Brilliant Challengerspec D2 down under
Dave Price has created a Disco 2based utility wagon inspired by Land Rover’s aborted Challenger project
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