Blog : Faith in the Defender, still…

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams decides that he is a fully paid-up masochist. Why? Well, after a day having the stuffing knocked out of him in a Land Rover Defender TD5, he’s still grinning from ear to ear…

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Yesterday, while Mike bathed in the glory of a nice, simple car deal, which saw his new motor brought to him, I found myself doing it the old-fashioned way. By that, I bought a Renault Twingo, sight-unseen, knowing it was incapacitated. I’ve always wanted one but the thought of importing one now there are no more DVLA local offices and Calais is a war zone, leaves me increasingly cold. So, when serial car collector, John Corbett, alerted me about this one on the Gay Classic Car Group’s Facebook page, I had to have a look.

Its story was simple enough – the seller, Digby Allen, had owned the car for many, many years, doted and loved it, but after 128,000 miles, the headgasket went pop. And at that point, he offered it for sale, in order to make room for a new Fiat 500 TwinAir. The backstory worked for me, so I paid upfront without a viewing (that’s so me) and arranged to collect later. In the end, friend and TVR specialist, James Agger, offered to lend me his Land Rover Defender/Brian James Trailer combo to pick it up, and deliver it safely home – that was very generous of him.

That’s where the story gets interesting, because as I roll into James’ yard somewhere in deepest Leicestershire, his wonderful Defender hoves into view, and reminds me – at first sight – why I adore these cars. His is a short-wheelbase TD5 pick-up, with a covered load bay and, thanks to being highly polished and sitting on some very nice factory alloys, it looks the absolute bees knees, as it glistens in the sun. It has a snorkel (‘don’t end up using it,’ James half jokes) and, in true Defender fashion, the central locking doesn’t work – so you unlock it with one of the BL-Heritage keys, before firing it up with another.

I’ve been racking my brains to recall if I’ve driven a TD5 before, then it hit me – of course, I have, and it was about 10 years ago on the run-out of the TD5, when I took one from Stonehenge to London, loving every minute of it. This one actually looks nicer, although, the interior is even more cramped than I remember. I guess that, with the short-wheelbase set-up and pick-up cab, there isn’t much room to add in rear seat travel. Even so, it’s quite undignified to clamber in and then sit there with my knees around my ears and my paunch almost rubbing the wheel. Time to go on a diet… More worryingly, I’m in the East Midlands and the Twingo is in Henley-on-Thames – will my back, legs or ears give way first?

Sliding onto the A46 and then to the M6 and M69, I’m expecting the searing pain to kick in. However, as the miles roll by, and I settle in – with my right arm resting on the window sill – I ease into the Defender and actually find the experience quite enjoyable. The high driving position is wonderful, the gearchange surprisingly nice to palm and the warbling five-pot has more than a fair share of grunt once you wind it up. Even more pleasurably, whenever you see another Defender driver coming the other way, they grin and wave at you (on the whole) – so clearly masochism is a shared pleasure.

The run is going well, although once off the M40 and onto Oxfordshire’s narrow and twisting lanes, I’m breathing in as cars rush towards me. Anyway, three hours and 115 miles later (a good average considering we’re towing), and I pull up to Digby’s place, and start the process of relieving him of his beloved Twingo. Pushing it on to the trailer is straightforward, although my utter lack of understanding about how ratchet straps work continues to frustrate, but after an hour or so, I’m heading north again.

More miles pass and the fatigue I’m expecting doesn’t really attack me. Yes, loading the car myself wasn’t fun in the summer heat, but I just roll on to Richard Kilpatrick’s place, where the car will get some love, attention and a dose of being back on the road. He jumps in and has a quick spin (‘I love it,’ he exclaims, as I say how much it suits him – he lives on a farm) and, while I clean up in his place, he’s already jump-started the Renault, and playing with the full-length roof.

