The biggest change to the Land Rover came in late 1990, when it became the Land Rover Defender, instead of the Land Rover Ninety or One Ten. This was because in 1989 the company had introduced the Discovery model, requiring the original Land Rover to acquire a name. The Discovery also had a new turbodiesel engine. This was also loosely based on the existing 2.5 litre turbo unit, and was built on the same production line, but had a modern alloy cylinder head, improved turbocharging, intercooling and direct injection. It retained the block, crankshaft, main bearings, cambelt system and other ancillaries as the Diesel Turbo. The breather system included an oil separator filter to remove oil from the air in the system, thus finally solving the Diesel Turbo's main weakness of re-breathing its own sump oil. The 200Tdi as the new engine was called produced 111 hp (83 kW) and 195 lb·ft (264 N·m) of torque, which was nearly a 25% improvement on the engine it replaced (although as installed in the Defender the engine was de-tuned slightly from its original Discovery specification (111 horsepower) due to changes associated with the exhaust).
This engine finally allowed the Defender to cruise comfortably at high speeds, as well as tow heavy loads speedily on hills while still being economical. In theory it only replaced the older Diesel Turbo engine in the range, with the other 4-cylinder engines (and the V8 petrol engine) still being available. However, the Tdi's combination of performance and economy meant that it took the vast majority of sales. Exceptions were the British Army and some commercial operators, who continued to buy vehicles with the 2.5 litre naturally-aspirated diesel engine (in the Army's case, this was because the Tdi was unable to be fitted with a 24 volt generator). Small numbers of V8-engined Defenders were sold to users in countries with low fuel costs or who required as much power as possible (such as in Defenders used as fire engines or ambulances).
Along with the 200Tdi engine, the 127's name was changed to the Land Rover Defender 130. The wheelbase remained the same; the new figure was simply a tidying up exercise. More importantly, 130s were no longer built from "cut-and-shut" 110s, but had dedicated chassis built from scratch.
1994 saw another development of the Tdi engine, the 300Tdi. Although the 200Tdi had been a big step forward, it had been essentially a reworking of the old turbocharged diesel to accept a direct injection system. In contrast the 300Tdi was virtually new, despite the same capacity, and both the Defender and the Discovery had engines in the same state of tune, 111 bhp (83 kW), 195 ft·lbf (264 N·m).
Throughout the 1990s the vehicle attempted to climb more and more upmarket, while remaining true to its working roots. If ordered without any optional extras, the Defender was a basic working tool. If the owner so wished, any number of options and accessories could transform it into a vehicle that was perfectly acceptable as an everyday method of transport, while still retaining excellent off-road abilities. This was epitomised by limited edition vehicles, such as the SV90 in 1992 with roll-over protection cage, alloy wheels and metallic paint and the 50th Anniversary 90 in 1998 equipped with automatic transmission, air conditioning and Range Rover 4.0 litre V8 engine.
A new variant was the Defender 110 Double Cab, featuring a Station Wagon style seating area, with an open pick up back. Although prototypes had been built in the Series days, it was not until the late 1990s that this popular and adaptable vehicle finally reached production.
Land Rover South Africa offered a unique Defender during the period the group was owned by BMW. Between 1997 and 2000, the Defender 90 and 110 were offered with a BMW petrol engine alongside the normal Tdi engine. The engine was the BMW M52 2800 cc, straight-six, 24-valve engine as found in the BMW 328i, 528i, 728i and the Z3. Power and torque output for this engine was 142 kW (193 hp) @ 5500 rpm and 280 Nm (207 ft-lb) @ 3500 rpm. This option was offered due to a demand for a petrol-driven alternative to the diesel engine after production of the V8 Defender had ended. The vehicles were built at Rosslyn outside Pretoria. Total production for the 2.8i was 632 Defender 90s and 410 Defender 110s. Early models were not speed-restricted, but later models were limited to 160 km/h. The higher speed and power of this unique model has made it into a highly collectable Land Rover, both in South Africa, and abroad in markets such as the UK.
