Understanding Land Rover Defender restoration firm Himalaya nomenclature can be a tad confusing, so let’s clear it up right here at the start: Himalaya is the name of a South Carolina-based company that specializes in high-end restorations of the boxy Land Rover from the late ’80s and early ’90s. That company builds two types of Land Rovers: super-high-end versions with modernized interiors and powerful aftermarket engines, which are called “Himalayas;” and more basic versions that hew closer to the original Defenders in spec and spirit, each of which is called a “Defender by Himalaya.”
Or, to sum up: If a Himalaya has “Defender” in its formal name, it’s basically the closest thing you can buy to a brand-new version of Land Rover’s iconic four-wheel-drive box here in the United States. Jaguar Land Rover, after all, hasn’t sold the Defender 90 or 110 in America since new episodes of Seinfeld were the backbone of Must-See TV Thursdays — or anywhere else since early 2016, for that matter. (Not counting the limited-run Defender Works V8 models of 2018, which were as much a part of the regular production run as Aston Martin’s DB5 James Bond “continuation cars” were made for Goldfinger.)
While they’re generally made to order, Himalaya brought one of its lovingly-recrafted Defender 110 models up to New York earlier this summer for us to take a spin in — not just on the streets, but on the gnarly off-road trails hiding in the woods behind Monticello Motor Club.
The Good: The Defender by Himalaya is, in almost every way that matters, simply a new Defender — not a New Defender, mind you, but a new copy of the classic Land Rover whose basic shape can be traced directly back to the Series I of 1948. As such, it delivers all the joys that come with a simple, all-conquering Landie: simple, mechanically-based off-road capability that humbles most modern SUVs; an open-air driving experience that puts you closer to Nature (and, admittedly, the diesel exhaust belching from the tailpipe) than current vehicles; and a design that even people who know zilch about automobiles can identify.
Who It’s For: Die-hard Land Rover enthusiasts who will happily put up with the sacrifices of an old vehicle to gain driving purity.
Watch Out For: Any car designed in the early ’80s bears its share of quirks and peccadillos by modern standards, but the Defender is a whole different story. After all, it wasn’t designed to be a comfortable road vehicle; it was designed as a tool, off-road equipment made for the likes of farmers and soldiers. Seating is tight — my admittedly-long limbs had to take on a mantis-like fold in order to squeeze behind the wheel and work the controls. The engine’s specs seem laughable in this day and age. . The steering is downright nautical, both in feel and speed. And while it can clean the clock of practically any passenger vehicle off the beaten path, once you hit dry pavement, it feels shockingly out of place by modern standards.
Review: Reviewing a refreshed, improved version of the most iconic Land Rover ever isn’t like reviewing a regular car. The people considering buying one won’t be cross-shopping it against similarly-priced new SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class or the Porsche Cayenne; they likely won’t be looking at other capable four-by-fours like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon or Toyota Land Cruiser. The folks interested in a restored or resto-modded Land Rover Defender know exactly what they want: a restored or resto-modded Defender.
The Defender by Himalaya 110 won’t disappoint those folks. While it’s very clearly a vintage Landie, it boasts just enough modern touches to make it more respectable to modern audiences. The LED headlamps slotted into those familiar sockets are the most apparent, but the changes go far deeper. The company builds its Defenders by melding older chassis to new bodies, but adds onto them with newer pieces. Those door handles may look original, but they’re better than new; they’re metal, where the old ones were plastic. And good luck finding any original Defender with upholstery as nice as the leather wrapping all eight seats in this long-wheelbase three-door.
Of course, there are the occasional anachronistic touches; the giant aftermarket screen mounted inside is hardly 1997-spec, and looks every bit as awkward in the militant interior as seventh graders at a Sadie Hawkins dance. But that’s a small price to pay for the added convenience of a modern-day infotainment system that delivers Bluetooth and other handy features.
And you won’t give a damn about any of that once you’re plowing through the rough stuff beyond the asphalt. The little turbodiesel’s 107 horsepower seems more appropriate for a lawnmower than an off-roader these days, but that engine is more than capable of pushing the SUV around with confidence. Drop it into low range, keep the loooooong stick shift bopping between first and second gears, and the Defender will crawl up and/or over just about anything in its path — including nearly three feet of water. Which, for the record, is doubly entertaining when doing it in a Land Rover with a canvas top rolled up, making the water lapping around the sides feel even closer than it actually is.
Verdict: If you’ve already sucked down the Defender Kool-Aid, a Defender by Himalaya is probably exactly what you’re looking for: the classic Land Rover, made better. It’s not as wildly revisionist as, say, a Singer-customized 911; if you’re seeking Bentley-esque refinement, AMG-like power or even modern Toyota Corolla creature comforts, keep on looking. But if the first thing you’d do with a time-traveling DeLorean is zip back to the ’90s and snap up a D90 or 110 from the local dealership, the Defender by Himalaya’s probably the right rig for you.
Defender by Himalaya 110: Key Specs
Powertrain: 2.5-liter turbodiesel inline-four; five-speed manual transmission; four-wheel-drive
Torque: 188 pound-feet
Claimed Seating Capacity: Eight
Actual Seating Capacity: Four to five, depending on how long the legs of the people in back are
Himalaya provided this product for review.
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