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DEFENDERS buying guides


by Ed Evans, 24th May 2016

Ninetys and One Tens. In production from 1983 to 2016 they are all true modern classics

They may be generally recognised as the ultility workhorse, but Defenders have become progressively sophisticated, with leather seats, air con, electric windows, improved sound proofing and other refinements that have turned the later premium models into comfortable and practical vehicles. Despite this development, even the most modified versions have lost none of their adventurous character. Defender remains the tough and gnarly hard man of the terrain and tarmac. Defender’s roots are in the leaf-sprung Series III Stage 1 V8, which was the forerunner of the early Land Rover One Ten and Ninety.

The One Ten came first, in 1983, bringing coil spring suspension and permanent four-wheel drive similar to that on the Stage 1, but using a five-speed gearbox and separately cased transfer box. Power was initially provided by versions of the so-called 2.25-litre (actually 2.286) five-bearing petrol and diesel engines seen in the last Series III models. The V8 option also continued, using the earlier four-speed transmission. Oddly, the old rear-wheel drive with selectable front-wheel drive from the four-cylinder Series III was made available as an option on the four-cylinder One Ten until mid-1984.

There are few vehicles remaining today with these quirky Series III throwbacks, and they are of significant historical interest and worthy of preservation – assuming we can find and identify them. The One Ten was followed by the Land Rover Ninety in 1984 with a 2.25 petrol (later 2.5) and 2.5 diesel option and, in 1985, the V8 was added, this time matched to the five speed gearbox and using the separate LT230  transfer box. A turbocharged version of the 2.5 diesel offered with both the One Ten and Ninety was no match for the  3.5-litre V8. The advent of the new Discovery demanded that the Land Rover One Ten and Ninety models be similarly identified with a single brand name under the Land Rover badge.

So they were re-launched in 1990 as Defender, now with the new 200Tdi turbocharged diesel (shared with Discovery), but otherwise little changed from the One Ten and Ninety models. This separate identification of Land Rover One Ten, Land Rover Ninety and Defenders 90 and 110 might seem pedantic because the vehicles are so outwardly and mechanically similar and parts are very interchangeable. But, as time moves on, this model distinction becomes increasingly important from a historic and classic viewpoint and, besides, part of the interest is in knowing precisely what our vehicles are. To throw a spanner in the works here, we should give a mention to the numerically identified extra-long wheelbase models: the Land Rover 127 introduced in 1985 alongside the One Ten and Ninety, and the replacement Defender 130 model introduced in 1990. The 1990 200Tdi, and later 300Tdi, turbo diesels gave the Defender a high reputation for dependability.

Though more powerful and sophisticated, these were still fix-in-the-field engines – a characteristic that still applied to most of the Defender’s components. That image began to erode with the introduction of the far superior Td5 diesel engine in 1998. This was Defender’s first electronically-controlled engine and it was received with a scepticism that was reinforced by problems in the current Range Rover P38, Land Rover’s first serious foray into electronic control. Concerns were largely unfounded, and were certainly forgotten in 2007 when the Td5 engine was replaced by the more electronically sophisticated Ford-based 2.4-litre (and later the improved 2.2-litre) TDCi diesel (also known as Puma). The TDCi models proved reliable, giving palatable extra performance through a new six-speed gearbox.

During production of the outgoing Td5, Defender was 54 being marketed towards a new type of buyer. Sales literature portrayed stylish top-of the-range Defenders transporting city dwellers to an evening at the theatre, and this approach was intensively themed through a series of bespoke Defender TDCi versions marketed until the end of production last year, and was paralleled, and still is, by independent specialist convertors building ultimate and expensive versions.