In 1998 the Defender was fitted with an all-new 2.5 litre, five-cylinder in-line turbodiesel engine, badged the Td5. The Tdi could not meet upcoming Euro III emissions regulations so the Td5 replaced the Tdi as the only available power unit. The engine used electronic control systems and produced 122 hp (91 kW) @ 4850 rpm, 11 hp (8 kW) more than the Tdi, with improved refinement. Traditionalists were critical of the electronic systems deployed throughout the vehicle, but concerns that these would fail when used in extreme conditions proved unfounded.
From Spring 2007 a series of long-anticipated changes were made to the Defender, most of which were implemented to meet emissions and safety legislation. The biggest change was to the drivetrain. The Td5 engine was replaced by an engine from Ford's DuraTorq line, built in their factory in Dagenham, making the Td5 the last Land Rover engine to be built in-house at Solihull. The engine chosen was from the ZSD family, being a version of the 2.4 litre four-cylinder unit also used in the highly successful Ford Transit. The engine's lubrication and sealing system has been adapted for use in wet, dusty conditions and to maintain lubrication at extreme angles in off-road use. Re-tuning the engine means that the power level remains the same at 122 hp (91 kW), but with a lower power peak speed to provide better performance when towing and better acceleration. Torque output rose from 221 lb·ft (300 N·m) to 265 lb·ft (359 N·m) due to the fitting of a variable-geometry turbocharger. This also helps produce a much wider spread of torque than the Td5, from 1500 rpm to 2000 rpm. The engine is mated to a new 6-speed gearbox. 1st gear is lower than the previous gearbox for better low-speed control, whilst the higher 6th gear is intended to reduce noise and fuel consumption at high speeds.
The other major changes were to the interior. The dashboard layout of the original One Ten from 1983 (which was in turn very similar to that used on the Series III from 1971) was replaced with a full-width fascia and different instrumentation. Instruments came from the Discovery 3, and some of the centre panels come from the Ford Transit. Some switchgear was carried over from the previous interior. A new heater/ventilation system vastly improved de-misting and heater performance.
Other interior changes were to the seating layout. Legislation from the European Union outlaws the inward-facing seats used in the rear of previous Land Rover Station Wagons. The 2007 Defender replaced the 4 inward-facing seats with two forward-facing seats. This makes the Defender 90 Station Wagon a four seater vehicle (reduced from six or seven), and the Defender 110 Station Wagon a seven seater (reduced from nine). Whilst this is a big reduction in capacity, it brings the Defender in line with its competitors which have generally used this layout for many years. A new bodystyle was introduced on the 110 Station Wagon chassis- the 'Utility'. This was a 5-door Station Wagon body but with the rearmost seats removed and the rear side panels left without windows, producing a 5-seater vehicle with a secure, weatherproof load space.
The only external changes were detail changes. The bonnet was reshaped with a bulge to allow the new engine to fit in the engine bay whilst meeting pedestrian safety rules. The new dashboard and ventilation system necessitated the removal of the distinctive air vent flaps underneath the windscreen which had been a feature of all previous Land Rover utility models. Whilst the flaps have been deleted, the bulkhead pressing remains the same, so the outlines of where the flaps would be are still present.
Now, more than ever, there is a strong division in sales pitch between the Station Wagon versions and the commercially-intended Pick-Ups and Van-bodied versions. The "XS" Station Wagon was introduced in 2002 as a top-specification level and the "County" package could be applied to every model in the line-up. XS models come with many "luxury" features, such as heated windscreen, heated seats, air conditioning, ABS and leather seats. Popular with buyers in the UK and other developed countries, who either used the vehicle for on-road duties such as towing or people-moving, or simply as an interesting and fashionable alternative to an estate car.
At the other extreme, basic models were still popular with farmers, industrial and commercial users, as well as the emergency services. It finds willing buyers in over 140 countries. Land Rover still provides a staggering range of special conversions such as hydraulic platforms, fire engines, mobile workshops, ambulances and breakdown recovery trucks. The 130 remains available with the 6-seater HCPU bodystyle as standard.
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