Why you’d want a Land Rover 90, 110 or Defender
The Land Rover was steadily improved following its launch in 1948.
Mechanical changes had arrived at a glacial speed since the introduction of the 2¼-litre engine in 1958 and its diesel equivalent in 1961 – and the looks had been little-changed since the Series III of 1971.
A sign of things to come appeared in 1979 with the Stage 1 V8, incorporating a detuned Range Rover engine and LT95 gearbox with permanent four-wheel drive: all were on 109in chassis and most were exported.
The formation of Land Rover Ltd as a separate company within British Leyland finally meant attention was paid to updating the legend to compete with the plethora of rivals eating into its market.
The name ‘Defender’ would be adopted in 1990 to differentiate the original car from the recently introduced Discovery – when launched in 1983-’85 the models were known as the One-Ten, the Ninety and the 127, denoting the different wheelbase options.
Visually distinguished by their one-piece windscreens, full-length bonnets, flat fronts and wheelarch flares, under the skin they featured coil-sprung suspension, permanent four-wheel drive, a five-speed ’box, high/low ratios and central diff lock, front disc brakes with a servo, more comfortable seats, wind-up windows, better soundproofing, power steering (an extra at first) and the option of the V8 across the range. All this without any reduction in its superb off-road ability.
Pick-up and van bodies, as well as the usual range of specific-purpose versions, continued as purely working vehicles, but the County estate with its luxurious interior – with carpets, even! – was aimed at family transport and its equipment level was regularly updated.
The vast array of variants, special editions and upgrades – in 2007, when there was only one engine, there were 27 listed models – means that just about every car you see will have a different spec.
If originality matters, try to establish that everything is at least period-correct – but if not, just search for the spec you want and make sure any upgrades have been carried out properly and completely.
Rust, especially in the chassis and bulkhead, can be a killer, followed by extreme off-roading, which could have distorted the chassis and damaged the running gear.
But at least you won’t need a ramp to get underneath and have a good look – just overalls and a decent torch.
Images: James Mann
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Engine and gearbox
Only the earliest 90s/110s had this 2.3-litre unit, but many later engines were derived from it. Simple and strong, they wear like any other.
V8s suffer more from neglect due to alloy construction, Tdis need cambelt changes and the Ford-based later units suffer electronic control maladies and failing diesel pumps.
Check the low ratio and diff locks work (engage and drive in a tight circle: you should hear tyre slip); look for leaks from the axles/gearbox/transfer box.
Chassis rot varies with use and abuse. Check everywhere, especially all of the crossmembers, suspension/steering mounts and outriggers,
Check the hub swivel balls for signs of damage and rust; factory parts are preferable here because aftermarket components have been known to fail
Trim became steadily more luxurious over the years – and less durable. It rarely survives as well as this, though retrimming isn’t usually too costly.
Compared to a contemporary car the driving position is cramped, upright and uncomfortable, but after a Series Landie it’s pure luxury!
Even this early 90 will cruise at 70mph and, though heavy and unaerodynamic, they became ever more refined and capable over the decades
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender: on the road
With the Defender weighing up to 2 tonnes or more, performance is purposeful rather than effortless even with the V8 – but all have tremendous pulling power.
The original Land Rover 2.3 and 2.5 engines are immensely strong and durable (250,000 miles between rebuilds is not unusual).
Lack of maintenance shortens life expectancy hugely, especially in Diesel Turbo or Tdi form, so look for evidence of regular care and be wary of excessively smoky engines, especially if accompanied by rattles and leaks.
Tdis need a cambelt change every 60k miles or five years in normal use (72k/6 years for the 300Tdi), or 30k/2.5 years in adverse conditions; if there’s no proof it’s been done, change it. Watch for water pump and radiator leaks, too.
Ford Duratorq engines are great when working and can do high miles, but need new injectors (£250 each) at 100,000 miles and if the fuel pump fails (100k+), swarf can damage the fuel system, costing £2k-plus to sort. Use a good-quality diagnostics reader to check historic fault codes.
