Farewell, Defender

Famed for its ruggedness, the Land Rover Defender ends its 67-year production run

Proud owners of Defenders in Singapore. Production of the vehicle will cease at the end of the year.
Proud owners of Defenders in Singapore. Production of the vehicle will cease at the end of the year.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The iconic Land Rover Defender is finally bowing out after an unbroken 67-year production run.

The Land Rover factory in Solihull, United Kingdom, will stop making the four-wheel-drive utility vehicle at the end of this year because it does not meet stricter safety and emission rules. Its replacement has not been announced.

In Singapore, a group of enthusiastic private owners, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Singapore Police Force look set to keep it going at least for some years.

The Defender and its predecessor Land Rover Series are regarded as among the most rugged vehicles in the world. Favoured by military forces, the Defender has a cult-like following worldwide.

It started modestly in 1948 as a spartan light truck meant for farm and light industrial use. Between 1948 and 1985, successive generations of the vehicle were named simply as Series I, II, IIA and III. All retained the iconic boxy look clad in aluminium and aluminium alloy body panels.

It was renamed Land Rover 110 in 1983 after its 110-inch wheelbase. Production of the Series III and Land Rover 110 overlapped between 1983 and 1985.

In 1990, the vehicle was renamed Defender. Land Rover needed the original Land Rover to have a new name to distinguish it from the Discovery SUV it launched in 1989.

Singapore's connection with the early generations of Land Rovers can be traced as far back as 1955. That year, six Oxford and Cambridge university students drove two Land Rover Series I Station Wagons from London to Singapore. Their arduous six-month journey was documented in books and video clips that pop up when you Google "the first overland".

Fast forward 60 years, 47-year- old Singaporean IT professional Larry Leong is attempting to retrace the journey backwards from Singapore to London in a 66-day trip, driving a 14-year-old Defender. He leaves tomorrow, on National Day.

The earliest users of the Land Rover in Singapore were the British troops based here. After they started withdrawing from Singapore in 1971, the SAF became the main users of the Land Rovers, including hand-me-downs from the British.

Over the years, small numbers of owners in Singapore bought the Land Rover Series and Defenders for private and commercial use. But a check with the Land Transport Authority drew a blank on the exact number registered here.

Some of the private owners started an online mailing list in 2001 and it grew to become the Land Rover Owners Singapore club on Facebook. Although the club is open to all Land Rover owners, 114 of the more than 130 cars driven by its members are the Series and Defender models.

"We are the ones driving the old- school Landies who are fanatical about them," says the club's volunteer forum administrator Jack Ling. The 43-year-old partner in a biofuel firm has been driving a Defender 90 for more than 10 years.

The bulk of the club members are driving Defenders registered as commercial vehicles. "It is too expensive to register them as private cars because of registration and road taxes," Mr Ling said.

A Euro IV-compliant 2,402cc diesel-powered Defender registered as a light goods vehicle pays only $426 in road tax a year, as compared to $4,688 a year if it were registered as a private car.

Ms Cath Lim, 41-year-old owner of cafe and gardening equipment shop The Plant Story, says her seven-year-old Defender 90 doubles as a delivery truck.

The manual gearbox of the Defender does not bother her. "I like manual cars. My previous car, an MX-5 that I drove for 15 years, was also manual," she says.

The most sought-after Land Rovers here are those registered as tow trucks with a W-prefix under a now-defunct scheme. These can be kept on the roads as long as their Certificates of Entitlement are renewed - unlike commercial vehicles, which must be deregistered on their 20th year.

"There is no statutory lifespan for W-plate as they are mainly used at worksites," LTA tells Life.

Electrical engineer Jerome Pang, 35, owns a rare 1968 Series IIA with a W-plate. He says: "My Land Rover is older than me. I bought it a few years ago and gradually restored it. Owning a Land Rover turns you into a mechanic."

He has ordered a new Defender before the car runs out of production by the end of this year.

In the UK, Land Rover is producing three special editions of the Defender to mark the end of an era.

But local Land Rover dealer Wearnes Automotive says none of the special-edition vehicles have been allocated to Singapore.

Still, it is keeping its order book open for the regular Defenders that continue to roll out until December, at prices starting from $160,000 for those registered as commercial vehicles.

Those deterred by the price can turn to the grey market. A check with the SPH-owned sgcarmart. com.sg portal found parallel importers such as Motorway and VinCar selling Defenders at $130,000 to $140,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Farewell, Defender'. Subscribe