With the emergence of the Land Rover Defender as our 2020 SUV of the Year—and this Defender marking the first ground-up redesign in the British off-roader’s history—we wanted to take a look back at the rugged SUV’s roots to show just how big a step this new model takes for the storied Defender nameplate. Here is how the iconic Defender and its predecessors have changed over the years in the galleries below.
Land Rover Series I (1948-1958)
The Rover Company had a problem after the second World War. Europe was in shambles and there wasn’t much demand for the sort of luxury cars Rover had made in the past. Inspired by the Willys Jeep, they developed the first Land Rover, an agriculturally focused four-wheel-drive truck with a steel frame and an aluminum body. It entered production in 1948 and what would come to be known as the Land Rover Series I was born. It was offered in various configurations that differed in wheelbase, door count, and body style.
Land Rover Series II (1958-1971)
The Series II made its debut 10 years later in 1958. Its exterior design featured the same inboard headlights and boxy profile as the Series I but added a pronounced shoulder line running the length of the vehicle. Options like door cards and side mirrors were available for the first time.
Land Rover Series III (1971-1985)
In 1971, Land Rover released the Series III. Headlights were moved away from the grille out to the fenders, which easily differentiated the Series III from its predecessors. Land Rover added synchros to the manual transmission and moved the gauges in front of the steering wheel from their former home in the center of the dash. A V-8-powered model was introduced in 1979. Because of the V-8’s larger dimensions, Land Rover pushed the grille forward and flush with the front fenders, giving the SUV’s front end the shape that would define it for the next three decades.
Land Rover 90 and 110 (1983-1990)
That design carried over to the Land Rover One-Ten and Land Rover Ninety (later badged 110 and 90), introduced in 1983. This marked the first time a Land Rover utilized the coil-spring suspension from the Range Rover to replace the old cars’ archaic leaf-spring design. Various quality-of-life improvements like a more comfortable interior and modernized engine lineup made tremendous strides in on-road driving manners.
Land Rover Defender (1990-2016)
The Defender name finally came to life in 1990, following the introduction of the Land Rover Discovery in 1989. Land Rover wanted to distinguish its original workhorse from the new model. The Defender was sold in the U.S. from 1993 to 1997. It was effectively the same vehicle as the 110 and the 90, and remained largely unchanged beyond updated powertrains and special edition models until 2007, at which point it received an interior redesign. The last Defender rolled off the production line in January of 2016.
Land Rover Defender L663 (2020- )
At long last, Land Rover has given the Defender a total redesign for the 2020 model year. Dubbed L663, the new Defender rides on an aluminum-intensive unibody platform based on the one underpinning the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, and Land Rover Discovery. It also does away with the traditional live-axle suspension in favor of an independent multi-link setup front and rear. Despite these massive changes, Land Rover is adamant that the Defender remains a capable off-roader. After having trekked one across Africa, tested another here in the U.S., and evaluated another during our rigorous 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year competition—from which it emerged victorious—we can report that yes, it is everything a modern Defender should be.
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