What's the Story?
Which Land Rover would you most like to buy as a weekend ‘toy’? Assuming they were a similar price, would you go for a good solid Series IIA or a non-messed-about 90?’ This is the question I was chewing over in the o ce with Martin Domoney, LRO’s expert workshop writer and serial car buyer. We couldn’t agree so, to settle the matter, we decided to put our opinions to the test. Here’s what happened next…
As a Series I owner, I’m naturally biased towards the SIIA, while Martin is firmly in favour of the Defender. Basically, we’re each aiming to convince the other by the end of the day that he’s wrong in his choice. Surprisingly, we start off by agreeing. A key factor in choosing between these two is what you intend to use your Land Rover for; remaining objective is difficult but it could save you a lot of money. ‘I agree,’ says Martin.
Are you really going to explore the upper reaches of the Congo or simply enjoy trundling around within 20 miles of your front door? Do you have the experience, time and money or inclination to roll up your sleeves and maintain a Land Rover yourself, or will you be relying a local garage or a mate to help you out?
‘A Tdi rather than a Td5 is probably the one to go for as a weekend toy for the DIY mechanic,’ says Martin. ‘Although a Series is very easy to work on, especially if you’ve got a background in tinkering with cars.’ This time, I agree with him. Not much of a battle so far, then. However, he still prefers the Defender to the SIIA – but wait until we’ve driven both of these Land Rovers for eight hours, then we’ll see. I’ll wear him down.
If I were in the market for a Defender, this example would definitely be on my list – it’s so smooth and pleasant to drive. It doesn’t sound or feel as if it’s done six-figure miles. I feel a bit disloyal to the SIIA, but that’s the truth. The ride is smooth, the engine quiet (for a Tdi) and there’s no backlash in the transmission. It drives and brakes perfectly. It is very good; and it’s got a heater. If judged purely on simplicity of maintenance and ease of use for a family guy who just wants to get in and drive out into the sticks, the 300Tdi takes the prize. But I did say ‘if’. There’s much more to deciding which type of Land Rover is best for you, especially when you weigh up all the other factors: cost of maintenance, suitability for purpose (safari or shopping), seating for children or less-agile relatives, and so the list goes on.
Let’s be honest, the biggest factor in choosing your ideal weekend toy is how you feel when you drive it. Do you enjoy the experience or endure it? Remember, you’re buying a ‘toy’, so you’re meant to love every aspect of it, which means you have to be sure before you buy.
Pure enjoyment and escapism is where the Series IIA scores. It makes you smile every time you get in. Okay, the M62 isn’t so much fun at 50mph, but on country A-roads down to greenlanes, the little Series Land Rover is a gem. The engine runs quietly and smoothly. The parabolic springs ride surprisingly well, but aren’t too bouncy. The drum brakes are better than those in my 1957 Series I. The steering isn’t too vague but not as sharp as the Defender’s. True, there’s no heater; and it is very cold and wet. I don’t care, I love it.
This time, Martin agrees with me: ‘The IIA is a lot of fun to drive and goes surprisingly well. I was impressed with how it rode. And especially how it kept up with the Defender on the twisty country roads. It was well planted.’
Our Favourite Bit?
It’s only on particularly bumpy sections of greenlane that you realise the back end of the IIA needs a bit of extra weight to help it properly articulate its back axle and maintain traction on the wet surface. Also, reversing up a steep, wet hill to turn around, the back wheels struggled for traction.
In contrast, the Defender bumbles over the rocky lane’s surface, its coil springs absorbing bumps and lumps with ease. Being heavier and with more supple suspension, it maintains uninterrupted traction. And it’s got a heater. Did I mention the heater?
Despite being slightly overshadowed by the 90’s abilities, there’s no doubt that the best-looking Land Rover on this greenlane today is the Series IIA; never has a Land Rover looked more at home in the Dales… except perhaps a Series I.
And Mark's Verdict?
Mark: ‘Why do you want a weekend utility Land Rover? If it’s for nostalgia, for the looks or the simple driving experience, it has to be the Series IIA. It’s perfect for pooling around 25 miles from home to get to a favourite fishing spot, country pub or a great place to walk your dog.
‘But if you’ve got kids or grandchildren, the 300Tdi station wagon is perfect for days out in the country, and longer journeys too. It’s the ideal vehicle for including family and friends in your hobby; a memory-maker. It also doubles as a tow vehicle for other hobbies, such as sailing, horse riding or banger racing.’
Martin: ‘My view is that if you commute a long way through the week, you probably wouldn’t want to use it all the time. But if you have it as a back-up vehicle and/or fun weekend family vehicle, I’d go for a Defender station wagon.
‘For pure fun, it’s the Series. On a summer’s day, roof down, with mates on board, it’s got to be the IIA, hands down.’
So there we have it: total agreement. I knew I was right all along.
This feature appeared in the May 2016 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.