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

LRO (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOS: STU­ART COLLINS

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.

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