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Russ Ryan's Land Rover Defender 90

By Russ Ryan | Photos Russ Ryan, Bruce Graham and Trish Melody, 02 Apr 2017 Reviews

Russ Ryan's Land Rover Defender 90 cover

From the green hills of Ireland to dry, dusty plains of Australia, Russ Ryan’s Defender 90 has never let him down.

When I first bought my Land Rover back in 2003 it had just 17,000km on the clock and it looked as good as new.

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of 4X4 Australia.

I remember driving away from the garage in the south-east of Ireland after negotiating a good deal and feeling like a giddy child who had just received the best present in the world.

driving the Defender 90Ever since my parents bought me a dinky toy Series II Land Rover, with the bolted spare wheel on the bonnet, it was always my ambition to own a squared, bouncy, go-anywhere Land Rover Defender.

On leaving the garage I remember driving home slowly; as this was my first four-wheel drive, I wasn’t used to its clunky manoeuvrability, loud diesel engine and its sluggish acceleration. But all of this was overshadowed by the ability to see over ditches and view the lovely surrounding countryside that I had been deprived from seeing when driving my previously owned low-to-the-ground cars.

As I was enjoying the newly found height, all I could think about was the endless opportunities this vehicle would offer me in terms of getting off the beaten track and further embracing the outdoor lifestyle that I loved.

Desert dirvingThis was never going to be a ‘Chelsea Tractor’; I had plans for this yoke, and little did I realise how much enjoyment this machine would bring me over the next 12 years. Like most 4WDers, I’ve always enjoyed a sense of adventure and a real desire to get off the beaten track as often, and as far away, as I could.

Having had the travel bug over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have negotiated bogs, green lanes, rainforests, vineyards, deserts, beaches, Boreen (Irish rural) roads, mountain ranges and glaciers in my standard Land Rover Defender 90. I’ve now nearly clocked 140,000km, with a big proportion of that travelling to some incredible places in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Since purchasing the 90, the engine has been relatively flawless. My vehicle came off the production line in 2002 and so was fitted with the Td5 – a 2498cc, 5-cylinder direct injection turbodiesel intercooled engine.

muddy driving It has plenty of pull with 300Nm (manual ’box) of torque at 1950rpm with a respectable 90kW at 4200rpm. The ‘new’ Td5 engine also claimed to offer more power than the previous 300Tdi and also use a new electronic engine management system that allowed the engine to be tuned easier.

At the time it was introduced, the change to the electronic management unit (EMU/ECU) made some buyers nervous, particularly the military as there were some concerns about its reliability and fix ability out on the field. Despite initial reservations, time has shown that the Td5’s electronics have proven to be very reliable.

Over the years, I have built my vehicle up as a tourer as opposed to an offroad weapon. As a day-to-day vehicle it has to bring me to work, collect the kids from school and lug the shopping, as well as every other day-to-day function our primary vehicles must carry out.

tourerI’m more interested in building a functional tourer that will help make my family’s camping experiences as comfortable as possible, whilst also enabling us to get to those ‘off the beaten track’ campsites in our tightly packed short wheelbase.

The vehicle has also physically evolved in order to help accommodate storage space, amongst other things. The 90, being a short wheelbase, doesn’t exactly provide ample space for touring, particularly now that I have two kids – the kiddy seats take up a fair bit of room in the back.

To overcome this, I’ve added a second roof rack and additional storage space to the vehicle’s exterior in the form of three external dustproof and waterproof storage boxes.

camperTwo of these are custom-made, with one sitting neatly within the frame of a South African made Front Runner jerrycan holder which is attached to the side of the vehicle.

The second custom-made unit attaches to the ladder at the back of the vehicle; this box holds all cooking equipment and utensils. And finally, the large plastic hard case attached to the spare wheel on the rear door holds all of the dry food and some cooking equipment.

These storage boxes have a number of advantages, one being that by externally storing frequently used essentials, including cooking equipment and dry food, there’s easy and quick access when you pull over for lunch or when setting up camp in a hurry.

storage boxesThis system helps to avoid pulling stuff out of the back of the vehicle when looking for a missing can of beans, particularly when you’re starving after a long days drive. It also provides easy access to the essentials that are all at arm’s reach when the side table/bush kitchen is set up.

Other useful accessories I’ve added include forward facing seats in the back of the vehicle, instead of four side-facing seats, a camp kitchen and workbench/side table with a basin that slides under the roof rack, a second spare wheel, a Foxwing Awning, jerry and water can holders, a GME radio, a shovel and high-lift jack mount, a battery operated shower, external fishing rod holder ,a rooftop tent that comfortably accommodates two adults and two small kids, a portable dual battery system and, finally, an Engel fridge-freezer.

Since purchasing the vehicle back in 2003, I spent the first couple of years touring Ireland in search of hidden and idyllic camp locations. After a couple of trips to Wales and England I then decided to plan a trip further afield.

touring IcelandFollowing extensive research and planning I decided to take the 90 to the best 4WD destination in the northern hemisphere: Iceland, the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’. This trip would incorporate Scotland and the Faroe Islands en route.

I have also toured France; as it’s accessible – it’s a 24-hour ferry ride across the Celtic Sea and English Channel – and affordable from Ireland. And finally, a few years ago, I had an opportunity to move to probably one of the world’s best 4WD destinations in the world: Australia.

DefenderBefore departing Ireland, I had some very important life decisions to make. One was whether I’d take my Land Rover Defender with me? The answer, of course, was YES! My wife didn’t blink an eye when I told her I’d be shipping the Defender to the other side of the world, as she has come to understand that where I go the Landy must go too – I had officially developed an inseparable bond.

After eight weeks at sea she arrived at Botany Bay and was pretty mouldy on the inside after being cooped up in a 20ft container for the duration of the voyage. It then had to go through an onerous customs clearance process before I was handed the keys. After which I was finally able to enjoy the vast, and probably the best, continent on the planet when it comes to 4WD exploration.

Land Rover Defender 90 in AustraliaI had one huge smirk on my face as I left the port and drove towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was very excited about the prospect of exploring the endless dusty tracks and unique environments that Australia has to offer. Coming from a small island in the northern hemisphere, and being able to cross Ireland in just over three hours, I would soon adapt to having to drive long distances, and hence further prepare my vehicle for extended touring periods.

Since arriving I have also learnt a lot while driving through Australia’s many diverse environments and some of the toughest terrain in the world; the vehicle has definitely been put through its paces.

Highlights so far include the Flinders Ranges, Corner Country, Menindee Lakes, Deua National Park, White Cliffs, the Strzelecki Desert up to Coffs Harbour, the Gammon Ranges, down the south coast and around the Blue Mountains. The Cape, the Kimberley and the Northern Territory, in general, are places that we have yet to experience. With so many places to visit in Australia, you could spend a lifetime exploring this vast and ancient land.

challenging terrainNo pain no gain! The challenging Australian terrain has taken its toll on the Land Rover since she arrived. So far, I’ve had a couple of damaged shocks and springs, a split propshaft and a reconditioned gearbox replaced after a trip up along the Coffs Coast. Overall I can’t complain about this machine’s overall ability, as it has proven its capabilities time and time again. The 90 has conquered harsh environments and taken us to some memorable and remote camping gems.

I can’t see myself getting rid of this rectangular offroad workhorse anytime soon. I guess as it ‘matures’ in the future I’ll just have to keep patching it up. I would much prefer for my Land Rover to wear itself out as opposed to rust and be forgotten in the corner of some garden.