A weekend with a Land Rover Defender Autobiography

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AWWDefender01Day one: I’ve got a book coming out. I might have mentioned this. More details here. To promote its release, the publisher wanted to film me talking about it while driving. I told them I would blag something interesting. But what? Too flash and people might think, I’m not buying that twat’s book when he’s clearly got too much money as it is. Too rubbish and it might seem as if I didn’t know my shit. I explained this dilemma to the nice people at the book company. We’ll let you sort out the car, they said sweetly in a way that suggested I was wildly over-thinking something unimportant like a full-fat loony. But it was important to me, and there seemed to be only one solution. I needed a Defender. Everyone likes a Defender. Not too flash, not too shabby, just chunky and likeable. In fact, I’m about to buy a Heritage run-out model, but it doesn’t turn up until December and the shoot was scheduled for a few days’ time so I contacted Land Rover and asked nicely if I could borrow something. You’re in luck, they said, we’ve got a Defender spare. And it’s one of the end-of-days Autobiography editions. I’ll get this out the way now; the Land Rover Defender Autobiography costs £61,845. It’s an idiotic amount of money for a piece of 1940s farm equipment, even one with two-tone paint and an interior so comprehensively leathered that even the roof lining is the old wrapper from a cow. Mind you, they’re only selling 100 in the UK, it’s (almost) last of the line, they probably won’t struggle to shift ‘em. But yes, 61 grand. It’s a lot.

The book people are already at my house when the Defender arrives. We go outside to have a look at it and, having previously humoured me with my pathetic fretting over car choice, suddenly they’re interested. The word ‘cool’ is used several times. I agree. In this spec, the Defender looks extremely handsome, what with its black wheels and fancy paint and whathaveyou. My next door neighbour comes out of his house and openly fawns over it. A camera is unleashed, I talk some drivel while driving it and some more drivel while standing next to it, and our filming is done. I meet my friend Mike for lunch. He too declares the Defender to be cool. Although he also notices the various sturdy clonks and thumps that emanate from the mechanical parts. No amount of fancy trimming can disguise the fact that, technically, it’s as complicated as a pair of scissors. But a pair of scissors with a richly scented leather handle.

AWWDefender02Later I go to the supermarket. Don’t strictly need to, but we’re out of milk and I want to drive the Defender again. If I had a Ferrari at my disposal I’d feel the same, but I’d have to get out of the city and find some decent roads upon which it could unleash its skills. Obviously I’m not using the Land Rover’s real talents either, because they are to drive up very steep, very rough and very muddy things and there is none of that in Waitrose car park, but the delight of driving it in town is that it still feels unusual and amusing. Also, it’s only about the length of a Fiesta so it’s a piece of piss to park, lousy steering lock aside.

My wife comes home from work and declares the Defender to be cool. I think what we can conclude from today is that this is, on totting up the totals, the coolest car in the world.

Day two: Last night I had a cheery message from the Land Rover PR chap asking if I appreciated the extra power of this Autobiography edition. Thanks to an ECU tweak, it gets 148 horsepower rather than the standard 120. Frankly, I’d forgotten about this spec detail and hadn’t noticed any difference at all. But today, while bumping around London, I paid more attention. I can’t really spot more power as such, but it’s a little more flexible and co-operative. You can leave it in third for turning into junctions, rather than slamming the chunky change down into the low second gear. So that’s nice. If you’ve got a regular Defender, there are aftermarket companies who will put their hands into the engine’s brain to achieve similar things.

Later, I lash a car seat into the back and take my 19 month old son out in the Defender. In most cars, he’s down low and the glass line is around his forehead. In the Land Rover, he’s up high with a whole window in front of his face. This makes him giggle with delight as we chug about the place. He’s happy, I’m happy, the car feels happy. In some ways it reminds me of my dog. She too has many, many flaws and on paper you’d be an idiot to welcome such an awkward, noisy, daft creature into your life. Yet, I adore her. And the same goes for the Land Rover. Although, on the plus side, I’ve never seen a Defender wait until it’s been cleaned and then immediately roll in some fox shit.

