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Custom overland-spec Land Rover Defender review

By Dan Everett, 08 May 2020 Custom 4x4s

Custom overland Land Rover Defender review feature

A tale of love, loss, and Land Rovers.

The yearning for freedom isn’t something you can buy. It doesn’t come free with a Chinese swag, you won’t find a subscription for it online, and you certainly can’t download it on the app store.

It’s engrained in us, an all-consuming hunger deep within. Those endless outback plains, the morning mist rolling in through the high-country valleys, the setting sun bathing the inland lakes of Fraser Island in pinks and oranges while the campfire cackles behind us.

That call of the wild was something Jamie couldn’t pass up. The idea of loading his family into their very own adventure machine, setting off for the horizon and never looking back held more appeal than a thick wallet.

The build was meticulously planned. The starting platform, one of the most iconic 4x4s ever built and the very embodiment of continent conquering adventure, the Land Rover Defender. Starting with one of the last models rolling off the production line came with a bunch of positives. It’s one of the most customisable vehicles on the planet, with a huge aftermarket helping you produce the Defender of your dreams. It’s also one of the newest vehicles you can buy with live axles at each end, and coil springs holding them in. Of course, it also came with a few negatives.

The utilitarian nature of the green oval meant the only transmission option available is a manual cog-swapper. With poor health seeing Jamie unable to dance three pedals at once, the call was made to Sydney outfit Davis Performance Landys (DPL) to not only get the Land Rover ready to take on the ends of the earth, but remove the clutch pedal in the process.

4x4 opinion: Is the new Defender a worthy replacement? 

With the Defender on the hoist, the first task was to yank the old manual cog-swapper and replace it with an automatic trans. The factory 2.2L turbo-diesel engine rattling away under the bonnet is the same unit found in Ford’s PX line of Rangers, making an auto conversion a reasonably straightforward affair. DPL lined up a Ford 6R80 transmission (the same unit found in Rangers, Mustangs and F150s), and with a host of custom parts slotted it in between the 2.2L motor and the factory transfer case.

Custom front and rear driveshafts were required to connect the heavy parts together, and a stand-alone ECU controls the trans through a Ranger shifter on the inside. The new auto trans-friendly centre console also did away with the old cable handbrake, with a new electronic unit replacing it.

The new auto not only has a lower first gear, it has a taller final gear, making it better in stop-start traffic as well as highway cruising. That constant power delivery makes it smooth as butter in technical terrain as well.

While the spanners were out under the bonnet, the team got to work getting more power to the ground out of the Duratorq motor with an ECU remap to suit the new exhaust system. An upgraded intercooler and set of Samco intercooler pipes allowed them to wind the wick up even further. While the auto trans was getting its own oil-cooling system fitted, an engine oil cooler and fan was also installed, further lowering temps.

With drivetrain sorted it was time to turn their attention to the suspension. Those coil springs mentioned before? They’re sitting in the skip bin next to the manual shifter. In their place, DPL has fitted a full air-ride suspension.

Custom 4x4: LSA V8-powered Defender

The onboard air system allows the Defender to be dropped lower than stock for ease of access, then lifted sky high to clear challenging terrain all at the press of a button. A full suite of KONI Raid shocks have been paired to match, with the front shock mounts requiring a little custom work to suit the huge range of suspension travel now available. A set of heavy-duty steering arms have also been installed.

Moving outside and the front of the Defender has had a serious attitude adjustment. Leading the way is a stout bullbar sourced from the UK and customised within an inch of its life by DPL; it not only helps improve approach angles, it also serves as a permanent home to Jamie’s get-out-of-gaol free card, the Warn Zeon 10-S Platinum 12V winch.

Mounted underneath is a 6mm-thick alloy sump guard from Front Runner, ensuring the oil stays in the engine no matter how rocky the terrain. A pair of headlight guards have also been fitted, allowing the Defender to push through dense scrub knowing it’ll come out the other side in one piece.

Moving back, the flanks of the Defender have been up-armoured from front to rear. Starting at the front, Front Runner fender guards give the signature checkerplate look on either side of the bonnet, with matching pieces along both sills and rear quarters.

The rear tail-light lenses also have sturdy shielding, with the rear bumper high and tight thanks to Terrafirma bumperettes attached to the rear crossmember. Above that, a lightweight alloy ladder gives easy access up onto the full platform roof rack for ease of storage. It also houses a set of black MaxTrax, as well as huge wrap-around awning, shovel and high-lift jack.

4x4 history: The Land Rover Defender

On the inside, the adventure-in-comfort theme has been continued. Taking pride of place on the dash is a monster Alpine Halo 9 floating touchscreen unit, giving Jamie access to everything from mapping software to digital radio and Apple CarPlay. It’s parked next to the similarly tech-spec’d GME XRS Connect unit, fitting out the old-school styled Defender with cutting-edge technology. Finally, moving all the way to the rear and the cargo space has been decked out with a full drawer storage setup, giving convenient access to everything required for the long haul.

While the team at Davis Performance Landys has unarguably built one of the most capable and comfortable tourers in the country, sadly Jamie’s health declined before he’d had a chance to truly head off into the great unknown with it. Time waits for no man, if you’re dreaming of adventure big or small, lay out a plan, build the vehicle, and live one hell of a life.

Built not bought at Custom 4x4s

They drive like a tractor

While the Land Rover Defender is unarguably the symbol for serious overland travel, they’re often bad-mouthed for their odd ergonomics.

There’s a pretty good reason why they feel like a tractor … they kind of are tractors. You see, post WWII England was a bit of a bleak place, and there was no financially viable way for the Rover company to
continue producing luxury cars. Instead, it raided the parts bin looking for something that’d help the largely agricultural island rebuild, and give people much needed affordable transport.

The original prototype Land Rover was based on a Jeep frame, with a Rover drivetrain, and handmade aluminium body (as steel was heavily rationed at the time). Complete with a centre-steer configuration and power take-offs to run farming equipment it was intended to plough the fields through the week and drive into town on the weekend.

4x4 history: 70-years of Land Rover

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