What’s the Story?
Durability. Power. Ease of maintenance. Efficiency... We all know what qualities are needed from an overlander, but who says those qualities have to come from a Land Rover engine?
'It started as this crazy idea and then became a reality,' explains Marcus le Clair, the owner behind this wonderfully unique, Mercedes-engined creation. He wanted a strong, capable vehicle to take him overlanding in Australia and South America, and he wanted it to look, and feel, like his ratty old Series III.
'The engine that kept coming up in all my research was the Mercedes OM606: for reliability, economy, the ease of finding parts anywhere in the world, and for the unbelievable amount of horsepower you can develop out of it.' Tuned versions of this engine can generate up to 600bhp.
This is where Wiltshire-based Specialist Developments comes in. The team started with a new galvanised coil-sprung chassis, and Marcus's reconditioned Series bulkhead, and fitted running gear that would withstand the power of the proposed six-cylinder engine.
Reliability was key. That meant a four-pin, pegged diff up front (preventing the crownwheel from flexing under load) and a Salisbury 110 rear axle with disc brakes. In the middle they chose an MT82 six-speed gearbox from a TDCi Defender, and LT230 transfer box. To improve engine reliability, the electronic pump was replaced with a mechanical version from an earlier OM603 version. Even the engine's stop solenoid is vacuum operated. The result is a perfectly simple powertrain that doesn't need any wires to run. You can tow-start it without a battery and it'll go. And the best part? It'll exceed 30mpg.
Marcus was determined to keep the Series look, no matter what. 'Something about the simple functionality of the Series III made me fall in love with this model. I wanted to make it more modern but without sacrificing the look,' he says.
The accessories list is minimal, but three fuel tanks carry enough diesel for the Aussie outback: a standard tank at the back, a Safari-Equip tank inside a rear wheelarch, and a Ninety tank under the driver's seat.
Our Favourite Bit?
It's not a conventional vehicle to take overlanding, but I would. Wouldn't you?
And the verdict from Theo Ford-Sagers?
Taking to the road with this Land Rover is like nothing else. The view from the cockpit tricks you into expecting a Series-style driving experience, but turn the key and the illusion is shattered. The six-cylinder bursts noisily into life, filling the vehicle with a business-like rumble.
Although the interior's spartan and brutal diesel noises come up from front, you're treated to a modern(ish) driving experience, with the ride quality, braking and cornering abilities you'd expect from a modern Defender 90. That's what I call a winning combo!
Chassis: Galvanised Defender 90
Engine: Mercedes 3.0-litre OM606 straight-six diesel
Power & torque: Approx 200bhp, 290lb
Transmission: MT82 six-speed TDCi Defender gearbox LT230 transfer box
Axles & suspension: Front axle: four-pin, pegged diff. Rear:
The full story can be found in the June 2015 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.