Day three: There’s a Grand Prix on. But there’s also an Avro Vulcan scheduled to fly over an airfield just outside London and that seems like a more interesting option so the boy and I pile into the Land Rover and set off on a trip to Essex. The Defender does not have what you’d call a smooth ride. It joggles and jiggles and generally shifts around in a restless way. It’s quite noisy on the motorway too. Yet, amazingly, the little chap in the back falls asleep for most of the journey. I wake him in time to see a glorious old V-bomber soar overhead then we have a snack sitting in the open back door, watching little planes taking off on the runway nearby. All told, a grand day out. An ordinary car would have been simply a way of getting there and back. Doing it in the silly, slow, friendly, jaunty car made it feel like an adventure.

AWWDefender03Day four: The Defender has to go back to Land Rover. I wish it didn’t. I know, I know. My heartfelt affection towards it defies all logic. I don’t need one. Few people do. But it has a personality and a spirit that is beyond all reason. I like it because it’s unlike any other brand new car. I like it because, though it’s hard work to drive, it makes you think and concentrate and put more effort into the basics of working the controls where most cars smooth away such skills in an anaesthetic sludge. I like it because it makes my little boy smile and seems to bring out the warmest reactions in strangers. As an awful Brit car bore, I even like the parts cupboard interior with its Marina stalks, Metro buttons, Montego window switches, and door lock buttons from the Rover SD1. And that in turn reminds me that it’s the bookend of 67 years of local history, which is something else in its favour. It’s not quick, it’s not quiet, it’s not smooth or slick or sophisticated. But it has something sorely lacking in most cars you can buy today. It has a heart, and it has a soul.

The car talked about here is a Land Rover Defender Autobiography. It has a 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 148 horsepower. They haven’t re-tested the more powerful engine, but the standard car will go from 0-62 in 14.7 seconds and on to 90mph. It costs £61,845. Feel free to mention this several times in the comments section below.


  1. How much does it cost?

  2. £61,845.00 seems a ridiculously low price for a piece of exquisite British engineering.

    I would willingly sell my house and some of my more attractive children to fund the continuation of such automotive excellence.

  3. 61 grand for a luxury tractor, they’ll be charging 5p for carrier bags before long!

  4. Is Sir Sniff drunk? Or going soft in his old age?

    How much does it cost?

  5. Nearly 62 grand and it doesn’t have engraved chequer plate wing tops or a “One Life, Spend It” sticker..
    I want one.

  6. Does this come with a damp boot carpet and accompanying doggy smell or is that a cost extra?

  7. What Sniff fails to mention its that at £61K its the special edition “Nick Leeson Autobiography”, there is a slightly crapper version at just £58K, the “Gerald Ratner Autobiography” but this is soon to be rebranded as “H Samuel Autobiography” at which point the price will rise to £71K with the addition of absolutely nothing at all….

  8. It’s so cool you could keep a joint of meat in it for a week.

  9. Nice to know that a 2015 can give the same feeling as a 1960 (which I happily own). Even our Disco has a bit of that. And this in Canada. My wife’s boss drove her Disco, and now he wants one, badly.

  10. This being a parts bin special, who keeps making this buttonry since BL clearly no longer exists?

  11. @Princess they probably get them from a breaker.

    @Sniff what did you say the price was again?

  12. Can’t help thinking that JLR will put it back into production overseas after a short while, or the Iranians have another look to see what Land Rover Series tooling they still have, or the Chinese start making copies like Chery have done with the Moke…

    If you want one as an investment/depreciation proof I would suggest a 90SV or 110 NAS spec.

    Try and blag a test drive in a 101 V8 Forward Control…

    Have you got a new book out?

  13. Too gentle a review by half.

    £61K is mind boggling for something this primitive.

    I’m a proud Brit as much as the next man but I’d sooner have £5Ks worth of the same thing at 20 years old, which has a lot more inherent ‘cool’ than this pointlessly blinged up piece of marketing jive.

    Fundamentally, a tarted up Defender (with commensurate price tag) is missing the point in the most spectacular way possible.

  14. They should have called it the “Cocaine”
    For people with more money than sense..

  15. I think that’s a Range Rover Sport special edition, Richard.

  16. Can’t wait for the Overfinch Autobiography SMG M3 Cosworth edition. Only 1 will be made, the payment for which will simultaneously cause the entire global financial services sector to implode. But will have a nice cup holder and be a bit shinier

  17. How much does it cost ????
    How big difference would it have been if instead of the blinged overpriced version you would have taken the standard cheaper version? ?