Beware, THESE vehicles get abused, worked to death, badly modified, badly repaired, violently off-roaded and still rattle around with apparent immunity. Fortunately, more are lovingly maintained and improved. Buying the right one is simply a matter of recognising the vehicles that have been cared for, and driven and modified competently. Lack of a service history and repair bills on an older model is not necessarily a problem because many owners do their own maintenance, such is the accessibility of the vehicle, and do a darned good job of it, too. But watch for the exceptions. Ultimately, an old vehicle has to be assessed on the basis of what’s in front of you. With TDCi models, expect to see a good service record and, without one, factor in the cost of neglected maintenance. 


Smoke, noise and oil fumes are the clues to condition on early diesel engines. Black or white smoke on start-up is not necessarily an issue, but blue smoke suggests general engine wear, especially is accompanied by an oily film over the top of the engine. That might be due simply to a blocked breather system, but more often it is caused by crank case pressurisation from combustion gases blowing past worn piston rings or cylinder bores. Without oil over the engine, the cause may only be worn valve guides in the cylinder head. Td5 and TDCi mills won’t smoke because their electronic engine management is there primarily to control emissions, so engine wear and minor malfunction tends to be compensated by the way the ECM runs the engine. If these smoke, then worry.

One piece of paperwork we do need is proof of timely cam belt changes on the 2.5-litre and Tdi diesels. The other diesels check TDCi are all chain driven, but it’s worth listening for chain rattle on early diesel and petrol units, and a work chain or failing tensioner can cause poor running and smoking. Rumours of early 2.5-litre Turbo D models having big end bearing failure can be forgotten. They’ve all been sorted now, and the same applies to 300Tdi cam belts and Td5 oil pumps, though the odd one does slip through the net. Td5 diesels might leak a little fuel under the right rear side. That needs a new fuel pressure regulator block which won’t break the bank, but engine misfire could need a new, and cheap, injector harness or new injector seals or, less likely, a crack in the cylinder head. The Td5’s coolant pump drive (taken from the rear of the power steering pump) can fail, and Td5s are not as forgiving to overheat as the old Tdi engines. 

The temperature gauge movement needs to be checked on any vehicle, but overheating on a Td5 can soon damage the cylinder head, and even the face of the cylinder block, which cannot be re-machined. A whistling noise from the engine may be a warped exhaust manifold, so look for black exhaust stains on the head next to the manifold. V8 engines are robust but suffer from camshaft and associated valve gear wear if the engine oil and filter has not been regularly changed with quality new items.

Running gear
It’s robust and reliable. Just make sure all the gears work, and that they stay engaged during overrun. On pre-1994 four-cylinder models rock the vehicle to and fro using first and reverse gears while listening for a clunk below the centre seat. That’s a worn transfer gear that could fail and lose drive. Most have been replaced by now, but check because it’s cost efficient to fit a rebuilt gearbox at this stage. There is significant inherent play in the complete driveline, so don’t be surprised if the vehicle rolls a couple of inches after applying the transmission/hand brake. Check that the low range and centre diff lock controls work. Unusual suspension and steering effects are usually caused by worn bushes in the axle radius arms or Panhard rod at the front. But suspension bushes, springs and dampers are all cheap to replace. Oil leaks from the steering box may require its replacement, but leaks from diff seals and rear transfer box shaft can usually be cured by new seals, unless severe. Check the axle diff pans for corrosion, and the brackets on the rear axle that hold the radius arm bushes.

