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Last Of The Defenders - 1997 Land Rover Defender 90

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2011
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Andrew Walcker of Riverside, California, finally found his ’97 Land Rover Defender 90 in 2005 after a long search for the perfect one. With side impact and airbag regulations coming to play in 1998, the Defender platform could no longer meet U.S. regulations, and as Walcker saw the last of the North American Specification (NAS) Defenders leaving the dealership, he knew he would have to find one to own some day.

This Defender 90 features a 3-inch lift, courtesy of Rovertym coil springs. The skinny LT255/85R16 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 tires mounted on steel Land Rover "Wolf" military wheels give a proper old-school look to the classic design of the Defender.

Many consider the Defender 90 the last of the “real” Land Rovers with their short wheelbase, solid axles, and mountain goat ability. Add to that quirky English ergonomics—er, charm—and you have the basis for a purpose-built trail rig that is chock-full of character.

The last year of the Land Rover Defender 90 in the U.S. is arguably the best vintage of this vehicle. The aluminum-bodied Defender was introduced in 1994 and after a hiatus for 1996, it was brought back in 1997 for a final hurrah. During its run of three model years, fewer than 7,000 were brought over to North America. All ’97 models had the upgraded and cleaner-burning 4.0L V-8, which yielded 182 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque, almost identical to the power output of the 3.9L it replaced. Also new to the Defender for 1997 was the electronically operated ZF four-speed automatic transmission; no manual was offered that model year.

The most desirable of the NAS Defenders was the ’97 Defender 90 LE, or Limited Edition. Only 300 examples of this Defender were imported for the year, and all of them were Willow Green hardtops with full Safety Devices roof racks and diamond-plate body armor.

Walcker’s Defender 90 LE is number 172 of 300 and as been built with the dual purpose of comfortable highway travel and deep backcountry exploration. Outfitted with a slew of aftermarket parts, the Defender has been made even more confident on forgotten trails and abandoned desert thoroughfares. When Walcker wants to extend his adventure, he hooks up his matching Adventure Trailers Horizon and heads for the hills.

Fully outfitted with all of the comforts of home, the AT Horizon can be transformed into a base camp in just a few minutes. The Eezi-Awn roof top tent and fabric awning provide shelter on the trail, while a comprehensive kitchen and onboard storage mean self-sufficiency for days at a time. Walcker has successfully explored the Western U.S. with this setup and has always stayed in comfort at the end of a long day on the trail.

We love the fact that Walcker uses his Defender 90 as it was designed, rather than relegating it to urban duty due to its “limited” status. This is one Defender that has stayed true to its roots and can look forward to many, many more miles of dirt-filled adventures.

Enhancing fording capability, a Mantec snorkel with a Donaldson pre-cleaner snorkel head help the V-8 to breathe under water and in dusty environments.

A Warn M8000 winch with Viking synthetic rope and triple Hella Rallye 4000 lights are mounted on the heavy duty Safari Gard front bumper, which also doubles as a front tow point, thanks to two 12,500-pound Actek shackles. The original incandescent headlights have been replaced with Truck-Lite LED units.

A Safari Gard rear carrier allows Walcker to carry a full-size spare and two jerrycans mounted in an Adventure Trailers mount. Safari Gard rock sliders keep rocks off of the body and are a convenient step into the taller rig.

A stock axle stuffed with Ashcroft 4.11:1 ring and pinion gears and an ARB Air Locker and protected by a Safari Gard diff guard gets extra flexy thanks to a Safari Gard shock hoop and 12-inch Fox Racing Shox reservoir shocks. A Fox Racing steering stabilizer mounted to an Inland Rovers stabilizer relocation kit damps the steering system. Not seen here are the Tom Wood’s double cardan driveshaft and Inland Rovers caster-correcting chrome-moly radius arms.

In the rear, the axle has been moved back two inches with Inland Rovers bracketry and Safari Gard trailing arms, increasing the wheelbase to 94.9 inches. A Currie Antirock rear sway bar is used to control the body without hampering articulation. Also visible here is the Tom Wood’s rear double cardan shaft. The custom exhaust uses a SpinTech muffler.

The rear suspension also uses 12-inch Fox Racing reservoir shocks, and a custom aluminum fuel tank increases fuel capacity to 19 gallons. Just as with the front axle, a Safari Gard diff guard protects the differential housing, which is also loaded with Ashcroft 4.11:1 gears and an ARB Air Locker.

The Adventure Trailers Horizon is compact and capable. The trailer weighs in at just 1,100 pounds empty, and with a 1,600-pound payload capacity and 54 cubic feet of cargo volume, has enough space to store all the essentials (and then some) for a great expedition. The tongue of the trailer holds a 19-gallon potable water tank, with room for an additional two 5-gallon containers for water or fuel.

The AT Horizon trailer features Adventure Trailers’ TASS independent trailing arm air suspension for a smooth ride over rough terrain. Each side can be independently pressurized with air to level the trailer when camping.

The driver-side storage box on the Horizon contains the kitchen, which holds a full-size slide-out stove and enough room for storage of cutlery, crockery, kitchenware, spices, and anything else you want to bring along.

Easily deployed in just minutes, the AT Horizon makes for a great base camp along the trail. Here you can see the Eezi-Awn rooftop tent, 6x6 awning and rear fridge slide. FW

The Details
Owner/Hometown: Andrew Walcker/Riverside, CA
Vehicle/Model: 1997 Land Rover Defender 90 LE
Estimated value: $50,000
Type: 4.0L OHV V-8
Aspiration: Fuel-injected
Output, hp/torque (est): 182/233
Transmission: ZF 4-spd automatic
Transfer Case: Factory full-time 2-spd
Front: Radius arm, 3-in coil springs, 12-in Fox Racing Shox
Rear: Radius arm, 3-in coil springs, 12-in Fox Racing Shox
Front: Stock/ARB Air Locker
Rear: Stock/ARB Air Locker
Ring and pinion: 4.11:1
Wheels: 16x6.5 “Wolf” steel
Tires: LT255/85R16 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2

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