The Hunt for the Defender Unicorn
How to find the perfect Defender that matches your expectations and budget.
Updated: August 2021 Edited: Winter 2022
With so many options to acquire (good and bad) or build a Defender these days, it can become a stressful and confusing process. We tend to be pretty straightforward about our process and offering, which is why we’ve continued to update this particular post over the years. This is advice we wish we had when we got our first Defender.
For us, it’s never about selling a Defender – it’s more about making sure a Defender is the right choice for our customers – and helping them find the right one. You really have two choices when looking to get a Land Rover Defender:
- Build a Custom Land Rover Defender
- Buy a Used Land Rover Defender
While we are primarily known for building custom Defenders from the ground up these days, our roots go back to sourcing and importing fairly basic Defenders from the UK, doing some work on them, enjoying them for a bit, and then passing them along to new caretakers. We still do this sometimes with our Preservation Series Defenders, but this article is focused more on those looking for an affordable entry-level Defender (under $45,000 or so) they can immediately drive and enjoy.
Those those looking to build a Custom Defender, we’ve published another article about finding a good custom Land Rover Defender builder: When Buying a Custom Land Rover Defender, Pick the Right Vendor
Chasing the Unobtainium or the Defender Unicorn
Every day we get requests from someone looking for a mint condition Land Rover Defender 110, with perfect paint, no rust, left-hand drive, automatic, upgraded doors, low mileage motor, perfect headliner, and a full tank of gas–for $18k delivered. We hate getting this request.
Not because we don’t like the dreamers searching for their perfect Unicorn Defender, but because we feel like we let people down when we have to remind them what they’re getting into when starting down this path. A cheap Defender will always be a cheap Defender. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, far too many unethical sellers/dealers are looking to take advantage of inexperienced buyers with the early emotional enthusiasm and excitement to buy a Defender.
Many first-time dreamers will begin with a base idea in their head of the vintage Land Rover Defender they want to adopt but then start adding creature comforts, accessories, roof racks, new seats, and other upgrades while still keeping the same base price in their mind.
Our advice: Focus on the basics – a good solid and reliable driving Defender that has been cared for and certified or checked over to ensure you’re starting with a good foundation.
Killing dreams sucks, but if we help someone avoid missteps or costly mistakes along the way, then we’ve done the right thing.
When you understand what you’re getting into when considering a Land Rover Defender purchase, the experience will be so much better.
We try not to be mean, but it’s hard not to simply say: “stop chasing the impossible.”
What Makes a Great Starter Land Rover Defender
We think we’re nice people, which is why we’re going to write a simple guide on how to get the perfect starter Land Rover Defender without breaking the bank, and making the kind folks at Bishop+Rook (us) feel bad — or having us spend days pricing out upgrades/enhancements to a Land Rover Defender only to find out later your spouse was unaware of your late night emails to us.
The Basics of a Perfect Starter Land Rover Defender
The perfect first defender has 4 wheels, some doors (any number), a motor that starts/stops, and a valid US-based title.
Ok, maybe you have a color preference and don’t want too much rust, but the basics should be a running and driving vehicle that you can burn through a tank of fuel without having to think about what that crazy “rattle” is coming from the back window.
They’re Defenders. Old ones. They were very agricultural, to begin with, and they always will be. 25-year-old cars do strange things, make odd noises, and require “driving” to keep them in tip-top condition. Even fresh off the production line, they were a little rough around the edges.
Doing it right: Take Alex for example (standing with Lucy above). Him and his partner Elizabeth (both hearing impaired) were looking for a Defender they could convert to a camper they could take to South America to film a documentary about people with disabilities in remote areas. He told us what he wanted to do with a Defender, gave us a budget and timeline …. we found Lucy (a 1992 Land Rover Defender 110 2-door 5 speed 200Tdi Diesel). Truth is that Lucy was supposed to be Bishop+Rook’s new film truck, but we caved when we heard the story.
Base Defender Pricing Expectations
If you’re not a car restoration expert or a mechanic, here should be your baseline expectations for pricing on a vehicle you would be happy driving away with and going on your first adventure. Keep in mind that these are BEFORE any extra features and enhancements are added:
- Land Rover Defender 90 (RHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $35,000 – 40,000 USD
- Land Rover Defender 110 (RHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $45,000 – 49,000 USD
- Land Rover Defender 90 (LHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $45,000 – 45,00 USD
- Land Rover Defender 110 (LHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $55,000 – 75,000 USD
These are the price ranges people should be starting at when considering getting into a Defender – even if it’s not from Bishop+Rook. If the price is lower than the above range, you’re either incredibly lucky, or there’s something wrong with the Defender. This is particularly true if you’re buying from a Dealer or importer. Anything cheaper than the above would suggest corners were cut, or someone isn’t quite being honest.
These prices are updated as of Summer 2021. The market continues to increase for well-sorted vehicles, even though many sub-standard vehicles showing up on the market recently.
The cost to source, ship, and bring the Defender up to a bare minimum mechanical condition is simply too expensive for anything to be considered a reliable driver.
NOTE: We recently launched (in 2021) a pricing calculator to help with budget planning for a Defender. It’s not perfect, but it should give you an idea of what’s possible in the marketplace. The calculator will be more up-to-date than the prices below.
