Could this be the Defender of the faith?

By Mike Duff / Saturday, March 6, 2021 / Loading comments

Don't adjust your set. It is Saturday morning and you haven't slept through Friday; this is Brave Pill rather than Shed of the Week. You may well be feeling some doubt on that score looking at this week's offering, a 1988 Land Rover 110 Station Wagon that boasts more patina than many warzones. Yet even without a price tag £11,350 outside eligibility, this Landie wouldn't qualify for SOTW consideration: it last passed an MOT in 2007.

Yet these are strange times, especially when it comes to the values attached to the more obscure members of the 90/110/Defender clan. And as one of the rarest of the lot our Pill actually looks pretty fairly priced, especially when you consider the £195,000 – pre-VAT – that Land Rover Classic is asking for its officially sanctioned V8 Works Trophy restomod.

It wasn't always thus, of course. My greatest personal error of car buying probably dates from 2008 when I stood on the cusp of turning a long-running Defender obsession into actual ownership. After mounting a selection quest long and obsessive enough to earn a seat at the Round Table I had finally found my personal holy grail, a late 300 TDI 90 County Station Wagon in green with original graphics, 30-something thousand miles, one previous owner and a full main dealer history.

This was being sold by a well-known specialist for what looked like a very solid price at the time – I think it was £12,000 – underwritten by its near-perfect condition. I drove it, fell in love, made a not-quite offer that was politely rejected and went away to contemplate my next move. Three hours later I phoned back to agree to pay the full asking to be told I was 20 minutes too late: "but we'll call you if we get another one in." I'm still waiting.

Values for the more desirable Defenders started to rise a few years later, their upward trajectory accelerating when Land Rover announced the end of production. In the last couple of years things have started to get properly silly, especially for what are perceived to be more desirable variants alongside those that can be parallel imported into the U.S. under the 25-year-old Federal exemption. As a right-hand-drive 110 Station Wagon fitted with the very rare option of the factory V8, our Pill is about as unicorn-grade as coil-sprung Landies of this vintage get. Even if, to use a technical term, it is a complete heap. But what a gorgeous heap, one with its history quite literally written upon it.

Even Dr. Watson or Captain Hastings would have little difficulty deducing that our Pill formerly belonged to the Thanet Flying Club, which sign-wrote its details on both sides of the 110 in different colours. The dealer selling the car says it was used to ferry pupils out to aircraft at the former Manston Airport in Kent, although it seems likely to have also travelled further afield to accumulate the 103,000 miles in the twenty years before it seems to have been laid up.

Quite why a flying school would choose a V8 Defender rather than one of the much more prolific diesel-powered examples remains an unanswered question – possibly the need to keep distracting black clouds of particulates away from the runway. But we should give thanks that it did, because the V8 is the definite highlight for the clan. I got to drive a similarly aged example when Land Rover organised a send-off for the model range on Islay in 2015, and remember the wuffly, carb-fed V8 as being the highlight of the day. The 3.5-litre Rover V8 is in its gentlest state of tune, making relaxed 130hp, and fuel economy will rarely rise above the low teens. But it is a much nicer and more characterful powerplant than the boorish, boosty Turbo Diesel of the same era.

Dating from 1988 means our Pill isn't actually a Defender – the name was only introduced two years later to make the Landie look more butch when it was launched into the 'States – but this one is late enough to have the more robust five-speed manual gearbox in place of the four-speeder the 110 V8 was launched with. Geekier geeks that I will be able to glean more intelligence from the images, although from memory all versions had the '24V' warning light on the dash and this doesn't indicate fitment of 24 Volt electrics.

We have had a peek at our Pill's available MOT history – Enzo the hamster spent a day guessing the digits missing from the reg plate – but as this only just runs into the digital era it doesn't report anything of note beyond a failure for a non-functioning indicator and broken light switch back in 2006. The pictures show unsurprising evidence of rust in the windscreen scuttle, but for any 110 of this vintage the more pressing question will be how the chassis is holding up. The good news is that parts support is effectively total, and any Land Rover can be Trigger's Broomed to pretty much whatever state you'd like it to be in. But any vehicle that has been off the road for this long is going to need plenty of fettling, and for a Land Rover that is doubly true.

This is something the selling dealer is obviously keen to help with, the advert saying the 110 is available for "full restoration to bespoke specification." That is almost certainly a prediction of its ultimate fate, one that is likely to see the sort of visual transformation Tim Shaw pulls a sheet off. But if I was lucky enough to have the cash to buy and legalize it my instruction would be a simple one: sort everything mechanical but leave the body as-is. It could definitely hold its own next to either a new Defender V8 or a gleaming Works Trophy.


See the original advert here

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