By on May 17, 2013

Land_Rover_Defender_front_20070518 (1)

Car and Driver scribe (and TTAC alum) Justin Berkowitz has penned an amazing feature about the U.S. Government’s campaign against grey market Land Rover Defenders.

According to Berkowitz, Defender enthusiasts have been trying to skirt the government’s 25 year exemption for imported cars by fudging the ages of Defenders from Europe and elsewhere. VIN plates are often tampered with on newer examples, being replaced with older VIN plates that make the Defenders eligible for importation. But as Berkowitz reports, the Department of Homeland Security has gotten wise to this tactic, and have even enlisted Land Rover to help them catch cheaters. Check it out at Car and Driver’s blog.

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66 Comments on “Homeland Security’s New Job: Seizing Land Rover Defenders...”


  • avatar
    prancingmoose

    Ahhhhh the government of our supposedly wonderful country and their relentless pursuit to squash the fun of every car enthusiast.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I lean libertarian, and I have no real problem with this other than it would seem to be a low priority getting too much attention. If we have laws, they should all be properly enforced, albeit with some discretion. What’s amazing is that no one has really challenged Jeep for that business.

    • 0 avatar
      tooloud10

      I’d politely argue that you actually don’t lean libertarian if you’re OK with the government saying that it’s OK to import a 25-year-old Defender but importing a 24-year-old Defender is unacceptable. The problem isn’t that they’re not enforcing the law, the problem is that the law exists in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        That’s why I lean libertarian rather than join the Libertarian Party. I am against the law, but I don’t have a problem with its enforcement. The story is throwing stones at ICE. If the story were focused on the law, I would have made a different point. See? Anger at ICE is misplaced. Congress, gerrymandering, and voters are to blame.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      The real *problem* is that JB is an effen rtard, and that C&D would even print the “words commin’ outta his mouf”.

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Hokey smokes Batman, I may be an acerbic ass, but that I have no particular issues with JB nor grey market anything. Don’t know who snagged my handle (or how the system tagged that to me) to stir the pot, but that wasn’t me.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    I don’t get what the big deal about these things is. I drove a few back in my valet days and I remember being thoroughly disgusted with a very tractor-like ride, ginormous dimensions, tall hood and overall unfriendliness. Jeep Wranglers felt relatively sophisticated in comparison. Why do people go insane over these? Are they that good offroad?

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      A Jeep could use a Defender as a recovery vehicle…

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        With the introduction of the Rubicon model in 2003 and it’s standard front and rear locking axles, I seriously doubt a stock Defender could outwheel a stock Rubicon. Maybe back in 1995 when the Defender was last sold here it could outwheel a leaf-sprung YJ, but the coil-sprung TJ was a revelation in articulation.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a status thing, no? Defenders are British and expensive, so to some people they are automatically cooler than an equivalent Wrangler.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        A 25 year old model of either make beats the new ones for cool. I do like the 4 door style, but I also would prefer a smaller parts count, hose out interior, and simpler to repair. Also, what is wrong with thinking they are cool for being rare and British and in movies about safaris? Other than being British, how are they much different from 50k Broncos?

    • 0 avatar

      Back when stock Wranglers were pretty emasculated (pre-96) the Defender was pretty butch in comparison.

      Since the introduction of the “TJ” generation in 96, Defenders have offered very little that Wranglers didn’t.

      In the US, where they’re crazy-expensive, people feel the need to attribute non-existent super powers to them to make sense of the price. Don’t get me wrong, they kick ass offroad, just less so than half-price Wrangler Rubicon.

      • 0 avatar
        Nate

        Honest question: What about the YJ Wranglers gives off the impression of them being “emasculated”? The sheet metal was nearly identical to the much loved CJ-7, the engine, transmission and transfer case was the same as in the 97+ TJs and the interior was spartan and functional. I know the square headlights were controversial at the time, and maybe the lack of coil springs is a knock. I actually think these Jeeps have more old school charm than the TJs, but that’s just me.

    • 0 avatar
      Tomifobia

      Defenders are great offroaders. They’ll drive right over any dike you happen to encounter.

    • 0 avatar
      Defender90

      Yes they are good off road as well as being maintainable and thoughtfully designed. (Well the icrucial bits anyway, the rest you can unbolt/throw away/modify/hit with hammer.)
      All the features you mention are what makes a car enjoyable, comfy, suave which is what the Wrangler (a nice machine) has been tuned to do but the detriment of it’s genetic off road effectiveness. Defenders aren’t “nice” they’re a multitool designed for a job of work.

