Welcome to Little Car in the Big City, where I highlight fascinating cars I found walking around a town that is known for being bigger than everything else, but where every car is fighting to stand out: New York, New York.
"This I Believe" is an essay series originally from the 1950s that was rebooted recently on NPR. Almost all the stories are deep, moving portrayals of core values and the things we know deep down inside to be true. The thing that I know deep down to be true is that the Land Rover Defender is the best SUV ever made. This I believe.
The Defender is one of those things, like the Mona Lisa or the Coliseum in Rome, that are perpetually beautiful. It doesn't matter if its been made with very little changes since 1983. They got it right the first time. Unlike the Mona Lisa or the Coliseum, however, the Defender's beauty is more about utilitarianism and stoic dignity, about working hard and doing a good job.
That is not what this Land Rover Defender is about.
And that is what makes it great. It's hilarious. It's a joke car, but one that is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Why not? Well, let's start at the top. Yes, the very top. That snorkel? Doesn't look like it's ever seen water lapping at its neck (that would get the TVs wet). That roll cage, which was surprisingly standard equipment? Never touched solid ground. The diamond plate on the hood? Not sure what it's for. But it doesn't matter. With prices for bone-stock examples like the Land Rover Defender we spotted back in February approaching $45,000, you're telling me you wouldn't make it your own, even just a little bit?
For those who aren't understanding why what looks like a 20-year old cheap British knockoff of a Jeep Wrangler mixed with a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is in serious mid-level luxury territory, it helps to understand a little bit about the car itself. Originally sold in North America in an all-too-short run from 1993 to 1997, the Defender is the ultimate rough-and-ready partner, right out of the gate. Land Rover originally started selling it here to compete with the aforementioned Wrangler, but it had to be extensively modified to make it to our legalistic shores. When the American government mandated airbags in every new car, Land Rover said "forget it" and decided it wasn't worth the effort. Couple that with the fact that it's British (read: European ooh la la), its limited run here in the US, and the fact that some examples are literally 20 years old, and you've got yourself a rare bird.
Too bad it's still being made to this day in Jolly Old England.
And I'll be honest. I find this particular all-too-immaculate example just perfect. If I had an SUV, it would look like this. Yes, it would be very, very capable if I one day just decided I felt like an African safari. But it would also be funny, it would be good for a laugh, it wouldn't take itself too seriously.
When you're all about business, you've got to have a sense of humor.