What's the Story?
The security guard gives us a nod and a grin as we enter the Canary Wharf complex and pull up in front of a skyscraping corporate HQ. We’re obviously correctly dressed to convince the big guy in the smart uniform and discreet earpiece that we belong in this high-rent world of high finance. That’s because we’re ‘wearing’ a unique Defender, a sleek and slick piece of bespoke vehicle tailoring that’s about as far removed from the wellies-andwaxed- jacket image of the utilitarian rural workhorse as it’s possible to get.
Although it has the stealth to move, unchallenged, in this world of urban high-earners, the patent-black 90 also has the style to turn the heads of those well used to the everyday sight of exotic motors. Suits briefly break off from barking into their mobile phones to shoot £1000-per-hour glances at the sharpest Land Rover in town. The build, by experienced vehicle modifiers Deranged, came about following a moneyno-object commission from the vehicle’s owner – and they readily admit it was their most challenging to date. It wasn’t so much a case of extraordinary technical diffculty, but more about finding and creating stuff to make it stunningly different. The result, in their own words, ‘takes luxury and technology to a level that has never been seen before in a Defender’.
The owner, clearly a generous bloke, as he’s handed the keys over to us at very short notice, is ‘a great guy with an open mind and the desire for something totally bespoke’, according to Deranged. He was certainly generous when it came to the budget for this Defender. I was allowed a sneaky peek at the build spec, and the resulting insurance valuation puts the replacement price at £95,000. So, if this vehicle is totally destroyed, the insurance company would be stumping up around four times the original factory cost of a brand-new base model vehicle.
Pushing through heavy London traffic in a Land Rover – even one as compact as a 90 – should be a nightmare, but this is an exception to that rule. It’s actually quite pleasant, thanks largely to the Deranged-fitted six-speed automatic gearbox that gives the driver’s left leg an easy time in the stop-start traffic. This is the gearbox that’s more usually found in the Ford Ranger, which runs the same 2.2 TDCi engine. With a few undisclosed transfer box modifications, the lads say it bolts up perfectly.
The tiny 320mm steering wheel is Deranged’s own and offers plenty of knee clearance. Assisted by the power steering, it means instant direction changes; weaving cyclists avoided with the flick of a wrist. Comfy and supportive leather seats keep the lower reaches of my torso happy as we grind through streets on the verge of gridlock.
The Defender’s innate extra height gives a visibility advantage in threading through the capital’s clogged thoroughfares and even the white vans shoving their way rudely into the flow treat the vehicle with some deference. No doubt the mean and intimidating black paint job is a factor in this effect.
Our Favourite Bit
The 90 sounds great, with an unusual chattering whistle from the in-house-built stainless steel twin-exit exhaust. It announces the presence of the big Allisport intercooler and remapped ECU that help to bestow the 2.2 TDCi with 175bhp. It feels mighty strong, but the Deranged boys tell me that if the urge for even more grunt becomes unbearable the fuelling and boost can be tweaked electronically to even higher levels.
Since our drive in this 90, Deranged has tricked up the spec even more by replacing the standard Land Rover analogue dials with a digital dash. It’s dominated by a rotary rev counter, within which lives the LED speedo reading. Supplementary info on the display includes a lap time readout (which presumably always reads ‘bloody quick’).
And the Verdict?
A Land Rover in London – one of the world’s most congested cities? Some mistake, surely – as a city vehicle it has tobe pants, right? Actually, no! With the right set of modifications, a 90 makes the perfect city transport. And at the top of the list of said modifications is the automatic transmission, which allows you to concentrate on just steering and accelerating (when you get the chance…).
In all honesty, I would happily have driven it right across The Smoke and straight back up the A1 to Peterborough. Alas, this was not an option and I had to take public transport home. Having enjoyed this Defender for a day, I may have just found a good reason to play the lottery…
This feature appeared in the May 2016 issue of LRO. Current and Back issues are available to download on digital devices here. Please note, we only hold stocks of the the last three back issues.