As a kid, we had a “no boring cars” rule in the house. My first car was a 1938 Dodge sedan, light yellow, Earl Scheib 29.95, paint job—no kidding. It was from there to ‘65-’67 Mustangs, lots of Long Beach Junkyard time, and then on to various other projects, and the occasional beauties. Highlights from the long sold, departed, traded repertoire include a 1956 Thunderbird, 1995 Chevrolet Impala SS—weird, but I loved it, a grey market Mercedes G-Wagen—before they were the ride of choice for hipster soccer moms, and current rides; a 1997 Defender 90, 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and the 1947 Mercury Woodie.
I feel like I have the current stable is pretty close to perfect, and like with most things, I’m trying to pare down rather than add.
As I have detailed earlier, the 1997 Defender 90 is the daily driver. I bought it nearly new in 1997, sold it to a friend with the caveat, that if sold, it had to come back to me. It was gone for 5 years, with only 4,500 miles added, and back to me in 2005. The Defender has really never been off road, unless you consider the dirt lot at San Onofore offroad, and she stays pretty local to SoCal. With only 75K miles on the odometer, the motor was strong, but starting to show some valve issues, and other, more serious warning signs. I also wanted to do some clean up work on then interior, as the old carpets were pretty worn, and the headliner saggy.
I enlisted the support of an old friend and true perfectionist, Carlos Alcanterra, to handle the job. With everything coming out of the interior, Carlos convinced me that Dynomatting the interior would make the aluminum body not only feel more solid, but cut way down on interior noise that made mobile phone conversations often unintelligible. I was thinking that Carlos was going to do the door panels, and rear floor, but he had other ideas. With the interior completely disassembled, headliner out, and carpeting going in, Carlos had the entire car covered in Heavy Duty Dynomat. With the carpet in, headliner replaced, corroded bolts swapped for new, and all new Land Rover rubber mats covering it all, the 1997 Defender 90 interior has been given a new lease on life. Black carpets in Porsche material replaced the factory grey, and a modern fabric headliner was swapped for the droopy factory vinyl. While the car was tied up and disassembled, I picked up a full set of factory rims and had them powder coated semi gloss black to match the ARB Brush Guard and side steps. All of the powder coating was artfully handled by Bob at Verne’s Plating in Inglewood, CA.
While it all felt so much better and quieter, the nagging motor problems needed to be—more like I wanted them to be addressed. A little web based research, and consultation with friend, Barry Fein, as well as Neal and Nigel at British Eurotech, led me to the plan to replace the stock 4.0L V8, with an upgraded 4.6L V8; that began it’s life in a bigger and heavier Range Rover.
A quick rebuild with upgraded cylinder sleeves, cam gears, and a reprogrammed ECU now makes the car nothing short of spectacular. Adding around 60hp doesn’t sound like a lot, but the SOTP (seat of the pants) difference is remarkable. While the Defender used to be sluggish, slow and loud, it now jams. Fuel economy has improved 10%-15%, and I couldn’t be happier.
Like most projects, this one took on somewhat of a life of its own. I had great counsel from Carlos, Barry and the Neal and Nigel at British Eurotech.
Six months ago I was getting the itch for a new project, looking at 1993 Defender 110’s, and even considering an amazing 110 rag top conversion. Cooler heads prevailed and I made the right decision. The Defender is back home and better than ever. I try to tell myself that this project’s complete, but I know that’s never the case. I’ve got my eye on a Safety Devices full roll cage from East Coast Rover that will turn the Defender 90, into a mini-110. More on that later.