We’ve written a few guides over the years on the various ways you can buy or build a Defender, but one of the gaps in information tends to be around the various levels of Defender quality and preservation/restoration approaches. We’ve organized the Defenders we see on the market for sale into a few tidy categories to help you decide which one is right for you – and who you should buy from.
These categories should be universally true, no matter where you buy your Defender – we’re a little bias towards ourselves, but hopefully most of this will remain somewhat neutral.
Used Land Rover Defenders
Ask anyone online if you should buy a classic Defender and every single person that has never owned a Defender will say, “why would you do that, they’re unreliable!” They’re not wrong, they’re just referring to any 25+ year old vehicle that hasn’t been properly maintained. Even a 25 year old Honda Accord could give you issues if it wasn’t taken care of. And let’s be honest, being broken down on the side of the road in a rusty old Honda would be way less fun than being broken down in a Defender. Half the enjoyment of a Defender is simply leaning against it anyway. Bring snacks and drinks and any break down will turn into a picnic.
The truth is that all old cars can be unreliable, the Defender is no different. Rust, corrosion, wiring loom technology, wearable parts, and just overall neglect can impair any vehicle. No cars are exempt.
Out of curiosity, we looked at the MOT history of Jeremy Carkson’s Range Rover (used on his farm) and it’s had years of MOT advisories for various maintenance issues. It felt good to know that the car guy of all car guys still has to do maintenance to keep their vehicles on the road.
Used Land Rover Defenders for Sale
The first major category of Land Rover Defenders you will find in the US (or worldwide): Used Defenders for Sale. This category can be broken down into a few sub-categories, so we’ve gone ahead and done that here.
There are a lot of these listed on various websites for sale – usually followed by, “No low ball offers, I know what I got.” The truth is, they know what they’re trying to get rid of. They’ve neglected their Defender to the point where it’s not economically viable for them to keep anymore. A couple fun key phrases that accompany these listings: “Needs a little work. Will throw in the extra parts I have (that I don’t know how to put on). Good project for someone. Starts Every Time! (if you pray to the gods and get a running start).”
Previously Used Defenders
These Land Rover Defenders are the most common. They’ve been used, but maintained. They have battle scars, chassis issues, mechanical leaks, old tyres, bad batteries, and likely some differed maintenance issue. If you’re mechanically inclined and patient, these could be fun projects for the farm, but not likely reliable for daily or even weekend driving. You’ll need a proper service first.
Generally Used and Maintained Defenders
These Defenders have been loved by their previous keepers and have been modified to suit their needs. They’re generally good solid bases for restoration or to enjoy as-is Most of the Defenders we start with come from this category, as we almost exclusively source our Defenders from private parties – that way we can hear the history of the Defender ourselves and meet really awesome people in the process. Most of these owners will keep maintenance logs – even if they’ve done some of the work themselves (which should be viewed as a good thing).
Polished Up Used Defenders
This is a tough category, and one we hate to see the most. There are several dealers/traders/importers that sell these Defenders to the US market. This isn’t unique to UK Defenders, either. We’ve seen tarted up Defenders come from Spain, Italy, France, and especially Turkey.
The telltale signs you’re looking at a “Polished Up Used Defender” are a fresh paint job, a set of new rims (but not tyres), and the lovely “County Wagon” stickers running down the side to distract you from the terrible paint job.
Some companies, with questionable moral compasses, find broken down Defenders across the countryside (many with long failed MOT histories and been off the road for years). They do the cheapest (Sub-Macco level) paint job they can do (no prep work, shoddy masking, and low quality paint), while spending the minimal amount of money. They advertise them as USA EXPORTABLE and will claim a long history of Defender exporting. A little research will find that they’ve changed the name of their company 5 times in 4 years to continue the grift. Do not trust these Defenders. It is not a good deal.
The second phase from this scam/deception comes from the USA Importer who buys up a bunch of these garbage Defenders and sells them out of their driveway – advertising them as “recently restored” or “new paint and updates.” Their intentions are not always evil, for many of them they just don’t know any better. For some, they do know better, they just don’t care.
We’ve seen far too many Defenders in this category come through our shop for service and rescue – from the same set of overseas builders. These Defenders are mechanical and safety nightmares. Despite this being a known scam on the market for years and years, new people to the Defender world are often taken by the low price and perceived good looks of these Defenders. Run away. Run really far away.
