Defenders are a bit like Marmite; you either love them or hate them and it would appear our cousins across the pond love them. These iconic vehicles recognised the world over sadly ceased production this year which has fuelled their demand more so, unfortunately also pushing thefts up by 70%. Older models are being purchased and lovingly restored which is what West Coast Defenders (WCD) based in Somerset are doing to help meet demand in the States.
Founder of the company Mathew Perlman from Chicago started WCD after friends kept browbeating him into selling them his personal cars, the first a Range Rover Classic and then his two following cars, Defenders. Realising the great interest these vehicles were creating in the USA coupled with the fact they had only been imported into the states from 1993 to 1997 Perlman came to England to source and prepare Defenders for export to an ever-growing American market.
Export to America is restricted to Classic vehicles only so the Defenders need to be a minimum of 25 years old and traditionally factory fitted without any modifications to meet the stringent import regulations, we have all heard about the crushing of defenders that failed to meet the criteria.
Perlman and his team scour the planet to find rust free chassis and unmolested versions, a task in its self considering most folk like to upgrade everything from suspension to lights to snorkels because the Defender is so easy to work on and is great fun to play in, not to mention the great UK weather taking it’s toll on our treasured trucks, but there is reportedly 70% of the Defender production still in use today.
WCD locate the appropriate vehicles worldwide, 90, 110, 130, pick up, County etc. as requested through their ordering service, haul it into the Somerset workshop then start to work their magic by first stripping it back to its chassis, doing an over all inspection, adding a protective anti rust coating to the frame, then testing and repairing all that is required. Next the veteran Land Rover team replace all the nuts, rubbers and bolts inserting soundproofing and steel sills where necessary before shipping the Defenders to the port of Los Angeles for import to the US.
Once in LA the Defenders go to the depot for a Stars and Stripes upgrade to meet their WCD basic luxury spec. Electrics are upgraded to include LED lights front and back, a reversing camera, electric windows and locks, air-con, Sat Nav and of course a Bluetooth stereo. Auto boxes are an option too, even leather seats if the customer so chooses. Engines are upgraded to an American 4 litre – V8 from the old all-aluminium Buick dating back to the 1960’s producing 182 of horsepower and 233 lbs ft of torque to keep up with modern speed requirements although acceleration is still not worth measuring and obviously the engine and tyre noise is still evident but then that is part of the appeal of a classic car, and as Defenders have coined the moto ‘you can go fast but I can go anywhere’ it’s nice to see these American Imports have kept true to the Defenders purpose, an off roader, but with WCD fitting stiff springs and dampers road handling can be improved too. The whole process can take from 7 to 10 months of TLC to meet the required specifications.
Of course Perlman beats off comments from the purists claiming his use of dash arrangement and interior are not original by highlighting that he uses the best from a rich 7 decades of history of the defender, preferring the 1980’s dash and the 1970’s plastic switchgear and centre consoles despite the age of the particular car.
But of course one of the endearing factors of the Defender is it hasn’t changed shape for most of its production life making it hard to decipher an age or even the ‘class’ of it’s owner.
The Defender will continue to be loved and desired for a few more decades to come we think …