The transmission is extremely durable but, again, only provided it’s maintained and not overly abused. Off-road fans should regularly change the transmission and axle oils to avoid water contamination.
The same applies to the suspension: military users have reported increasing issues with parts quality, including swivel housings snapping off. Use genuine parts where possible, though even these are dropping in quality as OE manufacture ends and aftermarket parts appear in branded packaging.
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender price guide
- Show/rebuilt (early-late/specials) £25-75,000
- Average (early/mid-late) £10/30,000
- Restoration (early-mid) £2500
Prices correct at date of publication
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender history
1983 One-Ten (later 110): 62bhp diesel, 74bhp petrol or 114bhp V8 (later 134bhp)
1984 Diesel up to 2.5, 68bhp; Ninety (later 90) added as 2.5 diesel/2.3 petrol; five-speed
1985 127 arrives; 2.5-litre 83bhp petrol replaces 2.3; V8 option on 90
1986 Diesel Turbo option: 85bhp, 150lb ft
1990 Defender name adopted: 200Tdi engine has 107bhp, 195lb ft; 127 renamed 130
1994 111bhp, 195lb ft 300Tdi replaces 200; V8 gets injection; XD braced chassis for Army
1995 V8 option dropped
1999 TD5 five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbodiesel: 122bhp, 221/232lb ft
2002 XS top spec added
2004 Steel doors
2007 2.4-litre Transit turbodiesel, Getrag six-speed ’box, Discovery dash, steel bonnet
2011 2.2-litre: DPF, 120bhp; soft-top returns
2016 Jan Production ends
MERCEDES-BENZ G-WAGEN W460/461
Built by Steyr-Puch, with a separate chassis, petrol or diesel power, three locking diffs at first then permanent 4WD. Beware early rust and later complexity.
Sold 1979-date • No. built 300,000 built to 2017 • Price now £12,500-50,000
Rugged and basic with four- and six-cylinder engines, the Jeep is often seen as a topless fun car, but was a hardtop, too. Beware rot, off-road abuse and mods.
Sold 1986-date • No. built 3,314,905 built to 2016 • Price now £5000-40,000
Prices correct at date of publication
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The ultimate incarnation of a British institution, the Defender combines incomparable workhorse toughness and unbeatable off-road fun in classy (or classless) transport.
Incredibly durable, they are also often terribly abused and the driving experience is not for everyone, so be sure to try before you buy.
Now that it’s out of production, demand for good examples is increasing and lightly used, well-cared-for examples – especially of older models – are very hard to find.
- Built like a tank
- The Defender is a fun and highly usable example of a great British icon
- There’s good parts and specialist support
- They’re often driven like a tank
- The many heavily modified or abused examples are rarely worth the time and money required to bring them back to anything like original condition
Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender specifications
- Sold/number built 1983-2016/c665,000
- Construction steel chassis, steel/aluminium body
- Engine iron, ohv 2283/2495cc petrol/diesel ‘four’ (alloy head on Tdi); alloy 3528cc V8 petrol; iron/alloy, ohc 2498cc diesel ‘five’; iron/alloy, dohc 2401/2198cc diesel ‘four’; 62bhp @ 4000rpm to 122bhp @ 4850rpm; 103lb ft @ 1800rpm to 265lb ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission four/five/six-speed manual, 4WD
- Suspension live axle, coil springs, radius arms, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r (front Panhard rod from 1998)
- Steering worm and roller, optional power assistance
- Brakes 9½in (240mm) discs front, 10in (254mm) drums rear, servo; later 11¾in (298mm) discs f/r; transmission brake
- Length 12ft 9in (3894mm)
- Width 5ft 10in (1790mm)
- Height 6ft 5½in (1968mm)
- Wheelbase 93-127in (2360-3226mm)
- Weight from 3534lb (1603kg)
- 0-60mph 15.1 secs (2007 TD 90)
- Top speed 85mph (2007 TD 90)
- Mpg 12-25
- Price new £23,565 (110 County, 2000)