The Land Rover Defender remains the most stolen classic in the UK, with other classic off-roader nameplates including Mitsubishi Shogun and Toyota Hilux sought eagerly by organised gangs.

Production of the Defender – a nameplate used by Land Rover since 1983 – finished in February this year; such was demand for the model, late Defenders change hands for up to £60,000. The Defender was the final iteration

of a 68-year old model line that can trace its roots back to 1948. With 2,016,933 Land Rovers produced, their rugged, simple nature won friends all over the world: That same, easily repairable design makes Series, County and Defender Land Rovers one of the easiest vehicles to steal, strip and sell on for spares.

Land Rover spares are so valuable, rumours persist that organised criminal gangs exist with the sole purpose of moving whole vehicles and parts on illegally. Even police Defenders have been targeted for spares: In late August, a four-door Defender in the care of Leicestershire Police was stripped of its bonnet and doors outside a village station, complete with reflective livery and police signwriting.

Top ten figures published by the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NVCIS), a countrywide police unit, suggest that criminal interest in the Land Rover Defenders and their ilk has grown since June. Range Rovers old and new are also high on the criminals’ hit lists – along with working off-roaders like the Mitsubishi Shogun (eighth) and the Toyota Hilux (tenth).

NVCIS figures were corroborated by data from car tracking firm Tracker, which anticipated a 25 per cent increase in winter car crime simply because thieves were less like to get caught in the cold and dark conditions. Working vehicles like Land Rover Defenders are often found in quiet, secluded areas too, and often used during anti-sociable hours: “December and January especially are peak months for thefts as it’s when we typically experience harsh frosty mornings; drivers often leave cars unattended for a few minutes de-icing, which presents itself as a prime opportunity for criminal gangs,” explained Andy Barrs, Tracker head of police liaison.