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Thursday 14th April 2011


PH FLEET UPDATE: LAND ROVER DEFENDER

Our Landie goes back. We shall miss the Defender's ability to tow infinitely - and beyond (groan)


A person or machine that works hard and reliably over a long period. That's what the compilers of the OED have decided defines a workhorse. And they really ought to pop in a picture of a Land Rover Defender just beneath the entry, because little else describes the venerable 4x4's nature more perfectly.

AK10VMU certainly saw its fair share of work during its 10 months or so with us. During that time we managed to rack up a fairly chunky 19,000 miles. We took it to Paris, (for the motor show rather than for a romantic weekend, and also to discover just how difficult it is to park a LWB Defender in the Latin Quarter), went for more than a few jaunts in the rough stuff (including one where editor Chris-R managed to nudge the Defender gently into a mudbank) and gave it more than its fair share of cargo to haul.


In fact, we really did give it a stunning variety of loads to haul, which included (variously in and behind the Landie):

  • Christmas trees
  • Plasterboard
  • An old Renault Master van
  • Dogs
  • Gerbils (not at the same time as the dogs)
  • Wardrobes (various)
  • Elderly relatives
  • Toddlers (who approved of 'the truck')
  • A Bailey Caravan (not belonging to PH)
  • A Suzuki SC100 'Whizzkid'

Of course, the Defender's main role was as tow car and race support vehicle for the trusty PH Caterham Academy racer, in which capacity it performed near-perfectly.


In order to hook up the small-but-perfectly-formed Mini SuperSport trailer that Cheshire-based PRG Trailers kindly lent us for the season, we had to have an extendable tow-hitch fitted, as the low-slung trailer and the departure-angle-friendly standard tow hitch literally didn't see eye to eye, but other than that it was hard to fault the Land Rover's towing ability.

It was steady, stable and barely seemed to notice the extra 700-ish kg of metal and fibreglass that it was hauling along - in fact more than once I had to stop myself from blithely sweeping into the verboten lane three of the UK's motorway network at the last second, having entirely forgotten I was towing.

If we're being picky, the poor turning circle - which is artificially docked to prevent extreme lane-change manoeuvres ending in disaster - means you have to plan your reversing antics very carefully indeed when fully trailered-up, but you'd be amazed at how a whacking-great Land Rover combined with a car on a trailer can get people to move out of the way for you when reversing.


But the other niggles of life with a Defender - the graunchy gearchange, the bouncy ride, the comparatively poor NVH levels - are far less of an issue at the significantly lower speeds of the trailer trundler than they are if you have any sort of obligation to keep up with faster-paced traffic.

The Defender's ability to swallow all the inevitable gubbins associated with going motor racing (tools, clothing, helmets, stocks of unhealthy cholesterol-heavy food, that sort of thing) and still provide plenty of room to act as an impromptu rain shelter or changing room is not to be sniffed at either.

As a commuting tool, however, the Landie's imperfections were thrown into sharp relief; getting into a genuine 'modern' car (i.e. one designed from scratch in this millennium) after a run into work in the Landie often felt like switching from a Mega Drive to an Xbox 360.


But there was always a sense of occasion to the Defender that modern cars so often lack. Just as no matter how good Forza Motorsport might be, there's just the odd occasion when you still want to go and play Out Run, so there's a kind of odd nostalgia associated with the Landie that you just don't get on more mainstream cars.

And besides, despite its imposing bulk the Defender is still a narrow car (slimmer than our old PH Fleet Nissan 370Z), so you have to balance its agricultural urban behaviour against the fact that it can squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps and clearly terrifies a certain section of the roadgoing public into automatically moving out of your way anyway.

So. After 20k miles what do we think? Is it a perfect car? No. Is it objectively even any good? Not really, although its towing ability and off-road talents are beyond either doubt or dispute. Does it appeal despite (and perhaps because of) its myriad manifest flaws? You bet.

The Defender dies in 2013, and I feel privileged to have spent some time running one. Replacing it is going to be a hugely tall order for Land Rover.



Author: Riggers