Defender 90 overlander
Jerry Thurston takes a long look – and he has to squint hard to spot what’s been done – at an extraordinary Defender 90 ready to tackle literally anything
Stunning station wagon ready for adventure
At first glance this 90 is clean and shiny, but ordinary – very little different to any van-type 90 you might see in the street. Apart from a few extras, it’s entirely unremarkable.
Job done, Greg. We’ve been fooled. Just as you wanted, Joe Public has walked straight past it without a second glance. Although when it’s fully fitted up, ready for travel, an LRO reader may notice the stove hanging from the back and think: ‘Hmm. That’s interesting.’ But probably nothing more, and that’s the whole point – it’s deliberately anonymous.
Clever? Nope, that doesn’t go halfway towards describing this Land Rover. This is possibly one of the most complex and wellexecuted adventure builds ever done. If I needed to pick something to hop into and set off across the wilds of Africa it would be this.
Minute detail planned in
Greg Ford’s plan was always to go travelling; and a bespoke Land Rover was the thing to let him fulfil his ambition. He chose a 90 over a 110 because he considered the smaller one would have huge advantages – everything from cheaper ferry fares to getting into and out of difficult off-road situations.
The downside was lack of space – everything that would ordinarily go into a 110 had to be crammed into the 90. Losing nearly two feet of valuable space meant that Greg had to plan and execute the build in minute detail. He did it, though – and the result is amazing. It’s over-used to say there is not an inch of wasted space, but really there isn’t. The insides of the multiple compartment lockers are crammed full, but in a totally logical fashion. It’s all engineered to be easily accessible – to get to a particular item, there is no need to first remove a load of other stuff. Very clever. Once you’ve seen how it’s been done it’s clear how it all works, but imagine starting with a blank sheet of paper and so little room to play with; the mind boggles at the planning needed. This careful and painstaking work must have required a monastic, almost saintly devotion to the job, so surely Greg channelled some sort of other-worldly calm to have carried it out it so perfectly.
Actually, that’s not quite true. The sheer enormity and complexity of the task meant he had his very human moments too. He recalls how, after hours in the workshop, frustrated beyond belief he snapped, and whacked the side of the truck with his tea mug – leaving a
‘Imagine starting with a blank sheet of paper and so little room to play with. The mind boggles’
deep circular dent… which by dumb luck was in the perfect place for the exhaust cut-out. The Land Rover gods were smiling that day. Part of the reason for the success of this build is Greg’s willingness to think laterally. Rather than relying on the usual suppliers for specialist off-road kit, he’s sourced parts from all over. For example, the water fillers (which contain traps to prevent anybody from corrupting the water supply) were bought from a local caravan parts supplier.
He’s added his own touches too, such as heavy-duty and easily accessible wiring systems to allow rapid repair in the middle of nowhere. But it’s even deeper than that – he’s gone far further than the obvious, such as a pair of external jump-start terminals, isolated via a hidden switch so they can’t be shorted across by somebody with bad intent.
There is no point in being coy here – this level of build is expensive. I tried to wrestle a final figure from him but the best I could get was ‘tens of thousands’. I would guess that you’d need £40,000 to £50,000 to replicate something like this 90.
So, yes, the build has cost a huge amount – but he’s spent his money wisely, choosing components because of function, rather than bling. And, while some Land Rover owners pull out all the stops to highlight the extraspecial features on their trucks, Greg has gone the opposite way. Harping back to that policy of deliberate anonymity, some very, very expensive parts have been deliberately brushed over with underseal or paint to hide them away.
‘There’s been a huge cost, but Greg has spent wisely, choosing because of function, not bling’
Double duty Roll-over cage provides both accident protection and a firm mounting for the big roof rack. Tough guard Full-length guard protects the door and the handle. It’s all about keeping stuff working in the wilds.
At the ready When the 90 isn’t being used this trickle-charging system can be plugged in to keep the batteries properly fed and in tip-top shape. Musclebound Greg’s not been shy with the specification – it’s all heavierduty than strictly necessary, very much belt and braces – and we like that. Relay ready Repairs are often delayed because you can’t get at the component. Here, though, it’s all to hand for easy diagnosis and replacement. Plumb job It’s not all about keeping cool in Africa – there may be times when piping hot water is just what’s needed, and this 90 can provide that. Spray away Keeping clean is vital when out for extended periods, and being able to enjoy a shower after a long day at the wheel is a real luxury.
Radio comms It’s all about staying in touch – and the difference between life and death if things go very wrong. Navigation Touchscreen tablet allows maps and more to be brought up – the average high street satnav won’t cut it where this one is going. Drink to that Sounds prosaic, but convenience and comfort items such as cupholders are a necessity. This is a home as well as a mode of transport. Give an inch… Small flat-bottomed steering wheel gives a welcome amount of extra legroom – another driver-comfort essential on a long journey.
Heated mirrors Like we said, this vehicle is designed to go anywhere and it isn’t always going to be warm. Keeping the mirrors clear is crucial.
Suspension Smart and high-quality components here. The suspension is not an area where you can scrimp – breakages are not an option.