common sight around this enclave of West Cork, the majority being pristine late-era examples (like the one pictured above), never having got their feet particularly muddy, nor likely to. Of course, some are still hard-working vehicles – Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB) retain a fleet which appear well used – but mostly (and I don’t wish to sound snide), they appear to be purchased more for the semiotics they project than the utility they embody.

The fetishisation of automotive archetypes such as the Land Rover, JEEP, Ford Bronco, Suzuki Jimny and their ilk is a curious phenomenon of our times and one that deserves some unpicking. My personal feeling is that as the SUV concept and its multifarious mutations stake their irresistible claim as the dominant automotive species, there has been a perceived necessity for an origin fable; a rationalisation for a choice frequently neither rooted in need nor suitability.

Other views are of course available on both this and the Land Rover itself, but given the strength of feeling around its 2017 demise, it was always going to require a rather deft piece of footwork on the part of JLR to establish a credible successor. On one hand this succession has gone well – insofar as both press and customer body seem to approve of the new product as presented, and as matters stand, the latest Defender is amongst JLR’s most in-demand (and seemingly profitable) offerings.

However, amongst true LR believers, the sentiment is somewhat different. To their way of seeing, JLR has sold both itself and the Defender out – not that there was much likelihood of pleasing that particular sub-set of the enthusiast-base either way. One gets the sense however that JLR’s leadership are relatively unconcerned about this state of affairs – after all, the new Defender’s biggest challenge was to make its business case stack up – no small matter in the often cruel and unyielding economics of carbuilding.

I can’t say I’m profoundly concerned by this difference of opinion either, since like its elder forebear, the Defender as currently constituted has not the remotest appeal, but what I will state is that from a purely aesthetic perspective (one of the few areas I feel qualified to judge), the current model comes across as rather well executed. I of course state this without experience of how it drives, or indeed how well it fulfils the brief it was set.

I do have it on reliable authority that outward visibility is poor (a common failing of the current generation of aluminium-bodied JLR products) and that for such a large vehicle (and in 110 form it’s massive), it isn’t particularly spacious inside. But these second-hand observations aside, I might venture that given the nature of the outgoing Defender’s customer base and the utility to which these cars are latterly being put, the shift upmarket positions squarely where the majority of the customer-base now finds itself.

But others can better adjudicate these matters. I was simply struck by the juxtaposition of both generations of Defender parked alongside – so much so that I broke off from my rural-roads bike ride earlier in the week to briefly take the photo above.

I have no doubt that like most of the internet, you may hold an opinion (forceful or otherwise) on either subject of today’s image, so if you, dear reader wish to critique either example, from a design, roadability or fitness for purpose perspective, you are of course welcome to do so. However, I would kindly point out that I’m impervious to all appeals to Ur-Land Rover appreciation. Because if routinely riding road bikes for pleasure can be said to be a masochistic act (and I am informed this is the case), I emphatically have enough fetish in my life.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “A Photo for Sunday – No Defence”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Quite frankly Land Rovers both old and new leave me cold. My experience with the original Defender is limited to a short ride from a parking garage to ‘Het Loo’ palace where the Concours d’Elegance was held back in 2012. The car in question was an ex-army 109. I sat in the front next to the driver. The thing was so noisy that I had to raise my voice to an uncomfortable level to talk to the driver. The ride was terrible even on smooth surfaces. Speed never exceeded 50 kph and this car was freshly restored at the time. This car wasn’t build for comfort, it may go anywhere, but I was glad the trip was short. I’d rather walk.

    The Range Rover Sport was introduced in 2005, I believe. Sixteen years ago by now, but for the sake of argument I’d say it’s a modern JLR product. I had the opportunity to testdrive a full option 2.7 Diesel version. It’s the only car in over a thousand vehicles that I have driven that made me carsick while actually driving it. I’d rather walk.

    To each his/her own. These vehicles are not for me, but I guess they represent something that is irresistible for those who are unlike me. I guess there’s enough fetish in my life as well.

  2. Regarding the new Defender, all the more credit to the Skoda Yeti people for styling it for them in the first place.

    1. Good morning William. You’ve hit that particular nail squarely on the head:

  3. Good morning Eóin. I have only once driven a Defender, a 50th anniversary special edition V8 automatic SWB that we briefly considered buying. It was unbelievably terrible! The ride was skateboard-hard, it was incredibly noisy and cramped inside and God only knows where the V8’s power had gone, as it was desperately slow. Looked good, though, in a Tonka Toy manner:

    The old Defender lived on for so long, not because it was brilliantly fit for purpose, but because (J)LR couldn’t decide how (or if) it should be replaced.

    For those looking for a decent and cheap off-roader, the original Discovery is a much better bet and they are plenty around these parts, battered and well-used, but still giving their owners great service. For such owners, the new Defender is a shiny irrelevance, even for those that could afford it.

  4. Eóin, you have the Defender pinned to the wall with rapier-point accuracy. The original Land Rover was a masterpiece of functional design, far superior to the Jeep which inspired it and entirely fit for purpose – but very much of the times in which it first hit the ground upon which it was intended to perform. By the time it acquired the name “Defender” it was a poorly-constructed anachronism in the wrong market place.
    My late father, a life-long cyclist (much of my childhood was spent as ‘stoker’ on our tandem while my mother valiantly kept up with us on her single), avoided cars altogether until I was about 12, when he bought a second-hand Series 1 Land Rover. For him its appeal lay in the ability to get him more quickly into remote places which normally took days for us to reach by bike or on foot. Probably because it was one of the first vehicles I ever drove, the very primitive nature of the controls will always outweigh the discomfort, draughts and sheer effort involved in the experience.
    But that was then; the world has moved on. As an adult, not long married, I did once buy a Land Rover (Series 2) – off a farmer, in the dark. Not the best of moves – but it remains the only vehicle I have ever sold at a profit (and by then a non-runner). But I, like 99.9% of the population, have no justifiable need for an off-road vehicle and the entire breed is now, surely, an anachronism?

