In the course of one week in September 1973, two events took place that changed my life forever. I got my first dog, an 8-week-old German shepherd puppy, whom my (then-) wife named Montag, after the protagonist in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," and I go my first 4-wheel drive, a 1974 International Scout II. The Scout lasted for 11 years (Montag 14, my wife 5), and was replaced in 1984 with a CJ-7 Jeep, a soft-top with canvas doors. On Columbus Day weekend in 1993, I was about to replace the Jeep with another, when a good friend told me about the new Land Rover Defender D90s that were just coming into the US market. I contacted the Land Rover headquarters and they told me that 250 of the D90s, all red, were stuck on ship in Norfolk, Virginia, pending resolution of a luxury tax issue, but I could see one at a car show at White Flint Mall in Rockville, Md. that weekend. I spent a good part of that Saturday, Sunday and Monday out at the mall just checking out that magnificent machine and was smitten. Ten weeks later, on a cold, snowy December 31st, I drove my jeep to Midlothian, Virginia, outside of Richard, and after ten minutes of negotiating, with Charles Matthews drove home later that day in my brand new, forest green, Defender 90, #291.
From 1993 to 1999, the only real action the Defender saw was an annual winter trip to Mont Tremblant in Quebec, where it proved its mettle several times. In 1998, after my dog Sonntag became paralyzed, it proved to be the perfect vehicle for transporting a paralyzed, wheel-chair bound large dog. In 2000, when I decided to take Sonntag on one last road trip before I moved to Russia for a position with the Russian Central Bank, I looked at a map, saw that the longest road trip from Washington DC to anywhere on the continent was to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and so off we went. That trip, which was featured in the cover story of the January 2002 National Geographic, kicked off what became eight long road trips with my dogs in 2001, 2002, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016, all but one between more 10,000 and 14,500 miles, camping every night.
The Defender is pretty well equipped with built-in features as well as a full complement of carry on equipment and supplies.
- On the roof is a 4' by 6' stainless steel roof rack roof which holds at least 500 pounds of gear;
- Built in supports on the roof rack for 5-gallon gas and water jerry cans, a pull-pal anchor system, hi-jack, and shovel.
- The hood (bonnet in British) contains a 2nd spare time holder.
- All six tires (two spare) are BF Goodrich Mud-Terrains.
- The ARB reinforced front brush bar conceals a 5000-pound winch.
- Two differential locks in the front and rear are controlled from an air locker under the passenger seat, controlled from the cabin.
- Skid plates protect the undercarriage in the three vulnerable areas.
- The 15-gallon gas tank is augmented by an 8-gallon tank, giving the Defender a range of 420 miles before refuels.
- A new AC provides a much more powerful delivery of colder air than the original systems.
- A trap door has been installed in the bed of the truck to gain quick access to the fuel pump, precluding the need to empty the fuel tank to install a new pump.
- The entire cooling system has been installed since 2014.
- The rear chasis was replaced in 2017 and new rear bumper installed.
- A new Badger II roof provides for three-side open air ride with a surrey top.
- A GPS system rear camera has been added for those times when these things come in handy;
- A new heated driver’s seat provides a more comfortable ride in all weather conditions;
- In 2016, the 3.9-liter V-* engine was replaced with a speedier 4.6 liter rebuilt V-8 engine, and supplemented with an RIP Tornado chip for extra fuel efficiency;
- A auxiliary ladder for access to the roof rack in the front was added in 2018;
- Accessory equipment that goes with us on all long trips include a full complement of off-road emergency gear.
Needless to say, I have had numerous offers for my Defender over the years. (On one trip, at a gas stop in Ontario, one young woman shouted out to me, "l'll marry you for your Jeep," thinking that I was driving a jeep based on my license plate.) At some point, my guess is that I will be ready to sell it. But more important than the price I will sell it for is what the prospective buyer intends to use it for. After 25 years of serving its intended purposes, Defender 291 is not ready for retirement to country-club duty. Whoever gets this vehicle, will be getting one rugged, precision machine.
Photo of Defender 291 with Denali (2013) is by Ed Boudreau. Look closely at the ladder to the roof rack in the left rear. That's Leben's wheelchair strung off it.