It’s all easily examined, but check the pre-1990 vehicles for aluminium corrosion at the corners of the seatbox assembly and underneath around the chassis attachment brackets. Check the steel struts on the underbody. Aluminium panels corrode around the rivets and across the bottom and side edges of the rear door. White corrosion spots are difficult to deal with and the only real cure is a new panel. The steel front bulkhead is a major consideration on pre-Td5 models, and especially pre-Defender versions. Check carefully on the A-posts, footwells inside and out, and across the top edge to edge and around the opening vents where fitted, and around the screen attachments. On Td5 station wagons, open the rear side doors 
and check the rear face of the door shell 
for rusting.
Again, TDCi models seem to resist corrosion, but I wouldn’t dare not inspect one in detail. Everything from Td5 back, needs a thorough chassis inspection of every inch. Holes can appear anywhere for no apparent reason so give it all a good tap and hope to hear the sound of steel. Expect to see patches which, if welded correctly, are perfectly acceptable. But look at the quality of the welds and use the toffee hammer to estimate the thickness of the patch – it should be as thick as the chassis. Don’t be swayed by a vehicle with a new rear chassis section fitted – consider how long the front end is likely to last.
Any vehicle should have its VIN checked against the registration document, but I strongly recommend having an HPI or similar check to confirm the vehicle’s legal status. It’s well known that Defenders are relatively easy to steal, dismantle, and build up into a different vehicle and, unfortunately, a few wasters make a living out of this. Even the seller may be unaware that his vehicle was once stolen, or that stolen parts have been incorporated into it. When such a misdemeanor comes to light, it is the present owner who has to hand the vehicle back, with no compensation.
Modifications are to be expected because few of these vehicles are left standard, unless they are relatively new. If you actually want all of the accessories that have been fitted, then the vehicle is worth extra money. However, the premium is unlikely to be recouped by removing and selling the parts. So, if the fitted kit does not suit your purpose, it’s probably best to keep looking.


Service items and spares are well catered for by the aftermarket suppliers, and obviously Land Rover has everything for the recent models. The aftermarket keeps prices of parts pleasingly low, even supplying for the latest TDCi models, and this situation is likely to continue, given the sheer volume of utility Land Rovers still on the roads. TDCi Transit connections mean spares will be available for a long time. Parts for the 200Tdi engine may pose a problem, in particular cylinder heads. Detail parts for the One Ten and Ninety are becoming difficult, but nothing that would keep the vehicle off the road. The early LT95 one-piece transmission fitted to the V8s is a unit that should be brought up to condition and maintained that way. Bulkheads and galvanised chassis are available, with repair sections for both. The whole range is well catered for at fair prices.


THE LEVEL of trim and equipment increases over the years of production, with numerous model designations, such XS, identifying those best equipped. But nothing much has changed on the basic vehicle. All models have the same shape, the same coil-spring suspension and running gear, and beam axles. There are multiple body choices, but within any one version of the utility, whether basically or lavishly trimmed, whether a hard top, soft top, pick-up, station wagon, commercial variant, long or short wheelbase, it is ultimately the engine that defines the vehicle within its particular group. So, how to choose? We’ll look at the pros and cons, but bear in mind that the oldest version can be upgraded with later components and a vast array of accessories.
Comparisons It’s difficult to compare one utility Land Rover type against another. There is no best One Ten, Ninety or Defender because each is a matter of personal taste, intended use, and, with such a wide price range, budget. For anyone who wants a load lugger, family transport, ultimate off-roader, long distance road vehicle, resto project, or just a fun vehicle that’s distinctive for the hell of it, there will be a vehicle out there with your name on it.

If you tell someone you drive a Defender, they’ll visualise a 90. The 90 is a fun vehicle as well as a workhorse, but it’s short wheelbase makes it the best off-roader and it’s more manoeuvrable for daily driving. Loadspace is limited, and rear seats are not so easily accessible, though kids love to climb in. Long wheelbase models give massive carrying space despite the rear wheelbox intrusions which is why they are the default expedition vehicle. They are far more practical for daily use and the station wagon offers a relatively normal (if cramped) second row of seats with access doors while still retaining good load space behind. The wheelbase gives a more comfortable ride, avoiding the pitching experienced on the short vehicles.

Rough, ready, but endearingly classic today. The whole vehicle is simple to maintain and repair, and to dismantle and restore. They will do all that the latest upmarket version will do (though with less style, comfort and pace) and they are still cheap. They’re an ideal first vehicle.
V8 machines
Any vehicle with a V8 carburettor engine is going to be a bit special, and it certainly makes the early Land Rover utility models smoother, quieter and quicker. Maintenance is straightforward, but factor in the 15-20 mpg fuel consumption.

