It’s been very nearly a year since Land Rover introduced the Defender 75th Limited Edition on paper. In case that seismic moment passed you by, let’s recap: the new model - available in both 90 or 110 body styles - marks the anniversary of the Series I debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948. Now, the significance of that reveal is hardly in question; few companies get to trace their genesis back to such a clear-cut pivotal moment, and while Maurice Wilks’ moment of military surplus genius has been retold and romanticised to death, it stands out as one of the nation’s great postwar automotive success stories.
Consequently, celebrating it with what amounts to a fancy paint job and some questionable wheels on a high-spec version of a large and resource-heavy SUV is either problematic or wonderfully apt, depending on which side of the fence you’re inclined to stand. Vocal PHers, of course, managed to straddle the debate from the first moment. ‘My eye! I’m not supposed to get Grasmere Green in it!’ was the paraphrased gist of the dissent, although some expressed a liking for the exclusive and iconic colour - if not the decision to paint the 20-inch alloys the same shade.
In the flesh, this reservation seems right on the money. Naturally, it helps to be an existing fan of the current Defender to think it handsome in a hue that famously owes its origins to the paint used in aircraft cockpits (because that’s what they had to hand in 1948) but the 75th is pleasing enough until you arrive at the spangly five-spoke wheels. Someone mentioned ’80s cocaine chic in the news story comments, although it actually seems more cartoonish than that in person. If you’ve been to the cinema recently, think Ken’s First SUV. Land Rover will probably live with that analogy, though it might have swerved around it simply by fitting the steel wheels that would’ve set the colour off perfectly - as it did in 2015 with the wildly popular, last-of-the-line Heritage Edition.
That the manufacturer did not is evidence enough that it is targeting a different sort of buyer - even allowing for the standard all-terrain tyres and folding fabric roof that distinguish the 75th. Inside, the model gets its characteristic ‘Cross Car Beam’ finished in a powder coat version of Grasmere Green with ’75 Years’ laser etched onto the end caps. Otherwise, it’s very much based on the HSE, with heated electric seats, three-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, the latest 11.4-inch Pivi Pro infotainment system, 3D Surround Camera, Matrix LED headlights and Configurable Terrain Response all included.
It is no coincidence that Land Rover introduced a new range of lifestyle merch on the same day it launched the 75th: there is, unavoidably, something of the trinket about it. The previous Heritage Edition avoided bauble status because underneath it remained, proudly, an old Defender, and was therefore as hurly-burly as your grandad’s tool shed. So while it was categorically not a Series I, it could still be driven down the nearest byway with something like the old bouncy fervour; part car, part moveable farmyard. Plainly, the 75th cannot do that. It barely fits down the nearest byway, and when it does the conditions underfoot make no more of an impression on it than the Manchester Ship Canal would on a Russian icebreaker.
By the same token, back on the road, it is almost impossible to not like the 75th because the car underneath the green is so manifestly good at being a modern-day SUV. We hardly need to dwell on the details here because you’ve heard them all before (not least from John H’s long-term love affair with the same D300 110 we’re running on the PH fleet) but suffice it to say that the oil-burning Limited Edition starts and stops and turns and tours with familiar big-shouldered charm - made all the more agreeable by the fact that you can whip most of the roof away at the touch of a button. Having your hair tousled by a summer breeze while sitting high above the traffic, mostly impervious to the condition of the road and afloat an indefatigable 479lb ft of torque, is probably the definitive 21st-century Land Rover experience.
In that sense, the 75th is a fitting tribute - less so to the Series I, and more to the 75 intervening years between here and there. The current Defender is no more like the 1948 show car than an F35 Lightning II is like a Gloster Meteor, and aside perhaps from the advantages of low weight and size and raw fixability, its owners can be grateful for that fact. The success of its latest iteration is a testament to Land Rover’s hard-won yet seemingly intrinsic ability to build world-beating SUVs in 2023; that it has retained this wherewithal across the better part of eight decades and multiple owners says much about the men and women who work there, and their marrow-deep appreciation of what makes a Land Rover worthy of the description 75 years after Maurice Wilks conceived of such a thing.
That said, JLR’s willingness to use an enviably rich seam of heritage as a bicycle pump for its bottom line could perhaps do with a sympathetic tweak. That the 75th Limited Edition started at £85,995 for a 90 and £89,995 for a 110 when it went on sale last year is no real surprise given the hefty price of the surrounding lineup (our own non-special Defender was £82,255 after options) but it would be easier to swallow had Land Rover applied itself a little more diligently to the process of differentiating the car from its stablemates. After all, interesting colours only get you so far. Selecting the right wheels would’ve at least suggested that Gaydon is being mindful of its past glories rather than just dining off them.
SPECIFICATION | LAND ROVER DEFENDER 75TH LIMITED EDITION
Engine: 2,997cc, mild hybrid, straight six diesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 479@1,500-2,500rpm
0-62mph: 7.0 secs
Top speed: 119mph
Weight: 2,361kg (DIN)
Price: £89,995 (as tested £92,435)
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