On again, and it’s time to return James’ Defender – and now it’s unladen I’m cracking on a bit. And yes, it really does fly along very nicely indeed. On the motorway – at no more than 60mph, of course – it’s planted, assured and those dangerous thoughts, born through suffering from Compulsive Heap Purchasing Disorder (CHPD) start to kick in. ‘I should get a Defender,’ I tell myself. ‘I need a Defender,’ I countermand internally. ‘My life would be empty without a Defender,’ I finally conclude, as I park it up outside James Agger’s place.

But then, just as I definitely decide one of these could be my next AROnlinemobile, I climb into my Citroen C6, snick the lever into ‘D’ and waft on towards home. ‘What Defender,’ I ask myself…

 [Editor’s Note: My thanks to James Agger, Digby Allen and Susan Hayward for putting up with my condition.]

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Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

21 Comments

  1. Splendid, Keith.
    If I can, I plan to drive the 214 home from the docks.
    That should be a fun adventure.

  2. I have a real yearning for a defender, Ive already got a last of line ’04 Discovery 2 Td5 which is probably a much better all round package, more space, comfort, refinement, specification etc etc but you know how it is when you really want something?
    Fortunately SWMBO says no!

  3. A Defender was the first (and only) car I ever bought new. After running a 200 Tdi 90 as an off road toy and workhorse, and an absolute shed of a 90 as a second car I bit the bullet and bought a 90 County Hardtop in 2009 to use as a daily driver. Despite it having a few niggles which were sorted under warranty I never got bored of it and it always put a smile on my face.

    I bought a house at the end of 2012, so the Defender had to go to pay for the deposit. It didn’t sell straight away though, which was surprising, but a few people said that because it was a hardtop, families wouldn’t be interested, and it was too clean to use as a workhorse (fully waxed and polished every week – had a private plate on it, and people still thought it was new despite having almost 60k on the clock!). In the end a rich bloke bought it, ‘for the dogs’. Shame!

    I still miss it, and still yearn for another (110 Utility Station Wagon next…), but unfortunately a Transit van is more suitable for my needs at the moment and fits in with my budget.

    With production ending this year the values are only going to go one way too. I’d say if you want one now is the best time to buy! Prices are already creeping up. In fact, the price mine went for at the end of 2012, there’s ones exactly the same going for the same money today!

  4. As Warren B says, ‘for the dogs’. Quite often I see these trundling along the inside lane on the motorway with the driver kidding himself its better than a car as everyday transport. Great if you need one for a job, but best left at home if you’re going anywhere nice!

  5. thing is tho kev< nothing else on the road has the heritage or stature of a defender, most other cars dont even get a glance from other motorists unlike the defender. plus most other cars will have horrible depreciation, not the defender!!!

  6. It is just like what Keith says.
    Last winter on a business visit in UK i hired a new 110 to use over a few days instead of a normal hire car. I definitely didn’t need a 4X4 to rush up and down the M40, but i hired it just because i like them and i can’t get over them. Well, yes, the latest ones are bearable on normal road use, but when i got back to a “normal” car (never mind a C6!) i thought, well, yes, it wasn’t that comfortable really. But then again, i remember how i smiled each time i was climbing on to the lofty seat, and how i wanted to stare at it when parked… Defenders and old Land Rovers are toys, and will always be desired by men who are somewhat sentimental about cars. Even the agricultural series models, no matter how crude and uncomfortable, they get under your skin. I just hope that in the not so distant future i will be able to afford one more toy. 🙂

    • Exactly this! When mine went in for warranty work or a service, more often than not I’d get a Freelander 2 as a courtesy car, and on one occasion a top spec Discovery 4. Everything the Defender wasn’t. Yet climbing back into my Defender, hearing the engine rumble away, tinny stereo, no elbow room, bouncy ride, it was still where I preferred to be!

  7. More Twingo please 🙂 Patrick Le Quément has to be one of the best car designers of the past 30 years. The Twingo I is very basic but practical (lots of load space with the seats down) and very cool to look at. Sadly, the Twingo II didn’t carry much on from the Twingo I apart from the door handles and the central instrument binnacle. And the Twingo III for all its charms doesn’t share much at all with the original apart from the name..

