Bril­liant Chal­lenger­spec D2 down un­der

Dave Price has cre­ated a Disco 2based util­ity wagon in­spired by Land Rover’s aborted Chal­lenger project

LRO (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: JOHN PEAR­SON PHO­TOS: JOHN PEAR­SON, DAVE PRICE AND TOM CRITCHELL

It says De­fender on the front of the bon­net but, as you can see, this util­ity Land Rover is ob­vi­ously based on the Dis­cov­ery 2. It’s a unique ve­hi­cle that’s been built by Dave Price, an oc­ca­sional LRO con­trib­u­tor and pres­i­dent of the Land Rover reg­is­ter of South Aus­tralia.

Dave saw LRO’S Dunsfold Trea­sures story on Land Rover’s aborted Chal­lenger project back in the May 2011 is­sue and was in­spired to build his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what Land Rover – or more specif­i­cally its penny-pinch­ing thenowner Bri­tish Aero­space – even­tu­ally gave up on. Land Rover pro­duced sev­eral Chal­lenger prototypes, but the only sur­viv­ing one is a mil­i­tary pick-up based on a Dis­cov­ery with a chas­sis that was 14 inches longer than its stan­dard 100-inch one. This is now one of the 140-plus rare Land Rovers in the cel­e­brated Dunsfold Col­lec­tion.

Back in the 1990s, the Chal­lenger was pre­sented to the Bri­tish Army as a po­ten­tial re­place­ment for the mil­i­tary De­fender. But the project stalled when they re­alised that ma­jor chas­sis struc­tural re-en­gi­neer­ing was needed to meet the mil­i­tary’s re­quire­ments. With fi­nan­cial con­straints im­posed by Bri­tish Aero­space, the project was scrapped. With the

ben­e­fit of hind­sight, this was such a short­sighted de­ci­sion. It pre­vented Land Rover from pro­duc­ing a util­ity ve­hi­cle that could have ri­valled the all-con­quer­ing Toy­ota Hilux – which nowa­days is the big­gest sell­ing ve­hi­cle in Aus­tralia, out­selling ev­ery car there.

Says Dave: ‘I was cu­ri­ous as to why Land Rover never pro­duced a util­ity ve­hi­cle that was com­fort­able to drive. So much re­search went into the Chal­lenger project; if they’d gone through with it they would have been way ahead in world mar­kets.’

In­spired to build what Land Rover hadn’t, Dave started his own re­search and a plan emerged. To cre­ate his own 115-inch wheel­base Chal­lenger util­ity (one inch longer than the orig­i­nal) would in­volve us­ing two Dis­cov­ery donor ve­hi­cles, a Td5 en­gine, two Dis­cov­ery chas­sis and a GRP tray­back cab kit from Uk-based Long Ranger 4x4. Plus a lot of hard work, in­ge­nu­ity and skinned knuck­les.

Dave’s long-term plan is to fit a light­weight canopy with gull­wing doors on the back, with a roof tent on top for his many out­back ad­ven­tures. But he ini­tially con­structed it as a tray­back, build­ing the tray from scratch us­ing lengths of alu­minium for­aged from his own stocks and lo­cal sup­pli­ers.

He put him­self un­der some pres­sure to get the Chal­lenger fin­ished and on the road af­ter kindly of­ferering it for me to use on an out­back ad­ven­ture for LRO, cul­mi­nat­ing in a drive up to ‘The Tip’, the top of Cape York – the most northerly point in Aus­tralia and a bucket-list des­ti­na­tion for many of the coun­try’s 4x4 en­thu­si­asts.

I had planned to join Dave and a group of his fel­low club mem­bers on the ad­ven­ture in my own De­fender 110. Un­for­tu­nately, I ran out of time to pre­pare and ship it by con­tainer to the other side of the world. That’s when Dave stepped in with the of­fer of the Chal­lenger – which I grate­fully ac­cepted.

Wa­ter-dam­aged Dis­cov­ery 2

He orig­i­nally started out on the quest to build his ute in Novem­ber 2015. ‘I bought a wa­ter­dam­aged D2 from a lo­cal dealer,’ says Dave, who lives near Ade­laide in South Aus­tralia. ‘It had been over­whelmed by the sea on nearby Kan­ga­roo is­land.

There was some mi­nor salt-wa­ter dam­age, but the chas­sis was free of rust.

‘Then I bought an­other

Dis­cov­ery 2 from Tri­umph Rover Spares, a lo­cal dis­man­tling spe­cial­ist. It had some mi­nor body dam­age, but was oth­er­wise com­plete. I re­moved both bod­ies, scrap­ping the salt-dam­aged one, but care­fully strip­ping the other so I could re-use its parts.

‘I stripped, cleaned and re-as­sem­bled the en­gine, gear­box and all an­cil­lar­ies be­fore putting them into stor­age.’

Next, he pri­ori­tised work on the chas­sis. ‘I trans­ported both rolling chas­sis to Les Bra­zier Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles in Ed­in­burgh Parks, north of Ade­laide. Un­der the su­per­vi­sion of prin­ci­pal en­gi­neer Stu­art Croser, they used the front of one Dis­cov­ery chas­sis and the rear from the other – both cut longer by 7.5 inches to pro­duce a chas­sis of 115 inches.’

It was a com­pli­cated job to en­sure the chas­sis was strong enough. Les Bra­zier cut L-shaped stag­gered sec­tions from each one so they’d pro­vide a strong joint when welded.’

