Summer 2020

The Land Rover Defender is one of the most sought-after off-roaders ever made. Instead of buying the brand new 2020 model, many collectors are opting for authentic custom rebuilds of the 20th century classic.

Series III Defender, 1988. Courtesy Coolnvintage

There are few places a Land Rover Defender fits more quintessentially than at the beach.

Arguably the greatest model in the Land Rover line, it shines like a mirror in the sun, able to traverse hot, tall dunes without so much as a bump. Yet, like a true defender, it is humble, durable, and resilient, its classic vintage aesthetic making it as unassumingly beautiful as ever. Its exposed frame, large tires, and bold headlights give it a fearless face. In short, it’s a perfect match for its name.

Some people, lured by that vintage, sturdy beauty, have invested in a Defender of their own. But because the Land Rover Company hasn’t sold a new one since 1997 (though 2020 marks the first year of new production), an industry of rebuilding them has emerged, where specialty garages repurpose only the original frame to construct a new, ultra-customized luxury Defender. Vendors such as Arkonik, based in Somerset, U.K., Coolnvintage in Lisbon, Portugal, East Coast Defenders in Kissimmee, Florida, and Himalaya in Charleston, North Carolina have mastered the art of rebuilding this classic car.

Arkonik DUNE Defender 90, 1991. Courtesy Arkonik

Arkonik NEO Defender 110, 1989. Courtesy Arkonik

“The machine I have in my garage is a thousand times more valuable to me than the original manufacturer vehicle. I’d rather have that than a fully restored Defender using original parts and pieces, especially mechanical pieces, because those you can definitely have issues with,” such as leaking oil or fluid, says Mummert.

For Arkonik customers, that freedom of choice also reveals itself in a range of interior options. Think non-traditional seat configuration, a hand-made custom steering wheel, even personalized family emblems embroidered into the headrests.

Ricardo Pessoa, the founder of Coolnvintage, a Portuguese shop that rebuilds approximately twelve Defenders per year, has a more controlled design approach. He maintains a reverence for what he sees as the Defender’s original purpose, which is an ultra-casual seasonal car rather than an everyday driver. Too many high-tech specs, he thinks, ruins that concept.

Series IIA Defender, 1966. Courtesy Coolnvintage

“For us, we upgraded technically; the suspension is better, the inside is more comfortable, we’ll install better speakers. But we won’t add LED lights on the speedometer or touchscreens on the inside. Really, we’re making a toy. It’s a beach car, a summer car, and it has to be simple, washable inside, and maintain the same principles that Land Rover had when they first designed it.”

Like a true artist, Pessoa has a clear image in his mind’s eye of the beachy, retro lifestyle that his Defenders should fit into, almost as if they were props in a seaside Super 8 film.

Stage One V8 Defender, 1983. Courtesy Coolnvintage

As such, he takes great care to curate a new color palette each year so that Coolnvintage rebuilds match his vision, much like a fashion designer’s seasonal collection. “For us, colors and a summer vibe—the whole thing is connected.”

It seems the Land Rover Company has caught on to Defender enthusiasts’ need for an authentic all-terrain vehicle that feels as luxurious as it does capable. This year, for the first time in twenty-three, they are releasing a new 2020 Defender model. Starting at $50,000, it is Land Rover’s latest mid-tier offering and a nod to the glory of the Defender’s legendary predecessors. But no matter the cost, any new model will always be slightly anti-climactic next to one with history, rebuilt entirely to one’s own customizations— family emblems, beachy beauty, and all.


Only uses parts and pieces from the same period as the Defender itself (1960s-1990s). Typically done by Land Rover company- certified shops.

Series II Defender, 1958. Courtesy Coolnvintage


Outfits an original frame with modern parts, effectively reconstructing the car from scratch. That includes new engines, transmissions, suspensions, drive trains, power steering, and updated interiors.

Defender 90, 2013. Series II Defender, 1958. Courtesy Coolnvintage




You have Successfully Subscribed!