The time has come to think about a refit for Elsa, my 1991 Defender 110. She is nigh on 400,000 reliable miles old, many of which have been solo in the Sahara, and she has been a real trooper since I bought her 17 years ago. However her bulkhead and chassis needed patching for her last MoT and the rust beetles have started nibbling away, thanks to the snow, mud and ice of British winters of late. Little, niggly things have started causing issues – her heater packed up three winters ago, the switch for her headlamps is being a bit temperamental, and so on, and since I’m abroad a lot of the time I haven’t got them fixed, plus some other its and bits….. time for a refit.
(Note for non-Land Rover nerds – Land Rovers are classified by wheelbase – number of inches between the axles front to back. Small ones are 90s, long ones are 110s, extra-long are 130s)
I’ve always liked Defender 130s – the next step up in size over a 110. A 110 hardtop like Elsa can be slept in when the weather is too grim for a tent, but only seats two. However a 110 Station Wagon has seats for five. What would be ideal would be a combination of the 110 hardtop rear load bay and the 110 Station Wagon seating. So when I replaced Elsa’s chassis, who not add an extra 20 inches and make her a 130? With care that will keep a longish loadbay and also add an extra row of seats.
Options abound. Keeping a full-length 110 loadbay and using as many of Elsa’s body panels as possible would mean a stretch to a 142.. like this bad Photoshop shows….
You could forget sensible urban driving and parking – and also any really technical off-road driving, like rock crawling or climbing steps. She’d just be too big. I’ve been in the Defender 147s at the Land Rover factory in Solihull, and they are great as people-carriers, but my acid test remains ‘Can you climb big dunes in this?’. Nope. Too big.
To next option was use the 130 chassis (Land Rover’s biggest standard chassis – and you can climb big dunes in a 130, because I’ve done it in the Great Sand Sea) but fabricate new lower rear body panels to enable the full 110 load bay to be used;
(More bad Photoshop)
In many ways better – the ideal in fact, apart from a larger rear overhang (which affects the angle of slope you can climb). The limiting factor here is cost – I can’t afford the fabrication of complete new lower bodywork panels. So, sadly, no.
This leaves the best ‘real world’ solution – a balance of off-road ability, utility and cost. Shortening Elsa’s rear loadbay slightly to enable it to fit onto a standard 130 chassis…
(Slightly better Photoshop as this is the final target)
Effectively she will become a 130 Station Wagon, or a County Station Wagon (CSW) depending on interior fit. This, I think, is the way forward. She will be a big old girl, but not ridiculously big, and with the combination of shorter rear overhang (‘departure angle’ for the cognoscenti) and 130 wheelbase she will be a match for most situations she is likely to meet offroad.
In addition I want to put a newer engine into her. She has a 200 Tdi, arguably the best engine Land Rover ever made, but my mechanic Ben at Black Paw 4×4 has been suggesting a 300 Tdi (the uprated version) for some time – mainly because he can tweak it to achieve really impressive fuel economy and torque. So I’ve sourced a 300 Tdi so put in. This will mean she has the same engine as Tusker, my Discovery 2 – always a good thing as regards spares commonality.
So that’s the plan. I’m hoping she will be ready for June, and then Ben and I can take her and Ben’s 1949 Series One to the Sahara for a test run (possibly with Tusker in support)
As ever, watch this space…..