For ex­tra strength they in­serted a length of box-sec­tion steel in­side the chas­sis ei­ther side of where it had been cut, plug-weld­ing it in place through holes drilled in the chas­sis. Then af­ter weld­ing to­gether the two chas­sis sec­tions, they welded strength­en­ing pieces over the top of the welded sec­tion. It’s strong!

Dave takes up the story again: ‘Once all the weld­ing work had been fin­ished I had the chas­sis pro­fes­sion­ally grit-blasted and pow­der­coated in black.’

With that com­pleted, the now very newlook­ing chas­sis was de­liv­ered back to his work­shop and the build started in earnest. He over­hauled all of the brakes and fit­ted longer brake hoses. Then in went the Td5 en­gine, R380 man­ual gear­box and axles.

The orig­i­nal prop­shaft was now too short for the 115-inch wheel­base, so Dave vis­ited the lo­cal Hardy Spicer branch where they built a be­spoke shaft to di­men­sions sup­plied by him. He mea­sured be­tween the rear of the hand­brake drum and the rear dought­nut to get the cor­rect length.

Dave fol­lowed Long Ranger’s ver­bal in­struc­tions on cut­ting the Dis­cov­ery body along its strength­en­ing beams in the roof panel and floor. This then went on the stretched chas­sis. He ini­tially made his cuts fur­ther out than needed, so it could be trimmed pre­cisely with a grind­ing disc af­ter­wards. ‘It’s im­por­tant to mea­sure it at least twice be­fore cut­ting,’ he ad­vises.

He says that in­stalling the Long Ranger glass­fi­bre cab roof and back is straight­for­ward. He used Sikaflex 323 ad­he­sive to stick the grp roof to the D2’s orig­i­nal and se­cured the back to the floor with Rivnuts ev­ery 150mm – al­though he says that pop riv­ets could be used as an al­ter­na­tive for this.

Unim­pressed with the orig­i­nal wir­ing loom, Dave dis­man­tled and re­built it to what he calls a ‘more mod­ern stan­dard’.

Also unim­pressed with the stan­dard Dis­cov­ery 2 rear sus­pen­sion air springs, he fit­ted heavy-duty Boss ones with an on-board com­pres­sor. The front springs are Ter­rafirma +50mm, and the dampers are Ter­rafirma Big Bore all-round.

The front panel and lights are from a late­model facelift D2, ob­tained at Tri­umph Rover Spares – which also sup­plied the front grille, lifted from a Dis­cov­ery 4.

Lo­cal Land Rover spe­cial­ist PCB in Ade­laide pro­vided the mod­i­fied front bumper, while

‘For ex­tra strength they in­serted a length of box-sec­tion steel in­side the chas­sis’

the rear came from LRO ad­ver­tiser AJS Fabri­ca­tions of Red­ditch in the UK.

Dave sprayed the body­work him­self in a booth he made in­side his own work­shop, us­ing static-proof plas­tic sheets bought from Aus­tralian DIY chain store Bun­nings.

When it was even­tu­ally fin­ished Dave then had to get the stamp of ap­proval from the Ade­laide Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles In­spec­tion team – which wasn’t easy.

It had to be a De­fender

Step one was to get its iden­ti­fi­ca­tion checked. The in­spec­tors de­ter­mined that all of its num­bers were cor­rect, but in­sisted that it had to be called a De­fender – hence the name em­bla­zoned across the bon­net.

‘They said that Land Rover never made a util­ity Dis­cov­ery, so it had to be reg­is­tered as a De­fender,’ says Dave – who also put home­made Chal­lenger badges on the sides.

Then he made a num­ber of vis­its to the per­nick­ety men in white coats at the Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Re­gency Park in­spec­tion sec­tion for road­wor­thi­ness checks. They kept re­ject­ing it for mi­nor items like a drip of oil from the fil­ter, then the next time a drip of fuel from a sen­sor. But even­tu­ally the chief ex­am­iner gave it the thumbs-up, which meant that a very proud Dave could of­fi­cially use what is a unique ve­hi­cle on the roads and tracks of Aus­tralia.

Hav­ing now spent more than six weeks be­hind the Chal­lenger’s wheel, cross­ing Aus­tralia from south to north and back again, I can con­firm that it’s a de­light to drive. Ob­vi­ously, when sit­ting be­hind the wheel and look­ing straght ahead, it feels just like you’re in a Disco 2. But it han­dles so much bet­ter than a stan­dard five-door. With its low cen­tre of grav­ity, less weight and 15-inch longer wheel­base, it’s re­mark­ably wieldy.

It has all of the D2’s com­fort and space, and in­side it’s really quiet. Get it out on to the sand dunes of the Simp­son desert and it demon­strates a ca­pa­bil­ity and agility that a heav­ier stan­dard D2 could never match. Land Rover really missed a trick here, no ques­tion.

Dave Price has done a re­mark­able job in build­ing his Chal­lenger. Yes, he does have a rea­son­ably well-equipped work­shop with a two-post lift in his back yard at home. But it’s none the less been a mas­sive project to take on – and fin­ish.

Now back from our Cape York trip, he’s plan­ning to build that rear canopy, and is think­ing ahead to his next project – an­other Chal­lenger, but with six wheels. That’ll use parts from an ex mil­i­tary Per­en­tie six-wheeler.

Why the JUNO num­ber­plate? ‘Well, the Chal­lenger mock-ups were all co­de­named JUNO, so my wife Mau­reen sug­gested we should get a JUNO regis­tra­tion for ours,’ ex­plains Dave.

Chal­lenger has great load-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity

Disco 2 chas­sis was ex­tended by 15in

On-board com­pres­sor for air sus­pen­sion

Dave fit­ted heavy-duty Boss air springs

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