  • avatar
    ToxicSludge

    Just another dumbass law we don’t really need.Hopefully those that choose the ‘illegal’ route at least brought in a diesel…

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    No they aren’t that good off road. They are strictly a poser-mobile, like most modern SUV’s that are bought and never taken off-road. Which is a good thing. Most modern SUVs in stock form including the Wrangler Rubicon are on their best day, extremely marginal off-road performers.

    The Defender combines horrifyingly awful reliability with comparatively no aftermarket support. They are junk, pure and simple.

    However, the only SUV that is even remotely capable of being turned into an honest-to-god off-road performer, with nearly all of its suspension and driveline parts replaced with after-market parts, is the Jeep Wrangler. It has both readily available after market parts that are obtainable at a reasonable price. That is an exceedingly rare combination.

    A built Jeep of any stripe will absolute humiliate a stock Wrangler Rubicon off road.

    • 0 avatar

      “Wrangler Rubicon are on their best day, extremely marginal off-road performers.”

      Riiiiiiiiight

      • 0 avatar
        Larry P2

        Um, I have owned two Wrangler Rubicons. I went on several organized trail drives with lots of “Built Jeeps.” At the end of the first day, I found out the “Built Jeeps” had been in two wheel drive all day. Including when they repeatedly towed me to unstuck my Rubicon, which had locked front and rear differentials, with the sway bar disconnected.

        Like I said. Marginal, at best.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m recalling some saying about carpenters and their tools…

          • 0 avatar
            Larry P2

            The problem with a stock rubicon is the ground clearance, its major downfall. Their suspension is heavily biased towards on-road travel and safety. Secondly, fully-lockable differentials are problematic in many situations, compared to a Detroit Tru Trac locker, although there is a lot of debate about that. Thirdly, in order to get enough clearance in a Rubicon with the typical Long Arm mods to be capable, you basically erase much of their on-road handling, even with a mild long arm. And once you go with a Long Arm aftermarket system, then the Dana 44 axles and diffs start becoming the new glaring weak spot. These are all things you have to look at, unless your idea of “off-roading” is a muddy dirt or gravel road. Within three weeks of owning my first Rubicon, it became very painfully obvious that where I WANTED to go was going to take some mild mods.

            Chrysler has obviously taken the complaints about lack of clearance very seriously, since the 10th Anniversary Special Edition Rubicon has an additional 1/2 inch lift in the suspension, with tires that are almost two inches bigger in diameter than those on a stock Rubicon. With that three inches of extra clearance, with real off-road bumpers and several other different suspension and drive-line mods, the 10th Anniversary Rubicon can now be said to be a truly capable off-road vehicle. It even comes with winch-ready bumpers and an optional factory-installed winch, which is the minimum recovery gear necessary for any true off-roading. Standard Rubicon bumpers were usually quickly thrown into the junk pile.

            There is a tradeoff for everything.

          • 0 avatar

            The reason you’re getting dog piled here is your choice of words: “marginal at best”.

            A Rubi will go down pretty much any trail that’s actually a trail. It’s not suited to gratuitously extreme obstacles. It’ll go over the Rubicon trail, but not through little sluice.

            It’s true that a stock Rubi won’t get over the same rock or mud bog as your buddy’s long-armed rig on 37s, but did you really expect that?

            There’s an argument to be made for what $38k worth of CJ or YJ and mods will get you, but typically such a rig isn’t a fit for daily driver duty the way a Rubi (even with a 2″ lift and 35s) would be.

    • 0 avatar
      korvetkeith

      Defenders and rubicon are bad offroaders relative to buggys maybe. You’re off your damn rocker.

    • 0 avatar
      Mykl

      Are you talking about the type of off-roading the average owner would do or the insane rock-crawling-river-fording craziness that an extremely small percentage of enthusiasts enjoy?

