What's the story?
LRO’s Portugal editor Jose Almeida has painstakingly arranged for us to meet with a Defender 130 we first saw more than two years ago when it was still being developed at the Pinhol workshops in the Portuguese capital.
Belonging to the Commandos, Portugal’s elite Special Forces unit, their fleet of Land Rovers has been treated to a few upgrades. Under the bonnet the 2.4-litre TDCi has more torque and power thanks to a dedicated remap, boasting what feels like 330lb ft and 170bhp (compared to the regular 265lb ft and 122bhp).
The whole upper body has been replaced with a huge, cage-style tubular structure that bears a 360° mounting ring for a heavy machine-gun, along with ammunition trays and two-strapped down spare wheels. The sides of this steel skeleton can accommodate additional cargo such as extra spare wheels or kit bags.
This leaves the driver not only roof-less but also door- and (almost) windscreen-less. However, there is a trick to it. The two-piece windscreen folds forward independently, allowing the passenger to fire his weapon ahead while the driver can still keep the wind out of his eyes. The driver can also lower his half should he need to shoot while driving (well, they’re not called Special Forces for nothing!).
The interior is as stripped-back as you’d probably expect. The sole source of comfort is that the front bucket seats with race-spec three-point harnesses are adjustable.
Water reserves are carried in a bespoke tray, just in front of the rear gunner’s position, which is a Defender 90 TDCi jump seat installed on a fixed base. The vehicle floor has been double-skinned with armoured Hardox steel, which also provides protection from off-roading damage.
Axles are standard; the suspension is anything but: coil springs, dampers and Panhard rods have all been replaced by heavy-duty parts. They include Old Man Emu dampers and Pinhol-spec springs, including reinforced auxiliary spings on the back axle. This over-engineered set-up allows the 7.50 R16 Michelin 4x4 O/R XZLs on the Wolf-spec steel rims to clear the arches easily, thanks to the enhanced suspension travel.
Our favourite bit?
Driving the demanding military tracks with the fully laden Land Rover is great fun, as is showing my new Special Forces buddies a few tricks they haven’t time to suss for themselves yet (the first 130s were only delivered a few months ago). They liked that you can change from high- to low-ratio while rolling in neutral, and they were really impressed that you can rock-crawl in first/low using only the anti-stalling system… while walking alongside. We even conquered steep hills on wet tracks no one thought we would drive up, including me!
And the verdict from LRO writer Jerome Andre?
The first impression is that the bucket seat feels comfortable and secure – entirely a good thing when you have no doors. The Defender still uses a standard key and steering column lock. The original steering wheel is also still there, although an aftermarket one would be a nice upgrade: it would give the driver a little more room and improve steering feel.
Even with my four passengers (yes, I took the Commandos for a drive!) and all the gear, ammo and weapons, the Defender feels surprisingly brisk.
Top speed: 82mph l Gearbox: Standard six-speed manual, two-speed transfer box l Suspension: Pinhol HD springs; OME dampers l Gross weight: 4500kg (9900lb)