Copyright 2001

[ December 7th 2001 ]

Land Rover is hoping to cash in on Japan's love of British motoring icons - by exporting its workhorse Defender there for the first time in its 53-year history. Japan became the biggest export market for the Mini, even when sales were falling in the UK and the new MINI is also expected to become a big seller there. Land Rover intends to sell just 400 Defenders a year in Japan and demand is likely to be high because of its rarity value.

The Solihull-based company decided the time was right to launch the Defender in the Land of the Rising Sun because of the success it has had with its Freelander V6 model, which went on sale there in February. The publicity surrounding the special Lara Croft limited edition version of the Defender, which featured in the film Tomb Raider, has also helped create demand for the vehicle.

Defenders, although famous for their off-roading abilities, are now being seen in the streets of London as style statements. I spent a week with the Tomb Raider 90 and although it is basically the same as the normal Defender it drew some admiring looks with its exceptionally macho features. It was designed for all-terrain types wanting to echo the fearless exploits of Tomb Raider hero Lara Croft.

Just 250 of the Defender Tomb Raider LE have been built. The model, with a Tomb Raider plaque, is available as a Defender 90 Station Wagon or 110 Double Cab, with one-off grey paintwork and chequer-plate body cladding. But hurry if you want one, there's just a few left.

Extra external fittings include a roof rack topped with four spotlights and a support bar, grey alloy wheels, spotlights, rear step and side-protection rails. Newly-commissioned seat covers are on show inside, alongside an aluminium steering guard and polished aluminium gear stick. Under the bonnet is a gutsy Td5 turbo diesel engine, featuring a high- pressure electronic unit injector, which helps the Defender pile on the power.

Priced at pounds 22,995 and pounds 23,995 respectively, the 90 Station Wagon and 110 Double Cab pick-up versions of the Defender Tomb Raider LE could go on to be collectors' items. I didn't take it off-road, because I already know how capable the Defender is after spending two days on some of the roughest, toughest terrain in Spain earlier this year.

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