      I mean, I don’t consider the Focus ST to be a bad performance car because it’s not as fast as an F1 car at the track. I like to think that a stock Wranger Rubicon could get me a lot of places a normal street vehicle couldn’t even if it’s incapable of getting me to places that a highly modified and specialized vehicle could.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        My point exactly, +1. Anything between an F1 and a Camry is a poser mobile by the same standards. Besides that, I drove a 2 wheel drive Nissan passed plenty of stuck Hummers and CUCVs when I needed to visit field exercises in the Army. I could argue the Hummers are for posers I suppose, but I know how good they were for the job until the bad guys started the whole IED thing and changed the requirements.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Are you confusing a Defender with a Discovery? Both Wrangler and Defender are highly capable off road vehicles, It’s a matter of opinion which is better though. Environment is important to, If you are in Africa, for instance, you would want a defender. A modified Jeep in Africa will get you as far as the first bit of expensive, hard to replace part snaps…

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Rover has its iconic image as the expedition vehicle for darkest Africa because those African backwaters used to be crown colonies. Rover was the home team so that’s what you drove.

        If you are in Africa and have any choice in the matter, you would want a Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t understand how a modified vehicle being better than the stock vehicle suddenly makes the stock vehicle “marginal at best”.

      Is the current Mustang GT a marginal quarter-mile performer because turbo-charged Fox bodies are faster?

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      While I would not buy a US spec one, I have to disagree. I have driven these in the worlds crap holes and they are quite capable and the diesels the rest of the world gets are reliable. There is a reason these and Land Cruisers are run where folks depend on their 4×4 to get them there and back and aren’t just for “fun on the trail”

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      To me, this is just babble from on off-road “enthusiast” who is into doing extreme obstacles for recreational purposes.

      For the better part of ten years while I worked in Africa, South and Central Asia, I used fleets of 70 series Land Cruisers and Hiluxes with the occasional Land Rover Defender, Nissan Patrol, Mitsu Pajeros and other odd SUVs/trucks.

      If I’m sending a vehicle out to work in an environment where customized Jeeps might perform significantly better than a stock machine, I’m not even going to think about using Land Cruisers or Defenders (or Jeeps for that matter, which aren’t really good utility vehicles for a number of reasons.) I’m going to send a Unimog.

    • 0 avatar
      Defender90

      They are that good off road, where they can fall down is the lack of axle diff locks as standard – new ones have electronic traction control, not that that affects any you could get in the US.
      There’s absolutely no pose potentyial involved with Defenders, they’ve so little styling they have almost an anti style. They’re not an “SUV’, there’s nothing remotely “Sport” about them. Utility Vehicle is what you get.

  • avatar

    Homeland Security is a piece of shit.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    While the reference to Homeland Security makes it seem more Gestapo-ish, this is being done by the Customs Service part of the dept., and their job has always been enforcing laws regarding the importation of goods.

    Don’t blame the Customs Service for a stupid law they are required to enforce. From CBP’s perspective this is a relatively straightforward case of the smuggling of contraband.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Thank you sirwired for intercepting my inchoate DHS rant with that explanation. Nevertheless, allow me to still be pissed off at their priorities. Please stop asking me for more money, you sons of btches.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    How is a Land Rover Defender a threat to security??? Fine, the law is the law and if one disagrees with the law, there are channels to take up that disagreement but these laws and the people breaking them are hardly a threat to national security.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      Because DHS is nothing more than an exercise in egregious governmental overreach. And we should all be embarrassed and ashamed that we let it be born in the first place.

      IMO, there should be NO restrictions on what cars can be imported or exported by a private citizen if the vehicle can pass safety and emissions. Really, what’s it gonna possibly hurt?

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      It’s not a threat to security. But it IS smuggled contraband, and intercepting and confiscating smuggled contraband is what Customs exists for, and has done for a couple of centuries now.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        I understand Homeland “security” to be an institution that deals with security issues. Customs, I get, that is their job and makes sense to deal with illegally imported products. I find it important to distinguish between these two responsibilities. This is a customs issue and not a security one, which is my point.

