“I’m sorry sir, the Defender order book has closed, we don’t make it anymore,” said an exasperated salesman at my local Land Rover dealership. It’s a sentence generations of Land Rover fanatics hoped, against all odds, would never be spoken and a sad truth that’s been hard to swallow since Land Rover declared its retirement of the Defender in 2013. But not all hope is lost because aftermarket tinkerers Twisted Automotive are keeping the Defender dream very much alive.
At its base, tucked away in the foothills of the North Yorkshire Moors, a crack team busily restore, modify and enhance Defenders and Land Rover Series models of all ages. Retro, premium and even zombie apocalypse spec Defenders are available to purchase off the shelf in T40, T60 or top-end T80 version. If ‘off the shelf’ isn’t what you’re looking for, Twisted clients can pick and choose from a range of aftermarket parts or commission Twisted’s in-house team to design something unique and bespoke. There’s not much these guys can’t and haven’t already done to a Defender.
A glance over the shop floor and the Twisted garage looks more like the Solihull production line – there’s bare chassis’ and Defender shaped bits all over the place. For starters, Twisted strip back what Land Rover has cobbled together, add a generous helping of much needed sound proofing, replace bolts prone to rust, and give the engine, chassis and suspension some attention to create a more refined product. Next up is the exterior where it’s possible to spec your Defender into a burly looking beast, a retro remake of the iconic Series model Land Rovers or whatever suits your taste.
‘There’s nothing wrong with the standard product, we just make it better,’ says Managing Director Charlie Fawcett. The firm has crafted bespoke Defenders for friends, farmers, celebrities and even royalty. This year they will aim to produce over 100 tailored Defenders, some of which can be detailed up to an asking price of £160,000. ‘By developing the way it looks, drives and handles, we helped to take the Defender across the lifestyle boundary. Suddenly it became a car that fitted in quite naturally next to an owners Bentley or Mercedes,’ says Fawcett.
With all the extra equipment, my Twisted Defender 90 T80 registers on the till at a hefty £80,000. That’s a significant amount for a car still based on blueprints drawn up in 1948. Still, the soundproofing, lashings of leather and comfy Reccaro bucket seats make a world of difference to the Defender’s comfort and liveability factor. For those gents who’ve not had the pleasure of comparing it to the standard model, it’s the difference between being able to hear yourself think over 30mph and not getting a soggy right arm if you’re driving in drizzle – the standard Defender was never known for being particularly watertight.
While the stiffer suspension means you can turn into a corner at 40mph with confidence – a rare treat in a Defender – it makes for a hard ride around town and on country back roads. Opt for the long-wheelbase 110 Station Wagon for a more liveable ride, which soaks up more bumps and vibrations with its longer chassis. Better soundproofing means that, for once, it’s possible to listen to more than the engine noise up front. The trick Alpine infotainment unit is a vast improvement on the standard Land Rover issue and comes with satellite navigation, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth phone connection. It sounds good in the cabin, ably helped by the subwoofer hiding under the front seats.
The subtle exterior touches are well thought through and make the boxy beast look far more comfortable in its own skin. Stance is key when you have a runabout this big and Twisted’s standard deep-dish rim and chunky tyre set up offers up kerb presence in spades. ‘Is this yours?’ said a young lad as he came pounding across the street. ‘I’ve seen a few of these around – they look awesome! I’d have one of these over a Lamborghini any day of the week,’ he said as his eyes wandered around the bodywork. An odd choice of comparison, agreed, but it’s the complement that counts, right?
Amid the current craze of modified four-wheel drives and SUVs, the Twisted Defender manages to (mostly) steer clear of any negative attention – I’ll not repeat what one disgruntled eco-warrior called me but it began with ‘w’ and rhymed with banker. Nevertheless, even my friends without any interest in cars admitted it had something special about it. But despite becoming more commonplace on the roads, especially on the cramped streets of the capital, the Twisted Defender is, for now, still a rare beast and an unmistakable sight. With the imminent launch of Land Rover’s new Defender, values of the previous models will undoubtedly rise, as will the already prevalent market for restoration and maintenance, of which Fawcett hopes to be a central part. With plans to export the brand abroad it seems the termination of Defender production in Solihull is just the end of the beginning of the Twisted tale.
For more, see Twisted Automotive.