  5. Trust Andrew to be the spanner in the works; I’m a Def’ner fan through not owning one. Many years ago I was lucky enough to have a role which involved putting a 110 regularly through its paces. Purely on tarmac, country lanes, the bouncing suspension and back breaking seats just made me giggle. I found the thing hilarious but could never persuade myself to actually owning one. The work vehicle spent a lot of time in the workshop (because of me? ) and then was traded in for a Peugeot 405 estate of all things; an altogether different and being honest, better car.

    As already stated, not many people really need such a vehicle. The new Defender resides firmly in purlieus leafy as opposed to mountainous and I’ve yet to see a utility company using them. But as the commercial version appears I’m hoping that will change. Mining and quarrying areas usually have shed loads to spend on the appropriate vehicle. Slap some day-glo orange on and the whip aerials and the (some) aficionados will be satiated. But would a new ‘un fit down the mine? Might be difficult to strip down then rebuild with all their electrical assistances.

    Seeing a Landy wriggle up a hillside, sheepdog taking the air and the farmer parking the machine matter-of-fact-ly leaves a warm, fuzzy feeling. Seeing one outside the supermarket reminds me some people don’t have spinal issues. But I remain on Team Def’ner.

    Jolly nice photo, too, Eóin.

  6. I saw one of the new Land Rover Defenders on the road for the first time, a few days ago. My apologies in advance to anyone who owns one, but it looked very odd. It was huge – completely out of scale with its surroundings; I thought part of the point of the original was that it could go anywhere because it was light and compact – practically a 2-seater.

    The new one I saw had light-coloured vertical pipes on it, like drainpipes, almost, which made it look like small house travelling down the road. It would be the right size for the US – perhaps that’s the idea.

  7. One unintended consequence of the launch of the new Defender is that it appears to have severely impacted sales of the similarly sized Discovery in Europe and the US:

    2019—–9,766—– 9,184
    2020—–6,493—– 4,811

    * YTD, annualised

  8. Comparative Defender sales in Europe and the US:

    2020—– 8,729—-9,100

    * YTD, annualised

  9. I’ve seen a few new Defenders on the road now, and I am not keen. To me, it looks over designed, so much so that an owner might feel guilty attaching third party accessories to the vehicle, lest they not quite match the very studied aesthetic.

    It’s an aspirational lifestyle product, dressed to invoke Land Rover nostalgia… this is fine, but miles away from the ‘dual purpose’ claims made for it by its maker.

    Had it been badged a Discovery, it could have avoided this baggage. Instead, it just steals its sibling’s sales.

    JLR has wilfully abandoned the working vehicle market. Is this wise? Given their current woes, you’d think they’d want to widen their appeal as much as possible, not narrow it. No utility company, farmer or emergency service will ever do substantial business with Land Rover again, and the ‘authenticity’ that the brand craves is now over.

    1. Do they care? Mercedes has made bank abandoning the former image of the G-wagon, and JLR wants to follow in their very footsteps. Besides, the old Defender was the only vehicle to be an “honest work truck” in the entire range and certainly was an anachronism within the luxe-only image they’re trying to curate. I agree that the new Defender has a very tightly-guarded aesthetic and certainly don’t necessarily think it that great, but there’s no way it’s a Discovery! Discovery = 7 row luxe XC90 competitor, and this sure ain’t that. It certainly is a modern interpretation of Defender styling themes—maybe it should have been called the Defender MAX!

    2. Do they care? There are two answers. One is perhaps about how they ought to have cared. These kinds of vehicles have long lives in the show room. A renewed Defender (as per the renewed Jimny) could have sold steadily for another 15 years. The other answer is that they need not care. But did they need to care anyway? The new Defender will need to be replaced in seven years or so. It is neatly designed but most evidently is not intended as a thing to bash and scratch on muddy lanes in the Wolds. These days that market is buying a 18,000 GBP utility truck or a Jimny.

    3. Interesting that you mention the current G Wagen, sorry, G Class… a car that I keep making excuses for, despite myself. It is as self-consciously designed as the Defender, but the priorities seem different – see how proud they are about keeping those indicator turrets on the front corners of the car. It has indeed gone to inhabit a very different part of the market, but of course Mercedes retain a thriving commercial division. They will even sell you a reskinned compact Renault van, and this doesn’t seem to harm the brand at all.

      So yes, the G Class is now a defiantly luxury product – albeit a hugely capable one – but if you want utility, your Mercedes dealer will cater for those needs too.

  10. My perspective is similar to many commenters, don’t have a lot of exposure to the old LR, but they are quite cramped – those over 6′ must struggle. I see a lot of the old ones in the trendy inner city functioning as urban-proof transportation.

    I think the new one would make a great Disco, with a slight upgrade to the interior to amoore100’s point. It doesn’t have the workhorse, drive-across-Africa ethos of the old one, that’s for sure. Good luck fixing it in the middle of nowhere with basic hand tools, even if you do have internet service for info.

    Mind you the 70-series Landcruiser is similarly outdated and could really do with a proper update, even if it too has its die-hard loyalists.

    1. Hi John. Looking at the sales numbers, the new Defender is already, de facto, the new Discovery.

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