The Hunt for the Defender Unicorn
How to find the perfect Defender that matches your expectations and budget.
Updated: August 2021
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, with 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 dreamers, but because we then have to gently let people down and remind them what they’re getting into when starting down this path.
Another range of questions we get are around upgrades and enhancements. Many first-time dreamers will begin with a base idea 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.
Killing dreams sucks, but driving a kick-ass Defender doesn’t suck. So, when you understand what you’re getting into, 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.”
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 later find out 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 maybe 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.” 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:
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.
- Land Rover Defender 90 (RHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $32,000 – 40,000 USD (titled in MN)
- Land Rover Defender 110 (RHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $38,000 – 45,000 USD (titled in MN)
- Land Rover Defender 90 (LHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $39,000 – 45,00 USD (titled in MN)
- Land Rover Defender 110 (LHD) 5-Speed Diesel Base Price: $55,000 – 75,000 USD (titled in MN)
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, motor upgrades will lead an increase in cost.
It’s also 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 just overall market forces. Before you say you need a 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.
These prices are updated as of Summer 2021. The market continues to increase for well-sorted vehicles, even though there have been many sub-standard vehicles show up on the market recently.
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.
Most Defenders you find on the market will be manual 5-speed gearboxes. Anything in the “automatic” rage is simply too rare from the factory. There are kits and conversions available, but this option should be considered more of a convenience and “sell-in” to the other half, rather than a requirement. Add an additional $6.5k for automatic (give or take, but mostly give) would be a safe estimate – although not all models can be easily converted.
Motor upgrades can really 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, which is less about the motor and more about rear disc brakes.
We’re currently doing expanded R&D on LS1 swaps, to offer this as a base package upgrade. This will likely be in the range of $25-30k for a used LS1, with LS3’s and crate motors costing in the $30k+ 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 full 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 3 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 that we have an 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.
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 a month 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 sound 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. That gives you a couple weeks before she shows up at our showroom. If you’re on the email list, you’ll be first to know. Not on the list … well …
HERE’S THE SIGN-UP FORM! HINT!
Want to Try and Save Money?
Below is the first mistake we made in the Defender importing business. Turns out she happened to be the first Defender 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’re almost ready to release her on 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).