        • 0 avatar
          wkiernan

          The Department of Homeland Security is a wide-ranging Federal bureau that deals with a great deal more than just strictly security issues. The United States Customs Service was incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security in the 2003 reorganization, along with these other 21 agencies:

          Immigration and Naturalization Service
          Federal Protective Service
          Transportation Security Administration
          Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
          Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
          Office for Domestic Preparedness
          Federal Emergency Management Agency
          Strategic National Stockpile National Disaster Medical System
          Nuclear Incident Response Team
          Domestic Emergency Support Teams
          National Domestic Preparedness Office
          CBRN Countermeasures Programs
          Environmental Measurements Laboratory
          National Biological Warfare Defense Analysis Center
          Plum Island Animal Disease Center
          Federal Computer Incident Response Center
          National Communications System
          National Infrastructure Protection Center
          Energy Security and Assurance Program
          U.S. Coast Guard
          U.S. Secret Service

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Yes, but originally the exise taxes that the smugglers were trying to get around were the sole means of funding the Government. As that is no longer the case I have to wonder why anyone cares so long as the importer is paying his or her income taxes.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      Because DHS is like the Gulf & Western of the federal government. Their core “business” might allegedly be homeland security, but their kind of an amorphous blob of a conglomerate that includes many tenuously related functions, one of which is what was once the US Customs service (now ICE).

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Gray market vehicles have long been the bane of Customs , they’re just using Homeland Security to catch more of them .

    I understand both sides of this having direct imported many non compliant vehicles in the 1970′s & 1980′s .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      What do you mean, “they’re just using Homeland Security to catch more of them”? The agency mentioned in the actual article IS Customs, which is merely a part of DHS. They aren’t using the TSA here or anything…

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Saying it’s DHS is a headline-grabbing move. It’s really Customs and Border Protection, because this is a customs violation. It’d be the same thing if someone were bringing a contraband plant into the country.

    DHS is merely a department into which several different federal agencies were dumped after 9/11 on the guise of trying to coordinate more actions. Places like the UK already had a Home Office that’s the equivalent.

    The Secret Service, for example, used to be under Treasury, and now it’s under DHS. Similarly, the Coast Guard, which used to be under Transportation, is now under DHS.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Wouldn’t moving all these agencies under the purview of the DHS have made more sense if they were going to prioritize their assets to increase national security?

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Wouldn’t anti-terrorism funds be more useful if they were used for actual terrorism protection in New York, DC, and LA instead of walkie talkies for cops in Nebraska? Pork barrel politics in action.

  • avatar

    While the law is stupid, so is forging VIN plates. That’s pretty much illegal in any country. I’m sure England would just go “meh” if there was a big problem with people forging the VIN numbers of a car. It’s kind of cut and dry, the DHS is going after people for forging VIN numbers. They’re targeting people who import Defender Series vehicles because they’re stupid enough to break international law to get their hands on a car. If you forge or alter a vin number on a domestically sold car, it’s still very illegal to do.

    The law exists in an official capacity in order to keep cars that don’t meet safety or emissions out of the country for a period of time. I’m actually pretty okay with that on the emissions front. I’m a huge proponent of auto safety as well. While you may not agree with it, in that capacity it’s a pretty well justified restriction on importation. If you want to grey market in a car that isn’t 25 years old, you can, you just have to federalize it. Which is updating safety and emissions. It isn’t impossible to import a 23 year old Defender, you just have to have work done on it.

    While you’re free to debate the legitimacy of the law, forging vin numbers so that you don’t have to properly federalize a vehicle is incredibly stupid. No developed nation is going to let you get away with that kind of activity, so bashing the United States for is a bit silly. Restricting the importation of older cars for safety and emissions, and giving you a way to do it by federalization, isn’t unreasonable. You guys are just mad that you can’t have a defender, which was once sold here by the way. Go buy a legal one, if you can’t afford a legal one, pay to have it federalized, or wait until it’s 25 years old. Asking you to do that doesn’t justify forging the vin numbers, which is illegal in most countries.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      This is why progressives complaining about high incarceration rates is ironic.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t complain about high incarceration rates. You don’t know my politics. I just think it’s funny how people go “this grey market law is stupid! In response, let’s ignore the legal routes to get something and just break what are effectively international laws to get around it!” I can’t think of a judge in any country that will accept that as a defense. Just federalize the thing or wait. If you want it bad enough to take that level of action, then you can be patient.

        • 0 avatar
          Les

          I love how, “This law is stupid.” gets interpreted as, “Oh, so you want Anarchy in the Streets do you?”

          No, just a more reasonable law. 25 years is a stupid-long time to lock-out grey-market imports.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I grew up off roading in a Korean War Surplus 1952 M38A-1 Willy Jeep with tiny F-Head four cylinder engine and not much else ~ I have no idea how it’d be considered in to – day’s off roading but we never ever had any troubles driving it over boulders , trees , through swamps and on and on…

    We _didn’t_ do this at light speed breaking or bending every inch of it like all the off roaders I see doing these days , I don’t think that’s much of an improvement .