^ 200/300TDI
Many view the initial 200Tdi and the 1994 300Tdi versions as the best Defenders. It’s a view formed from the sheer reliability of the Tdi engines, coupled with their ability to survive harsh conditions and abuse, including poor servicing, high loading and a level of engine over- heat, though that will reduce their life. There is little to choose between the Tdi engines, other than the 300 being marginally quieter, offering a little more and, today, better spare availability. The LT77 gearbox was replaced in 1994 by the improved R380 box, though gear ratios remained the same.

^ TD5
The Td5 diesel gives the Defender a respectable performance, but it does have several failure modes and demands good and regular servicing to stay in good order. Looked after, the engine gives reliable service and is good for well over 200k, as are the Tdi mills. The Td5 engine is historically important for two reasons. It’s the only Land Rover engine featuring unit injectors in which the fuel is pressurised inside the fuel injector by a cam and rocker arrangement. It was also the last in-house Land Rover diesel engine, at least until the new JLR engine plant produced the Ingenium diesel in 2014, but that’s a wholly different piece of technology.

It is the cleanest, and best performing Defender engine, though it was introduced, rather like the Td5 was, to meet impending emissions legislation. Developed from the Ford Transit unit, it has improved sealing and oil control to meet the off-road demands of a Defender. It drives through a six-speed gearbox whose only real benefit was to further reduce emissions and exercise the driver’s arm and leg through the necessary additional gear changes that are needed. The TDCi is quieter and smoother than previous engines, though it lacks that big-truck diesel sound that had become synonymous with Defender. 


One Ten and Ninety
• 1983-1985: Engines as Series III, including Stage 1 V8 for One Ten
• LT77 five-speed fitted to four-cylinder models, permanent four-wheel drive
• 1985-1990: 2.5-litre petrol, 80 bhp, 129 lb-ft torque; 2.5 diesel, 68 bhp, 113 lb-ft; 3.5 V8 petrol, 113 bhp, 185 lb-ft, 134 bhp from 1986. LT85 five-speed fitted to V8 models. LT85 five-speed fitted to V8 models. 2.5 turbo from 1986 has 85 bhp, 150 lb-ft torque
• 1991-1994: 200Tdi 2.5-litre turbocharged, direct-injection diesel. 107 bhp, 195 lb-ft torque. LT77S five-speed transmission
• 1994-1998: 300Tdi 2.5-litre turbocharged, direct-injection diesel. 111 bhp, 195 lb-ft torque. R380 five-speed transmission
• 1998-2007: 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel, 122 bhp, 221 lb-ft torque. R380 five-speed transmission, permanent four-wheel drive
• 2007-2012: 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 122 bhp, 221 lb-ft torque. Six- speed MT85 gearbox, permanent four-wheel drive
• 2012-2015: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 122 bhp, 265 lb-ft torque 


DESPITE DEFENDER prices recently rising, coincidently with the end of Defender production late last year, this initial interest is likely to cool in the light of so many vehicles still being around. At present the Series Land Rovers and early Range Rovers are taking the classic limelight, with Discovery 1 champing at the bit. Because of this, it may be some years before the comparatively basic One Tens and Nineties carve a classic niche of their own. Station wagons fetch a premium, but check they are original and not standard hardtops with side windows retro-fitted or the roof swapped.
One Ten and Ninety 
Project: £1600 – £2800 
Average: £2800 – £4000 
Good: £4000 – £6000 
Excellent: £6000 – £13,000
Project: £1500 – £3,500 
Average: £3,500 – £6,000 
Good: £6,000 – £8,000 
Excellent: £8,000 – £30,000
Poor: £3500 – £5000 
Average: £5000 – £7000 
Good: £700 – £12000 
Excellent: £12000 – £17000
Poor: £6200 – £8200 
Average: £8200 – £12,100 
Good: £12,100 – £17,500 
Excellent: £17,500 – £50,000
The Series 3 & 90-110 Owners Club, www.thelandroverclub.co.uk


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