  18. It should be every Englishman or woman’s right to have a go in or be driven in a defender at some point in their life.

    Be it a 61k tarts handbag or a 1k eBay shitter.

  19. I think you will find that the vehicle comes as standard with 40k of coke under the rear seats.
    Nobody pays damn nearly 62k for a Defender unless it’s full of drugs.

  20. “nobody pays £62k for a defender unless it’s full of drugs”

    Or they are…

  21. Surely the sticker of choice for this vehicle is “One Wife – Livid”?

  22. I love these spoof articles. Can you imagine if a Land Rover Defender actually cost £62k? Hahahahaha!

  23. You could get a fairly well specced Merc Obersturmbahnschnellkampfwagen for that. With leather and everything, and it would keep the kid asleep for ages.

  24. Montego Window switches? WORKING Montego Window Switches!? That’s worth 62k alone!

  25. Cynical marketing shite indeed. I recall that LR did something similar years ago to celebrate their 50th anniversary. At least the bling version then had a V8 auto. And the Heritage version had two colours, pale and dark green. Creatively bankrupt?

  26. I don’t begrudge long-serving vehicles having a lavish last hurrah. In the case of the Defender, I’d say it’s earned the right to be blinged up to within an inch of its life.

    The only thing missing from this otherwise excellent article, and subsequent amusing and erudite comments, is any mention of the price.

    If I had to guess, I’d say £25k is about right.

  27. It turns out this vehicle costs nearly £62k.

    Please disregard my previous comment in its entirety.

    I feel dirty. And not in a good way.

  28. Sixty two grand.

  29. probably more like £100k with options….

  30. North Weald? Sunday, Vulcan? didn’t park in the pitch and putt car park did you?…

  31. Shameless plug for my series 3. Just the same enjoyment to be had without the price tag. Honest.

  32. Just goes to show what I’ve always said. Modern cars might be quick, well-equipped, safe, comfortable, whatever.

    But they are so DULL. DULL as ditchwater.

    Your Day Three sounds like a perfect day.

    And this “immediately roll in some fox shit” sounds exactly my mad Beagle.

  33. Or you could have a Twisted version where they have built it properly!

  34. Business is there to make money. If people will pay 60+ grand for this blowout model, fine. After 67 years in production – surely a record which will never be beaten – King Defender the First is entitled to a little joke at the world’s expense.
    PS there used to be a huge number of “stored” Landies on farms around Tomintoul – which also has a supermarket with an alcove dedicated entirely to sales of Scotch whisky. 2 good reasons to get there before Nicola Sturgeon requires you to show your passport.

  35. Is it possible to spend so much and go so slowly, buying any other new vehicle from any maker, anywhere? This must be some kinda record. And this with MORE power? I bet the standard motor can’t even get out of its’ own way. I have a Rev.4/5 MkII Toyota MR2, which is usually the fastest thing on any particular non urban-restricted road I am on, which is in utterly-pukka order and gorgeous condition. Mine, two and a half years back on eBay for a shade under 1400 quid. 61 feckin’ grand? Go p1$$ up a rope.

  36. ExtroInso, with all due respect to your ballistic MR-Deux, a lot of speed over ground is down to attitude; and to knowing the road. Just the other day, I had to divert my “Bangernomics” 1300cc Colt off the M1 and through the lanes to get to work. My colleague has a 3.2-litre Mercedes, and he seemed to be struggling to keep up. Made me feel a bit smug, to be honest. See also the James Bond film where the Carabinieri Defender mysteriously catches up with the Aston in the opening car chase. It’s in a movie, it must be true – right?

  37. You were at North Weald airfield at 1.30 on that Sunday watching the Vulcan? So was I! I only live just up the road.
    If only I’d know I could have come across and greeted you enthusiastically, and then stood there in embarrassed silence before slinking off again.

  38. Hi, I am after for the color code of above defender. Autobiography 90.

  39. I’ll never get the British Charm of this Defender this which doesn’t have a brand or is it the brand or what is it? I mean sure if it can take a knock or two but modern, cheaper, I mean… crisis… complex choices. This one probably wouldn’t be mine.

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