    Are those nice British ex Ministry Land Rovers still available cheaply ? those were sweet , I’d love a Diesel one but in truth would prolly buy a basic InLine 6 banger CJ-7 if even I bought a 4X4 , simple and rugged does the trick , won’t impress anyone though .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Defender90

      Well according to these guys http://www.landroversuk.co.uk/news/45 it must REALLY be over 25 years old and can’t be ex military (for some reason).
      It must have it’s original chassis, axle and transmission numbers but can be imported with the reliable (albeit noisy) 200Tdi fitted. This unit which started in 1990 is really the best engine (imho) to have as it combines large amounts of low end torque with reliability, ease of maintenance and fuel economy. Tractor like though it is. The later 300Tdi and the electronic 5 cylinder are no no’s. You could always import on with the 1980s version of the V8. Or just import a crappy older 4 cylinder and swap the motor out when it’s street legal I guess.

      While your DHS do sound like a bunch of twats this situation has been brought on by unscupulous/ignorant types taking advantage of the fact that from the outside 90/110/Defenders all look identical and many of the oldest 30 year old examples may even have been given a makeover or three in their lives. (Often by hand with a paintbrush!)

      Anyway that firm says they can supply rebuilt AND LEGAL left hand drive Defenders Tdi and 5 speed. Any firm offering later model features like metallic paint, electric windows and A/C etc should be treated with great caution.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    So following the current scandal template it should be easy to import a RHD Prius from Japan since that is a vehicle likely to be driven by a left learning person while the Rover is primarily likely to be driven by a Libertarian type so forget it.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Did this happen when the Mercedes Gelandewagen aka G-Class? They were imported to the U.S as grey market vehicles in the 80′s and 90′s. Dealers federalized them until MB figured out they were popular enough as well as very profitable to import a U.S spec version.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Easy way to import Gray Market Landies: before shipping, remove the motor. Now, it is “car parts” and not a car. Problem solved.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      _NOT_ .

      The whole point of importing it is to drive it and you’ll never get tags & title on one imported as parts .

      BT , DT many times ,we’re working with a Japanese Domestic RHD Honda Coupe my Son found a killer deal on , making it pass smog is dead simple .

      Th big sticking point is the non compliant V.I.N. ~ by design non .S. cars have less digits in their V.I.N.’s so that flags them *instantly* for not title in most states ~ I’ve been trying to get tags & title or just a reggie but it sure was hard to do , most who want these Defenders are not GearHeads willing to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get tags & title .

      Just buy the Federalized one from Jolly Old Englande and have the fun of British Vehicle Ownership ~ I do and it’s hard work but well worth the rewards IMO .

      YMMV ! .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    The Petition against 25-year import rule died for no good reason.
    Shame on us all for letting that one drop. I did my share. Where were you all?

    It was a few years ago I walked out of my Car Rental location and had a double take. A current Land Rover Defender crew Cab, short bed, Diesel. Stick shift. With New-Jersey plates. I asked the driver about it. He told me he picked it up in Belgium. He stated the least abuse and A/C on a LHD as his main decision factors. Man also said the indie in Northern NJ was able to service it.

    I asked him about the registration and import issue. He said no problem. Just pay the right people at the port and miraculously, the car gets registered.

    He might be shaking in his boots right about now.

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    God I hate the government. Perpetually wasting time and money on BS. Land Rover could solve the problem by selling Defenders here again.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I can see why the government would not want to allow people to import noncomplying cars by the boatload for resale. On the other hand, the sky would not fall if citizens were permitted to import one or two vehicles for personal use only. One way to control it would be to prohibit such a car from being resold for 5 years, thus taking flippers and straw purchasers out of the equation.

    Or just reduce the age cutoff from 25 years to 15, like Canada. Their roads haven’t been overrun with gross polluting deathtraps as a result. But they do have Nissan Figaros, while I have to wait 3 more years, dammit.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thanx for the link to the legal rebuilder / importer .

    I nearly _died_ looking at the prices tho’ .

    Sweet trucks , I don’t really need a 4X4 , I just remember them growing up , they were very cool indeed .

    -Nate


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