Newlyweds David and Pamela Small lived in New York City in the early ‘90s and treated themselves to a ’92 Range Rover County. David worked in real estate development and bought himself a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. But once he saw his first Defender 90 in 1994 he knew – as the Spice Girls say – that’s what he really, really wanted.
Finally, on New Year’s Day in 2003, David found a buyer for his Jeep and a seller of a 24,000-mile ’97 Defender 90, plaque number 782. “It was a surprise for my kids,” said David, then ages 9, 6, and 1 – and a treat for him.
The Defender split its time between the Small’s homes in Bedford, NY, and the Monomoy area of Nantucket, MA, where Pamela’s family had a summer house. “While the boys enjoyed driving it around on the beaches,” David recounted, “Alison really took to it. Despite the fact it had a soft top, she drove it to high school every day, even when the winds would blow snow around the windows.”
Alison said, “I feel like I was raised in the Defender. I definitely had the coolest car of any of my 350 classmates at Fox Lane High School. I actually learned to drive in the Defender. I drove it to school all winter and sent it to Nantucket when I worked for Vineyard Vines there.”
The brine-riddled winter roads of Bedford, combined with the salt air of Nantucket, slowly corroded the Defender’s frame and bulkhead. “It was the culmination of winter and summer salt that virtually ate through the Defender and it became dangerous to drive, David concluded. “Prior to the vehicle going in for extensive work, the debate in the house was forceful as to whether she should be restored, as Alison hoped, or sold for something sportier, as Matthew and Greg were advocating.”
“Several things factored into my decision, including how Alison would drive that Defender to school daily and particularly through the cold New York winters. She argued that if she could drive it with no power brakes or power steering, and with snow blowing through the canvas top, she could navigate any car. I also think that she wanted to show her brothers that she was more resilient than them!”
In the end, David recalled, “My daughter’s voice was always the loudest and I acquiesced.”
Alison, who now lives and works in New York City, remembered, “I was bummed when he wanted to sell it. I’m grateful that he looked past the potential sale and restored it.” David spent “months researching those capable of undertaking the extensive restoration task and contemplating the associated costs.” He ultimately chose the 4×4 Center in Williston, VT.
Mike Hopwood, the founder, and principal at the 4×4 Center, hails from Worcestershire, England, about an hour from Solihull. “I grew up with Land Rovers,” Mike recalled, “and opened them all my life.” He came to the USA in 1993 when he started working at Rovers North, before opening the 4×4 Center in 1998.
Mike remembers the Small rebuild well. “It was original,” he said, “not battered, but certainly rusty. We sourced a replacement NAS bulkhead and frame and installed new doors with galvanized steel frames, which we then seam sealed. A new soft top helped tighten up the Defender against the weather. The rebuild also required new suspension bits, springs, shocks, and bushings, as well as new stainless steel brakes and new fuel lines. We also repaired the existing wiring harness and added a new sub-harness for a sound system and heated Exmoor seats.”
“The drivetrain remained original, but we resealed the motor and the transfer case; the transmission was in great condition. We installed a bed liner and new jump seats and covers in the rear.”
The Defender took some 13 months to restore. David surprised his family the night before Thanksgiving with its arrival. “The boys have both been interested in driving the truck since its return,” he smiled, “but Alison hasn’t given up the keys just yet.”
Matt and Greg admit to changing their opinions of the Defender now that it’s back home. Matt, who lives in Manhattan’s West Village and works for a tech startup, said, “I’m the antagonist of this story. Growing up, we had an Audi convertible, and I was obsessed with fast and slick-handling cars. What I do remember, though, was the time a classmate drove his CUV into the Defender. His bumper was ready to fall off, while the Defender suffered a paint chip around the headlight. When we got the Defender back from the 4×4 center, its suspension improvements gave it a whole new driving feel. I admit the error of my ways – but I’m always right about everything else!”
Greg, a junior at Syracuse University, recalled, “I was a youngster when we first got it, but I remember learning how to drive in it. I also remember that you couldn’t hear the stereo system when underway, and that the Defender would shake violently on the highway. Once, when I was driving it to school, a piece fell off and landed on the road. As for the restoration, I was all for it – I know how much the car means to our family.”
The family Defender has solidified Land Rovers within the Small family. David ordered a new Range Rover (“It looks so distinguished,” he said), as Pamela is involved in Westchester County equestrian events. Matt now seeks a Discovery II for himself, while Greg would like a Defender of his own. As for Alison, she plans on inheriting plaque #782.
Mike Hopwood saw the demand for heritage Land Rover rising in the 1990s. His twin interests in bringing Land Rovers to the US and improving off-road driving skills led him to start the 4×4 Center in 1999.
The 4×4 Center opened in Williston, VT, and then grew into its current service locations in South Burlington, VT. “We provide three main services,” Mike reported. “We’re the only independent Land Rover specialist shop in Northern Vermont, and we’ve invested in the genuine LR diagnostic equipment to work on late-model Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and Range Rover Sports. A second service involves our work on Series Land Rovers and Defenders, from maintenance to complete restorations and/or customizations. Our third service is a professional, off-road driving school located in Bolton, VT.”