A small group of Land Rover Defenders that originally met U.S. regulations have been transformed into hot commodities.
If you’re in the market for a used Land Rover Defender, you know the prices for the North American or NAS versions can be astronomical. Sure, the little off-roaders are cute and all that. But some of the 21-25-year-old vehicles sell for six figures or more at auctions and online. What makes these imports so desirable?
In a word, rarity. In 1993, only 535 units of the Defender 110, the extended wheelbase model, were imported. They were all white and numbered like collector’s items.
Then in 1994, 1995 and 1997, the short-wheelbase Defender 90 was imported as the “NAS” or North American Specification Defender. Just 6,442 units were imported to the U.S. during those years. The NAS version is therefore exceptionally rare and collectible.
Only the NAS model met the National Highway Transportation Administration requirements prior to 1998 when Defender imports ceased. That was the year cars were required to have airbags to be sold legally in the U.S. Land Rover couldn’t justify the expense to upgrade the model when it sold fewer than 20,000 per year around the world.
Expensive & slow
The funny thing is, the Defenders don’t hold up well against their closest competition, the Jeep Wrangler. The U.S. spec defenders had a weak V8 that pumped out only 182 horsepower, which is exceeded by most boring sedans. It took 12.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, slower than a hybrid like a Toyota Prius.
The Defenders are rough and uncomfortable with few amenities. There’s no ABS and the windows slide open instead of cranking up or down. Carpeting and air conditioning were options. The platform dates back to the original Mk 1 Land Rover that debuted in 1948, Britain’s answer to the World War II Jeep. Many Mk 1 and Defender parts are interchangeable, as they were built with the same equipment on the same assembly line.
Don’t get crushed
Do your homework before you buy one. If you try to import one the wrong way, your Defender could be seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and crushed.
In 2014 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol began targeting imports of Defenders and Minis, seizing cars and crushing them to keep them out of the hands of the adults who paid good money to own them.
Like a lot of crimes, it’s the cover-up that leads to the Feds getting involved. See, the illegal vehicles were represented on import entry documents as being 25 years or older, but may have been newer, illegally reconfigured vehicles, or even reconstructed from stolen vehicle parts. The vehicle identification numbers (VIN) were fraudulently altered, the CPB said. These fraudulent actions attempt to use as cover exemptions within the statutes and regulations administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA that allow older vehicles to be imported without restriction.
Today, you can import a Land Rover Defender (or any other non-U.S. vehicle) that is at least 25 years old for personal use. The Defenders are getting old enough that this is a viable option. The last Defender, a soft-top “90” rolled off the production line on January 29, 2016.
Arkonik, a UK-based company, refurbishes and updates Defenders and imports them to the U.S. The Arkonik Defenders, while undeniably cool, are a bit salty with a base price of $120,000.
If you get the itch for a Defender, check out auctions like Barrett-Jackson, or online sites like Bring a Trailer, Craigslist or Land Rover owners’ groups.
East Coast Rover: https://eastcoastrover.com/INFOD90.html
Bring a Trailer: https://bringatrailer.com/