Choosing the perfect wheels

How we found our dream car...

Ok so we knew we wanted a defender, but there were still a tonne of other decisions to make. Eve and I were both total newbies to buying cars, so this was all pretty intimidating. But that’s nothing that hours and hours of googling couldn’t help with. This post is all about those decisions and the process we went through to find our baby and bring him home

The 15 year rule

It turns out that Canada really doesn’t like you bringing a non-Canadian car into the country. Even if you’re a citizen and you’re trying to do something clearly awesome. Canada has some very specific safety regulations that mean only cars that have been designed to be used there have any chance of being accepted. The only real exception is if the car is over 15 years old, in which case it seems to count as a classic and the rules don’t matter any more. Luckily for us, we had always pictured a classic defender so the only impact was that we had to be careful when browsing to make sure we picked one that was built earlier than July 2002. As we both knew almost nothing about cars (and as everyone kept reminding us, we really didn’t want it to break down halfway across America with no spare parts for 2000 miles) we decided to aim for a car as close to that boundary as we could - the newer the better, as long as it was older than 15 years when we shipped it. I got pretty good at spotting the difference between the different ages - for us a ‘puma bump’ on the bonnet (designating a car built in the Ford era post 2007) was an instant rejection.

90 vs 110

Turns out that although to the untrained eye all defenders look identical, there are at least a few different types. We quickly ruled out soft tops and pickups because we wanted to be able to sleep in the back. But strangely it took us longer to decide on the longer wheelbase 110 over the small and nimble-looking 90. When we first looked at them it felt like the 90 would be so much better around town in Vancouver and the 110 just seemed impractical. But then we tried to work out how to put a bed in the back of a 90. Turns out it’s almost impossible, even if you create some structure that goes right over the front seats when they’re folded down. And then there wouldn’t be any room for all the stuff we’d be taking with us - climbing ropes, wetsuits, stoves and camping gear would all have nowhere to go. The final straw for me was when I realised that a 110 is only the same length as a ford transit van. Not so impractical after all!

Buying in Europe

We were always pretty sure that we would get a left-hand-drive car rather than just making do with driving on the wrong side of the road in the US and Canada. Unfortunately there aren’t anywhere near as many around, and they’re pretty damn expensive. Thanks to the weird import rules in the US and Canada, even knackered old LHD defenders are bought up for parts so that people can rebuild cars from the ground up, and this makes any LHD example in the UK about £5k more expensive than the RHD equivalent.

Immediately we looked to Europe and the prices were amazing! Of course it makes sense that cars designed to drive on the right are cheaper in Europe than in the UK, but the extent of this was surprising. Trying as best as we could to compare like for like, it seemed like the Dutch, Italian or French LHD examples were all about £5k cheaper than we could find in the UK.

Obviously the downside was the hassle and risk of buying in a foreign country, and this was pretty intimidating. We mostly searched on, which was easy enough. When we first looked there seemed to be a huge selection, but as my obsessive research continued I soon realised that the cars on there were always the same - was this because the site wasn’t up to date, or was the market for defenders in Europe much smaller than it seemed? We started getting worried that the market was actually pretty small, but by that point had enough confidence to take the search to the next level. Right from the start we had spotted one...

A beautiful burgundy Defender 110 in Belgium.

It seemed too good to be true, low mileage, no seats in the back, a roof rack, sexy massive off road tyres and SUCH a nice colour...I rang a rather confused Belgian dealer once, twice, and a third time to check it was still available. Eventually I convinced him to let us put down a refundable deposit so that we had enough confidence to book our flights. We didn’t quite know it yet but we were off to meet Derek…!


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