It’s an old Defender with a fresh take on the expedition rigs of Europe and the USA.
Now Mike never wanted a Land Rover, he always thought of them as unreliable; so when his son bought a Discovery, he didn’t hold high hopes. But then, in what amounted to an accident, Mike found himself buying this 1993 Defender 110 ute, with a claustrophobic and ungainly looking box on the back, looking for all the world like an ice-cream van without the window. Clearly, the marque has grown on Mike; he couldn’t imagine replacing this Defender with anything but another one.
Mike lives on the Queensland coast, and takes his wife Jackie and the Landy on relaxing trips to Moreton Island and Fraser Island frequently. Last trip to Fraser, Mike managed to drive over 800km of bush tracks, which must be close to every track you can drive on the island! Mike is also a keen beach fisherman and gets out the pushbike to travel between camp and beach easily.
Longer distance trips have seen Mike and Jackie cross the Simpson Desert no less than four times; they love the deserts and being as far away from people as they can get. Their absolute favourite destination though is the Painted Desert, out near Oodnadatta.
Mike trained as a photographer, starting when he was 15. Studio photography was a bit of a bore and not profitable enough, so around age 20 he bailed to follow in his father’s footsteps as a tiler. Fast forward to six years ago and Mike picked his camera up again, starting his company ‘Off The Beaten Track Photography’. He’s taken a bunch of great shots featured in Unsealed 4X4 over the years, so it was only right we feature such a built-for-purpose custom here too.
Mike’s photography business has changed over the years, now needing drones and a lot more gear, and sadly this 110 just doesn’t have enough room for all the photography gear as well as camping in the back, so it won’t be long before Mike is running a shakedown test on his latest Defender 130 tourer.
The venerable 1993 110 Defender is powered by the original 200Tdi engine, a reliable and robust (if underpowered) 2.5-litre turbo-diesel. With a brick shaped camper on the back, high speed was never going to be a characteristic this 4X4 would be known for. Mike has kept the mechanical modifications simple as his goal is reliability and robustness. A few simple engine modifications do enable the Defender to keep highway speeds, including an upgraded intercooler, tweaked injector pump and the turbo wastegate adjusted to reach 15psi.
The Defender is pretty capable off-road out of the box, and not being one for technical rock crawling, Mike hasn’t seen the need to fit diff locks or trick suspension. Having said that, Mike has fitted Bilstein shock absorbers and a two-inch suspension lift to cater for the weight and provide a boost to ground clearance.
Mike has gone with steel rims that he can bash out with a hammer in case of damage and fitted 31-inch Kumho Road Venture MT KL71 tyres. The Kumhos have an aggressive tread pattern yet still work well on the sand.
When Mike bought the Defender, he was a bit unsure about the condition of the firewall. Despite having aluminium body panels, many parts are still steel and do rust – especially when living near the beach! Mike removed most of the dash to check for rust, which thankfully was pretty clean. When putting it all together, it didn’t go back as it came out. Instead, Mike chose to relocate the dash lights panel to a custom centre dash console, also locating the EGT and turbo boost pressure gauges there too. Extra USB outlets, a custom air conditioner and fan controls fill out the panel. The original dash binnacle still contains the usual speedo, volts and temperature gauges. Mike has an Oricom UHF and sat phone for communication as well as an iPad for navigation.
There’s a big box on the back, and within is home away from home for Mike and Jackie. The box’s skeleton is 20mm aluminium SHS with 0.5mm Zincalume sheet riveted in place. This forms a rigid yet lightweight structure. Extra bracing is added where needed to support the spare wheels, fridge and other heavier additions. The interior is clad in thin plywood, giving a warmer feel to the sleeping quarters. One thing Mike was quick to add was a number of windows, including in the roof, to eliminate the claustrophobic feel of the original box and to make it more comfortable. “Nothing better than lying in bed and looking up at the stars through the roof window,” Mike says. The double bed raises to allow access to storage beneath. Access to the bedroom is through the lift-up rear wall of the camper, which also provides shelter and privacy with an annexe hanging from the door.
Being a camper not a caravanner, Mike and Jackie like to live outside the vehicle, with the kitchen arranged on the passenger side of the vehicle. Underneath the fold-up side panel, a large storage drawer extends out containing the stove, while a stainless steel bench clips to the side of the Defender to use as a working surface. Dry cooking supplies are kept in plastic baskets housed in a custom-made rack with some canvas pockets lining the doors.
To the rear of the kitchen opening is the fridge, which Mike assembled from a kit. It’s an 80-litre upright, which has a remotely mounted compressor. This allowed Mike to move the compressor to a place that is out of the way to maximise usable space.
Mike and Jackie use lots of hanging soft containers, not just in the kitchen, but the bedroom area as well. Turns out they are much more useful than just shoe organisers!
Not one to waste money on gimmicks, Mike often sees a good idea and makes his own version. One example is the shower curtain which is simply electrical conduit with some nylon curtains slid over and mounted to the roof rack.
One of the most talked-about accessories is of course the fireplace. See that lump in the middle of the bonnet? That’s a steel firepit with a hole drilled down the middle then mounted on the Defender’s bonnet spare wheel mount. Mike says they last about a year before the rust burns through, but it’s one of his favourite modifications. Jackie, on the other hand, is most impressed with the air conditioning. Jackie feels the heat pretty badly, and Defender air con couldn’t keep your beer cool in Iceland, so Mike has cobbled together a unit that could almost leave stalactites hanging from the vents in the tropics. Mike took the condenser from a 300Tdi Defender, coupled it to an evaporator from the local air con shop and borrowed the compressor from a Triton, of all things. It keeps Jackie cool, while Mike hangs out the window to keep warm…