By 1983, the original Land Rover 88 and 109 models were showing their age. The company therefore decided to develop a new aggressive model utilizing the technology that had made its Range Rover such a success. The 110-inch wheelbase model was chosen for the first new vehicle, as the original 109-inch leaf-spring model accounted for 70 percent of the company’s sales, and the old leaf spring models were phased out over five years.
The Land Rover 110 (One Ten) was the result of a £200 million program, begun in 1979 when the 3.5-liter Range Rover V-8 became available in the rugged base models, and the luxury County model was launched to offer Range Rover comforts.
The 110 featured full-time four-wheel drive, coil spring suspension all round and 11.8-inch front-wheel disc brakes. It was powered by either the alloy 114 bhp V-8 coupled to a hefty four-speed gearbox, a 2.3-liter, 74-bhp four-cylinder gasoline engine or a 60-bhp, 2.5-liter diesel engine, both with a five-speed gearbox. All models had a two-speed transfer case to double the number of gears, and the turning circle was tightened.
Traditional Land Rover design cues were maintained, but the one-piece windshield was 25 percent larger. The Land Rover 110 was available in five models: soft top and hardtop workhorse, pickup, heavy duty pickup and station wagon. Bare chassis cabs were available for specialist work, and the top of the line was the luxury Land Rover County station wagon.
Off-road capability was significantly improved for the Land Rover, with seven inches of vertical travel in the front and 8.25 inches in the rear. Approach and departure angles were vastly improved by moving the rea axle three-inches closer to the end of the chassis. A £7 million plant redesign meant that the frame now featured more than 400 separate welds and bolted cross members permitted easier access to engine, gearbox and fuel tank. Power steering was optional for the first time and the rear-mounted spare elevated to simplify towing. Additional fuel tanks could raise the capacity from 17.5 gallons to 27.5 or 32.5 gallons.
The year 1984 saw a new short-wheelbase version, the Land Rover 90 (Ninety), to replace the old 88. The wheelbase was actually 93 inches, but all of the improvements of the 110 were added to the new model, including a stronger frame, bigger windows and larger payload. Axles were located by radius arms and a Panhard rod up front and trailing links at the rear. Approach and departure angles also improved. Available engines were the 2.3-liter gasoline and 2.5-liter diesel, with five-speed gearbox and top speed of 70 mph.
The final version of the new Land Rover was the V-8 90, which combined the 3.5-liter V-8 engine with the short-wheelbase workhorse. A stronger five-speed gearbox was added and the Land Rover 90 could indeed hit 90 on the highway as well. Buyers often added extra fuel tanks, as a 12-gallon tank and 13.2 mpg would keep a thirsty Rover close to home. A luxury County model soon followed.
The Land Rover 90 gained a new name – Land Rover Defender – for 1991, to distinguish it from the new 1990 Discovery model. The Defender 90 and Defender 110 both got a new 2.5-liter intercooled turbo-diesel engine. With 107 bhp and 188 lbs feet of torque, the new engine gave 26 percent more power, 25 percent more torque and 215 percent better fuel economy.
The Land Rover Defender 90 was launched in the U.S. in 1993 and sold here until 1997, though only about 2,000 were imported each year. It was fitted with the fuel-injected, 182 bhp 3.9-liter version of the old Buick alloy V-8, was good for 0-60 mph in 10.2 seconds, and was limited to a top speed of 86 mph. Base price was $27,900, but options including air-conditioning and every kind of off-road accessory could easily push it past $35,000. As the ultimate version of the original Land Rover, it proved capable of meeting just about every off-road challenge, and prices are still close to their original MSRP. Demand in this country has lured many foreign market Defenders here via grey market, so buyers should shop carefully and ensure that any example under consideration is here legitimately.