Irrational Pain: Why Selling My Defender 90 Was So Hard To Do
Story & Photos by Marcel Kramer
My old 1990 Land Rover Defender 90 – it’s slow, noisy, uncomfortable and unreliable. And to this day I still regret selling it. And it turns out I’m not the only one who’s had this experience. Across the globe people are hanging on to their oil-dripping Defenders for completely irrational reasons. Why?
When I moved from Amsterdam to Johannesburg I suddenly found myself surrounded by 4×4 superstars. Landcruisers, Hilux’s, Rubicons and Defenders regularly crawl the pavements of Johannesburg’s business district and surrounding suburbs. On the weekends many of them steadily roll out of the city to conquer the rich variety of overlanding trips scattered across Southern Africa.
People who’ve never owned a Defender seem to know a surprising amount of facts about why you shouldn’t buy one. When I was thinking of buying one, there was unanimous agreement between family, friends and colleagues that I must have hit my head very hard and simply wasn’t thinking straight.
Ignoring all sound advice I soon found myself shaking hands with a man wearing a Land Rover jacket and matching Land Rover tattoo. I just bought his beloved 90. It was a mint condition, low-mileage car, with a TD5 engine and all the required overlanding extras: specs dearly coveted by Land Rover enthusiasts. The owner didn’t really want to sell, but for a number of reasons he didn’t have a choice. He was another victim of the irrational bond I too would soon fall victim to.
What followed can only be described as an emotional roller coaster. After every time something expensive broke (again), the car kept finding a way to rekindle my irrational love for it.
In the year that I owned the car I experienced three different oil leaks, failing air-conditioning, three flat tyres – of which one completely disintegrated, and a broken prop-shaft. With any other car you would have given up hope. But it’s different with a Defender.
Because in that same year I took the car through a number of off-road courses, traversed Namibia and Botswana, and took it to the South African coast and back. And every time you leave the tarmac with a Defender it feels like it can’t be rivalled. The car seems limitless in its capabilities and it takes a skilled and brave driver to try explore those limits. Steep hills, endless gravel roads and the deep sand of the Sossusvlei in Namibia were just another day in the office for the Defender. And even on the tarmac, where it’s clearly not designed to be and where it will really only get you to a maximum speed of 120 km/h while guzzling diesel at a higher rate than a Sherman tank, it has a truly unique character. I once covered 1250 km in one day in the Defender and was still fresh as a daisy when I arrived.
However, while the Defender rules the gravel and settles on the tarmac, any of those other superstar 4x4s – the Landcruiser, Hilux and Rubicon – have similar capabilities. And more importantly, they’re faster, less noisy, more comfortable and more reliable.
As my friend with the Land Rover tattoo did, I found myself having to sell the Defender. My beloved friends agreed that it was best the Defender would go. At the time I was too distracted by the machine I traded the Defender in for. But as the days passed by this nagging feeling started to grow, until, one day, I found myself confessing to my friends, “I shouldn’t have sold the 90”. My friends – again reminding me of the misery of owning a Defender – asked why, and I simply couldn’t explain.
A few months down the line I now understand. The rational explanation lies in the irrationality of the bond. In hostage situations captives sometimes fall victim to Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim develops feelings of trust and affection towards a captor. It’s a natural defence mechanism humans develop. I think the irrational attachment to the Defender is a similar defence mechanism. I developed feelings of trust and affection towards my captor – the Defender. It meant I forget about all my gripes with the Defender- the slowness, noise, lack of comfort and expensive repairs – and left me with one thought: I need another Land Rover Defender.
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