Part of owning a vintage Land Rover Defender is appreciating the unique character of not only an English-built vehicle, but also one that is at least 25 years old. Driving one is an experience you’ll never forget. You will either love it or hate it. What type of driver/person you are probably impacts your perspective more than the Defender itself.
We get a lot of questions at the Bishop+Rook workshop about what it’s like to drive a Defender, from the uniqueness of driving a right hand drive (RHD) vehicle on American roads for the first time to coping with shifting with the opposite hand. We generally have a fairly straight forward response to those inquiries: you get used to it pretty quickly.
While we do build quite a few left hand drive (LHD) Defenders – including automatic conversions – we never really know how to respond to the question of: “What would it take to make this 30 year old Land Rover Defender a reliable and comfortable daily driver … on the highway?”
This is such a complicated question, which we generally have a good conversation about – if we’re lucky enough to have a phone or face to face conversion. When someone emails us or posts a message to us somewhere across social channels, this becomes a much more difficult question to answer for us.
Yes, we do look at your photos and try to figure out a bit about you. If you have tons of outdoor photos of you relaxing in nature, we generally think you’ll love it. If you’re standing by a series of high-end exotic cars wearing lots of bling (does that make out sound old when we say that?) – the Defender driving experience is probably going to be a tough transition.
Beyond our simple judgemental categorizations (we’re really sorry), we’ll help address this issue with a series of questions you should ask yourself:
- Have you ever driven an older car? What was your first car? Was it something from the 90’s? Older?
- Do you have minimal mechanical ability? Not so much that you’ll need to fix something, but if something goes wrong you won’t panic and tell people the Defender is the worst vehicle on the planet.
- How important are things like air conditioning, listening to a podcast while you commute, Rolls Royce sound deadening?
- Have you ever driven a manual before? Are you willing to learn?
- How many speeding tickets do you get in a year? Are speed limits a nice suggestion or a practical matter of physics when driving a vehicle with aerodynamics of an open refrigerator?
- Do you prefer freeway driving or back roads?
The truth is that a Defender can be a lovely daily driver if you adjust your driving habits. You will drive slower, but enjoy the experience more. We’ve developed an exceptional sound deadening system that can make the cabin noise more tolerable, but it’s still not a door-thunking-S-Class-Mercedes experience. We install very nice sound systems in many of our Defenders and you can listen to any tunes you would like. And the most important is that old diesels are on the road still because they’re genuinely reliable.
Here are some basic data points about a vintage Defender:
- The ones eligible for sale in the US are all 25 years or older
- Most are Diesel, but there are some are V8 Petrol/Gas
- Top speed from the factory on most of them are around 70-75, with rumors of someone reaching 80 once
- They are made of a combination of aluminum panels and steel frame – making for an exceptional drum-like interior (without sound abatement measures)
- Diesels get around 25-32 MPG, Petrol V8 around 11-14 (on a good day)
- There are plenty of upgrade options in all areas (which increases the cost)
We hope this helps a little bit as you think of a Defender as a daily driver. Having it a a second vehicle is a 100% thumbs-up from us. As a daily driver, as long as you’re prepared, can be very lovely. Our founder (me) drives one everyday and loves it every time the engine starts.
For those who have driven a Defender or have one as a daily driver, what advice would you give to prospective owners? Send us a note on the form below and we’ll update this post with your thoughts.
One Final Warning:
You will need to be prepared for a lot of thumbs-up, smiles, head nods, waves, and overall added affection from the public should you drive one of these vehicles on a daily basis. Sorry, it’s just part of the package.