Last week saw a heated debate over the entry of the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe. Was it beautiful or a mockery, art or excess, folly or fantastic? According to the votes, 80.3% of you believed it a worthy entrant, so those questions have an answer. Now we switch gears entirely, from a tribute to form to a celebration of unquestionable function. In modern history, Land Rover has been nothing if not there to see things happen. It is said that a Land Rover is the only vehicle some people will ever see. Beginning in post-war Britain in 1946, an unbroken chain of workhorse machines has performed the duties set forth by their owners, never rusting, rarely failing. That progression has left us with a paragon of uncomplaining, uncomplicated virtue: the Land Rover Defender.
To tell the story of the Defender, you must tell the story of the Land Rover Series vehicles. Conceived during and after World War II, at a time when steel and other materials were strictly rationed in the war and rebuilding effort, the Land Rover was a crude but essential machine. Its original inspiration was the military Jeep, but it was reborn as something of a do-it-all — a vehicle which could be used in the bombed out countryside, provide agricultural power by way of its front and rear power take offs, carry the family and haul heavy loads. It was constructed of plentiful aircraft aluminum in a specially alloyed mix and designed to be assembled entirely with hand tools, if necessary. It remains so today.
As the years progressed, the Land Rover series vehicles saw steady improvements to the powertrain, suspension, transfer cases and ergonomics, but they remained true to their root mission: They were basic, blissfully basic. This simplicity gave rise to a devoted following. In fact, a maniacal following. Ease of maintenance, interchangeable parts spanning up to four decades, legendary durability—it all fueled desire and fed demand.
And that leads us to 1983. With the Series III getting long in the tooth, Land Rover updated the vehicle with several important improvements. The suspension was upgraded with a more modern coil-spring design, the two piece windshield was swapped out for a single pane, crank side windows replaced sliders, and a new set of more powerful, but still incredibly durable, engines were dropped under the hood. The interior was updated to provide creature comforts that brought the truck out of the stone age (the austere old guard harumphed, but those with battered buttcheeks rejoiced). The true brilliance of the Defender, however, shone through in its flexibility. Available in three different wheelbases, each designed and equipped for different duties. The 90 was the two-door model and featured a 93" wheelbase; it was targeted at civilian and agricultural use. The 110 was the four-door wagon with room for up to nine, due to the side-mounted seats (which hung around until the 2007 refresh). The 127, which was later renamed the 130, was designed for heavy applications, outfitted with the largest engine, a four-door cab and a short pickup box. The 127 quickly became the vehicle of choice for militaries all over the world.
Enough history, let's get down to brass tacks. The Land Rover Defender represents all that is good and pure in the motoring world. It is form following function to the truest of standards. By all accounts—and if you've ever driven in one you'll agree—the Defender is not a vehicle to be taken lightly. Not for the meek, it's a brutal on the road, requiring heroic steering input, delivering frightening understeer and body roll that rivals the worst of the 1940s, and serving up wind and road noise that can charitably described as deafening. But that same terrible on-road truck is a master of it's domain when the road ends, at low speed and hundreds of miles from the beaten path. Here, in the muck and mire, Defender is a champion. And that's the point. This is a vehicle with a singular purpose: To get you to where you're going, no matter where that might be.
A vehicle that serves its purpose without excuses, indifferent to modern tastes, a monument to all the explorers who blazed their own trail across uncharted vistas in bygone days. The Land Rover Defender speaks to our lizard brain in ways which make us want to damn this digital existence and get lost in a wilderness, reconnecting with the curiosities that make life interesting. It is not a polished and perfect, technology-toting wunderkind, and that's why we love it. The Defender reminds us of the reason why men strike out on their own, in defiance of rationality, to find their own way, and that's why we want it in our fantasy garage.
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage:
1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe | Porsche 959 | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917 | Audi RS4 Avant | Lamborghini Miura | Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 | BMW E39 M5 | Jaguar E-type | Mercedes-Benz 300 SL | Dodge Charger/Challenger R/T | Toyota 2000GT | Facel Vega HK500 | Voisin C28 Aerosport | Bugatti Type 41 Royale | McLaren F1 | Maserati Bora | Continental MK II | Tucker 48 | Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato | BMW 507