Like every legend, the Land Rover story has a monumental beginning. In 1948, after the end of World War II, Rover designed the Land Rover prototype inspired by the classic wartime military car Willys. Rover didn’t expect Land Rover to be so popular at first, and now it seems that they should be thankful that they didn’t kill the brand in the early days.
Today, Land Rover has a development history of more than 70 years. From a single model at the beginning, it has developed into a prosperous scene of several series and multiple models. When we gathered the representative models of the Defender at each stage, we seemed to feel the flow of time and space and the changes of reincarnation in the past seventy years. Paying homage to the classics in such a way is probably the dream of off-road vehicle fans, including us.
1948 Land Rover Series I
Thanks to the great help of the Land Rover Australia Owners Club, we have the opportunity to complete this test drive. The Land Rover Series I in front of us has factory number 138 and is the first Land Rover to be registered in Australia. Needless to say, its status almost represents the legendary starting point of the Land Rover family.
The owner of this Series I, Chris, didn’t just keep it as a collection, but actually drove it over mountains and mountains to complete the work that a Land Rover should have done. For its age, the vehicle is in very good condition. The design concept of Land Rover at the beginning of its birth was to use it as an agricultural vehicle. This Series I did serve in a farm most of the time. It was restored in the 1990s and purchased by Chris in 2003.
In addition to awe and admiration, we might as well examine this legendary ancestor with today’s eyes. This Series I not only represented the craftsmanship and manufacturing level at that time, but also established the hardcore and rough style of the Defender series. It has no handle on the door, if you want to enter the car, you must pull it from the inside of the door. The roof is simply covered with canvas, rather than the usual metal panels of today. I have long been spoiled by various power steering, and it is difficult to adapt to its heavy and obscure steering wheel.
The ignition method of the Series I is different from other vehicles. After the key is turned on, a button needs to be pressed to start the engine. The one-button start system that is now regarded as a promotional highlight by many models has appeared in the 1940s. Although the start-up process is a bit cumbersome, it adds a sense of ceremony when facing such a legendary model. When the vehicle was restored, the original car seat was replaced, and the comfort and sitting posture of the new seat are not bad. The rearview mirror is arranged on the top of the door frame on the driver’s side, which is of little help to the driver’s vision.
Since there is no synchronizer in the first gear, it takes a certain learning cost to drive. Only the “two-legged clutch” technology that veteran drivers are familiar with can be demonstrated on this car. This Series I is equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, which needs to maintain a certain speed during driving to provide sufficient momentum for the vehicle. Its maximum power is only 40kW, and its peak output torque is only 108 Nm. No matter from which point of view, the power is not strong. By today’s evaluation standards, its steering can be described as terrible. The steering wheel has a lot of space, and it is not easy to ensure straight driving. In addition, without any power assist system, the steering wheel is very heavy, and the operation of turning around in place is even more difficult than drifting.
Its front and rear wheels use drum brakes, so the braking efficiency is affected to a certain extent. Fortunately, the Series I is relatively light in weight, so there is no need to worry too much about using it. But the striped tires, the same ones used on farm machinery, don’t provide enough grip, so be careful on slippery roads. It takes a lot of patience and skill to drive this classic Land Rover. It is hard to imagine how Chris has driven it so far. While enjoying the fun of off-roading, being able to appreciate the charm of historical accumulation is probably the real meaning of driving this Series I.
1991 Land Rover Defender 90
The original Land Rover basic models included long and short wheelbase, Station Wagon, and pickup trucks, and successively produced Series I, Series II, Series II(a), Series III, etc. from 1948 to 1983 A range of car models. After decades of development, Land Rover’s base model wasn’t officially named the Defender until 1990, a testament to its widespread use in the military. Compared with the original Series I, the body shape of the Defender has undergone relatively large changes, and the body size has also increased significantly.
When the Defender was officially launched, two different versions, long wheelbase and short wheelbase, were provided, and they were distinguished by “90” and “110” in naming. This naming method has continued to this day. In addition to the improvements in appearance, the Defender has also been greatly improved in other aspects. It uses coil springs as the elastic components in the suspension, which greatly increases the suspension stroke on the one hand and ensures the passability of the vehicle when off-road; on the other hand, it also has a significant effect on improving the driving comfort. In addition, it borrows from the Range Rover’s four-wheel drive system and provides a two-speed transfer case and a central differential lock to further enhance the off-road performance of the vehicle.