A reminder that these are base vehicles that have not been restored. They maintain their original condition and have not been refreshed or upgraded. Adding accessories, paint, AirCon, and motor upgrades will lead to an increase in cost.
Factors That Impact Defender Pricing
It’s important to note that there is a big price difference between Right Hand Drive (RHD) and Left Hand Drive (LHD). This is caused by several variables, such as rarity, source market, transportation costs, trends, and overall market forces. Before you say you need an LHD Defender, you really should try a RHD. You can get so much more vehicle for your investment. Plus, we think they a lot more fun to drive.
We offer the most affordable Land Rover Defenders in the country. You will not find a cheaper one, we promise you. We’ve also expanded our services over the years from simple importing to complete nut-and-bolt restorations. This guide is geared more towards entry-level Defenders.
Drivetrain Options for Land Rover Defenders
Most Defenders you find on the market will be manual 5-speed gearboxes. Anything in the “automatic” range is simply too rare from the factory. There are kits and conversions available, including the Bishop+Rook Automatic Conversion Kit, but this option should be considered more of a convenience and “sell-in” to the other half, rather than a requirement. Add an additional $10k for automatic (give or take, but mostly give) would be a safe estimate – although not all models can be easily converted.
Motor upgrades can run the spectrum. Most of the vehicles we supply are 2.5L TD’s, 200Tdi’s, 300 Tdi’s, and an occasional 3.5L V8. 2019 (25 year mark) import year (1994) introduced the first batch of 300Tdi’s.
We’re currently doing expanded R&D on LS swaps, to offer this as a base package upgrade. This will likely be in the range of $30-40k for a used LS, with LS3’s and crate motors costing in the $35k+ range. We know this sounds crazy, but the swap had quite a few parts and adapters to make it work, plus about 120 hours of mechanical time.
Building the Perfect Land Rover Defender
If you want to upgrade a base model, we offer a very (very) generous “parts at cost” model for upgrades. In many cases, we will throw in labor if you’re paying up-front or being a pretty solid person during the build process.
We didn’t get in this business to take your money, we got into it because we really love building Defenders. We would really like it to stay that way.
Here are a few services WE ARE currently offering for entry-level Land Rover Defenders:
- Defender customization and upgrade packages (roof racks, snorkels, wheels, rims, etc.).
- Custom sourcing (with deposit) of a particular configuration.
- Pricing/quotes/bids for reasonable customization before a deposit is taken.
Here are a few services WE ARE NOT currently offering:
- We are not offering comprehensive research and development into building your rare one-off dream vehicle, including pricing, build sheet, timing, etc., while you have the same request bid out three other places.
- We are not offering to search and source you a vehicle around the world without you having some significant non-refundable skin in the game.
- We prefer not to help you set up your own import business to save money (we get this request once a week).
- We also established a “no-asshole” rule when it comes to helping people adopt their dream Defender. We want to build a community, and one bad person in the group ruins the experience for everyone.
What to Expect From the Process
Now, we have expanded Minneapolis-based facilities, Renville, Minnesota workshop, and Salisbury, England restoration center. We have new shipments of pre-restoration Defenders every month. Likely between 20-25 Defenders available at any point. That means we should turn our inventory every few months. If we know you’re looking for something, we will put it on our scouting list—that simple.
Most of our business these days is focused on custom Land Rover Defender builds – nut and bolt restorations. We continue to dedicate time and resources to help people get into the Defender community – no matter your budget level.
Getting on the Bishop+Rook Radar
If something is coming in shortly, please put your name on the “no, really, I got approval from my other half to talk to you guys” note in hand. These cars go fast. Most cars coming off the boat have someone’s eye already. We recently held a vehicle for someone for over two months while they put together a build list, only to have them bail at the last minute. For us, it’s not about the sale. It’s more about that vehicle not being in the hands of their rightful new parents than sitting in our showroom looking awesome.
The truth is that the longer something sits with us, the price will typically go up. I know this sounds strange, but we like to work on them. The more work, upgrades, enhancements, etc., we do to each vehicle is directly reflected in the current price.
If you really want something, please let us know. One email will put you on our radar and introduce yourself, but we get tons of emails a day, and it’s hard for us to keep track of all of them. If you really really want something, ask us to hold her for you, or even better … put down a deposit. We’re pretty reasonable people.
We will announce ALL new inventory (once they get to the dock in the UK) via our newsletter and/or Instagram. That gives you a couple of weeks before she shows up at our showroom. You’ll be the first to know if you’re on the email list. Not on the list … well …
HERE’S THE SIGN-UP FORM! HINT!
Want to Try and Save Money and Import a Defender Without Inspection?
Below is the first mistake we made in the Defender importing business. She was the first Defenders we bought to import as part of this project. We only ever saw her running after being warmed up. The dealer we got her from said she had: “a fresh paint job, no rust, solid chassis, perfectly good tyres, tidy interior, and ran smoke-free.”
A couple hundred hours later, and lots of parts and swearing, we were ready to release her to the public again as an acceptable Bishop+Rook branded Defender.
Don’t try to cut corners. Don’t try to grind us too hard. If you do that, we’ll get you in your dream Defender in no time.
(We actually have a “no pricing negotiation” policy because it makes is feel weird and like used car salesmen).
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