Refreshed Land Rover Defenders
This is a good category to look at for those who just want a simple fun car to drive, that will be fairly easy to maintain over the years, but will give a lot of love in return. A properly serviced and refreshed Defender will have all the major mechanical elements checked out – brakes, cooling, fuel, electrical, clutch, timing belt, water pump, battery, tyres, etc. They will be solid and reliable for years to come as long as you take care of them.
Most of the refresh should be mechanical, although we do see a lot of cosmetic refreshes alone. If someone’s priority is a roof rack and spare wheel carrier and not a timing belt and coolant flush, then you should have concerns. Always focus on the mechanical history first. Everything else can be added later.
The difference in price between the category above and the refresh category is usually the price of a good intense service job. It could be as much as $10,000 to recover from a tarted up Defender – so you should view that as the delta from the beginning and plan accordingly. We always recommend you just spend the money up front vs. being drained slowly over time by repairs.
Restored Land Rover Defenders
There is a bit of a spectrum on restored Defenders – most of which comes down to the individuals idea of what a restoration means. For us, it means taking the Defender mostly apart, eliminating any rust/corrosion, fixing up or replacing poor body work, rebuild motors/gearboxes/transfer cases, rebuilding axles, upgrading brakes and clutch, refreshing interiors, and overall going through and touching every single aspect of the vehicle with the simple approach of: refresh, replace, restore. Not everything needs to be a new part, it just needs to be taken back to factory condition.
Rebuilt Land Rover Defenders
We provide a lot of driving restoration and preservation series Defender restorations, but the core of our daily work falls into the custom build Land Rover Defender category. When we get customers looking for a daily driver, this is the Defender they should be thinking about.
For a custom built Land Rover Defender, every single part, piece, nut, bolt, panel, seal, etc. is removed and restored. The engine, gearbox, transfer case, axles, and electrical are rebuilt or replaced. The interior is re-trimmed or replaced with something custom – including headliner, seats, carpets, sound deadening, trim panels, and more. The goal is to rebuild the Defender to the factory (or better) condition, while making changes and enhancements to suit the new customer. These custom Land Rover Defender builds will last a lifetime of adventure.
High End Land Rover Defender Builders
There are a lot of other companies that offer custom built Defenders in the market, of course – including a lot of them that we respect and admire. There are the obvious ones like Arkonic, The Land Rovers, and ECD which have pioneered the high-end Defender builds. Without them, the demand for Defenders would not be what it is today, but not everyone has $250,000 to spend on a Defender. We like to believe we build just as good of a Defender, but charge a lot less. Some of the price difference is that we tend to eliminate the “replace everything with new” and use a “preserve what you can, restore what’s necessary, replace what needs to be replaced’ approach.
Land Rover Defender Assembly Builders
Some custom Land Rover Defender builders in the US, focusing on LS swaps will have the body and chassis build overseas in the UK, Spain, or Portugal where parts and labor are cheaper and simply assemble them here in their workshops. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as it’s nice and efficient.
Middle Men, Brokers, and Other Defender Marketers
Over the past couple of years, a new category of Land Rover Defender “Builder” has popped up. The group includes both individuals and workshops that have their Defenders built by someone else and just re-badge them as their own. They have no workshop and can offer no US-based support, as they simple market the products of someone else and charge a huge markup for the privilege.
While there is nothing wrong with this approach, we struggle with the ethical aspects. If a company selling you a Defender does not do the work themselves, does not own the tools to do so, or have the knowledge and experience that comes from being hands-on with a build, would you trust them to support you down the road once the initial luster wears off and they lose personal and financial interest inf your Defender?
Maybe we’re just a little jealous of the polished concrete floors, leather desk chairs, and quiet photo studios they spend their time in – or maybe we just feel like the person who builds you a Defender should be the one actually building you a Defender.
At Bishop+Rook, we take pride in our craftsmanship. We have built an amazing network of local suppliers, fabricators, trimmers, part suppliers, and restoration experts that support each of our three workshops (Salisbury, Engand and Minnesota, USA). We own the Defender build process from start to finish, and because you’re going direct to the team building you a Defender, there’s an obvious removal of the unnecessary middle man who’s not adding anything of value to the end result. We build Defenders start to finish, and we can’t imagine doing it any other way.
If you’re considering buying a used Land Rover Defender or having a custom Land Rover Defender built for you, there’s only a couple questions you need to ask:
Can you give me a tour of your workshop and tools used to maintain or build the Defender you’re offering for sale?
How long have you been in business as your current company name and location?
Can you show me the behind-the-scenes steps of a typical Land Rover Defender you’ve build?
Can I visit you and see work being done on the Defender?
Are you a scammer?
Comments + Questions
If you have any questions about his guide, feel free to drop us a message.