The owner of this Defender 90 is Peter Mitchell. Since the car was not sold in the Australian market at the time, he bought it from the previous owner through smuggling. The previous owner drove this Defender to many countries and regions in Europe and Africa. In terms of these two aspects, this car has a very precious collection value.
Improvements to the interior have been made in line with the design trends of the time, with a one-piece windshield replacing the previous two-piece design. It can also be clearly seen from the interior design that this generation of Defenders has begun to focus on the use of passenger cars, rather than the original agricultural machinery vehicles. In this version of the model, the design of a row of three seats is still retained, but the comfort and support have been greatly improved. The layout of the switch buttons on the center console is reasonable and clear, which is convenient for the driver to operate.
Its driving and handling experience is close to that of modern vehicles. The new suspension design has significantly improved the comfort, and it can easily cope with large road bumps. However, the most important improvement should be the addition of power steering, which makes it easier and more precise to control the direction of the vehicle while it is moving. Although the steering wheel is still slightly heavy at low speeds, the larger diameter lessens this effect to a certain extent.
This car is equipped with a brand new 2.5TDi diesel engine, which has obvious hysteresis at low speeds, and needs to maintain a relatively high speed when starting. But once the vehicle is moving, the 2.5-liter engine will provide quite ample torque output in the 2500-3500rpm speed range. In addition, the gearbox it matches uses five forward gears, which has a higher maximum speed than the old model with four forward gears.
Land Rover Defender 90 Heritage Edition
The most embarrassing thing is the hero’s twilight. After decades of glory and glory, Land Rover announced in 2015 that the current Defender will be discontinued. In honor of the legendary tough guy who fascinates all off-roaders, Land Rover has introduced three limited-edition models, one of which is today’s third car, the Defender 90 Heritage Edition.
This Defender 90 Heritage Edition is limited to 2,564 units worldwide, and it has already been sold out. It features the same Grasmere Green livery as the original Land Rover legend HUE 166, with an Alaskan White roof. Many other designs of the body also pay tribute to the original classics, including the steel wheels of the old Land Rover, the original Land Rover logo, and the unique plastic air intake grille, etc., which look full of retro style.
In terms of interior, the light apricot yellow seat surface is embossed with the retro Land Rover logo, the shift lever and the four-wheel drive gear lever are respectively marked in yellow and red, and there is a metal nameplate on the center console. The tribute to the place can’t help but give full marks to this persistent feeling. The aluminum decorative panels on the inner side of the door panels, air outlets and other positions show a modern design style, which does not conflict with the retro atmosphere of the vehicle, but instead presents us with a sense of impact interlaced by history and reality.
There’s no doubt that the Heritage Edition is a much better ride than the previous two cars, but it’s still not comfortable. Due to the short wheelbase design, there are only two doors at the front, and the rear passengers need to enter and exit through the tailgate. In addition, the rear space is relatively cramped, and passengers with a height of more than 165 centimeters will feel more depressed. Fortunately, its front seats have a satisfactory performance for the driver.
In terms of power, it is equipped with a brand-new 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel engine with a maximum power of 90kW and a peak output torque of 360 Nm. It is matched with a six-speed manual transmission. It continues the excellent off-road performance of the Defender series, but we have not fully tested its true strength. After all, there are fewer than 50 in Australia, and this car belongs to one lucky owner in Sydney.
Its steering is still relatively vague, and it will shake when bumps, so don’t be too demanding on its performance in corners. But this does not prevent it from being a very fun off-road vehicle. When you hold its steering wheel, you will even feel that you are driving an off-road legend. If you are lucky enough to put it in your own garage, you can deeply appreciate the continuation of this hard-core off-road spirit in the Defender.
No matter what changes the next-generation model will have, I believe the legendary hardcore off-road spirit will not change. This kind of persistence should also be approved and pursued by all off-road vehicle fans.