  8. Man who has owned an enormous range of BL heaps announces that “he is a masochist”. Hardly a great surprise there!

    Twingo looks cool. Quite fancy trying one of these before they get too rare and expensive. Remember seeing them on holidays in France back in the early 90s and thinking how wacky they looked. Was definitely the forerunner for blobby small cars like the Matiz and the K11 Micra.

    • Renault, in their infinite wisdom, thought that the Clio was small enough for the UK market.

      Though these were the days when Renault still sold big cars here such as 21/Lagunas and 25/Safranes.

      I was lucky enough to spy a few continental plated versions in student areas of South Belfast, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Dundee.

      The mk2 was more of a 3 door Clio, though at least the modern version has an interesting drivetrain (and more than a nod to the Fiat 500).

      Defenders – I remember being given a lift in one by a colleague when we had a team building liquid lunch. The back of it was brilliant with the fold down seats, it felt like an old minibus / camper van. I got to drive a 110 later on an off road forest trail and was amazed at what it could do, even with the extra wheelbase. A motoring legend.

      • In fairness to Renault, the “sub-B” sector didn’t really exist in 1992 when the Twingo mk1 was launched. There was the Fiat Cinqecento, but there was no Ka, no Lupo, and no C1/Aygo back then. The drivetrain was also pretty old, right? Wasn’t the Twingo mk1 mostly a shortened Renault 5 underneath?

  9. I think the “masochist” tag is probably right. Last month, whilst attending a classic vehicle gathering near Exeter, I asked a member of a local Land Rover club if I could sit in the brand new Defender 90 it had on loan from the local Land Rover dealer. Even with optional side runners to assist me I still managed to wack my head as I climbed in (I am only 5′ 10″ tall) and bash my elbow on the steering wheel. If mini skirts had been an accepted dress code for males I would have looked even less dignified entering this vehicle.

    As I sat there grinning away (that’s the masochist in me) the head restraint seemed so far away I though my head would need air miles to reach it, while the steering wheel rim was comically large. I also laughed at the old column stalks and wacked my elbow against the door moulding on more than one occasion. But what a vehicle! Such engineering-based idiosyncrasies you don’t get in modern offerings these days, not even other current Land Rover products. I love them!

  10. IIRC the original Twingo was very hard, if not impossible to convert to RHD due to the engine layout.

    Also Renault were selling loads of Clios in the UK due to the “Nico – Papa!” adverts so didn’t want to upset the applecart.

    When I was in France in 1993 they were very easy to spot, unsurprisingly.

    • Just do what Peugeot do, keep the LHD controls but have crossbars to fit them to the RHD dash. If the passenger presses the right place they can brake the thing! (And I always thought that Peugeots driving with brakelights on were due to the tiny pedals, turns out its just passengers). Pug didn’t even convert the wipers, leaving RHD drivers with a huge blind spot in the rain!

      • Not that easy. The Twingo layout is like most FWD European packages, with the gearbox on the left (car facing forward) and the engine on the right. The Twingo already had to have a modified package to get the exhaust and intakes in the right place, and the packaging – whilst not W168 A-class clever – is certainly “tight” with the bulkhead, front suspension and inner wing layout.

        They did produce RHD headlights for it. To be fair, the footwells wouldn’t make for a nice RHD car anyway. I believe some have been converted, but I really don’t want to know how! The LHD setup is really sweet, plenty of footwell room, good visibility and seat/wheel relationship.

  11. I’ve seen a few personal imports, but they seem to be LHD, at least with an aftermarket foglight added on the offside.

  12. been on an off road day at eastnor castle in a 110 defender, it was awsome what it got through, nothing can touch it a true legend with almost no depreciation, how many other vehicles can claim that

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