Form Meets Function

This will probably come as a surprise to exactly none of you, but I love Land Rover Defenders. I’m not sure if it’s their character, heritage, or looks that get me most, but I’ve often found myself dreaming of selling all my belongings and hitting the road behind the wheel of one of these classics. The reality of purchasing a 25-year-old Land Rover though looks less like a dream, and more like a nightmare. As anyone who has ever driven an old Defender can attest, the driving position is unbelievably cramped, the ergonomics are awful, and the seats make an old bus seat seem comfortable. If you were to equate the atmosphere to first, business, or coach class on an airline, it would be the overhead bin. The climate control is often cold when you want it hot, and hot when you want it cold. Leaks and squeaks are abundant, and cabin noise is as loud as you’d expect from an uninsulated brick plowing through the air behind an underpowered motor. This is to say nothing of the maintenance, which will almost certainly be bountiful at 25 years old.

I’m being dramatic of course, but I feel it’s important to understand that these vehicles are not stout luxury machines, they are tractors, and they feel like it. Of course not ALL old Defenders drive this way. There are a few companies in North America who restore these Land Rovers to like-new condition, and if you have the means, make them better than ever before. Heritage Driven is one such business, and their trucks are redefining the word restoration.

Their Process

Long before a customer ever orders a vehicle, Heritage Driven (HD) has sourced a suitable base truck from overseas. These are stock Defenders hand picked by HD’s staff, and each goes through a thorough inspection process before it is purchased. Once the sale has been made, their team handles all of the importation, taxes, and documentation to bring it into the United States legally before ANY work has been done. This ensures customers can rest easy knowing their vehicles will never be at risk for seizure.

Once the vehicle arrives stateside, Heritage Driven stores it in their warehouse where they keep anywhere from five to ten of these restoration-ready Defenders at a time. When a customer places an order, a truck is selected and the extensive preparation process begins. HD starts by stripping the old Landy of every nut and bolt down to the bare frame and then rolling in a fresh Galvanized chassis from which the rebuild process can begin. They use brand new parts wherever possible, and anything that can’t be purchased new is meticulously rebuilt for guaranteed reliability and performance. Nothing is left untouched, and that’s just the beginning.

The firewall and floorpan are completely reshaped to give the driver and passenger more leg room while accommodating more sound deadening to keep noise away from the cabin. The seating position is changed to a more ergonomic location, improving comfort on long drives, while the steering wheel and pedals are also relocated for the new layout.

Land Rover has never been known for producing especially straight vehicles, nor especially well-sealed ones. We used to joke that you shouldn’t leave pets in Land Rovers because they might squeeze out the door gap and run away. That is definitely not the case with this Land Rover though. Heritage Driven spends countless hours aligning and straightening the body of each Defender to make sure it is far tighter than it ever was from the factory. When everything is perfect, a jig is placed inside where everything is welded together before being placed on a rotisserie as one solid piece for paint and bodywork. By the time their team is done these trucks are so well sealed that the doors won’t shut easily due to air pressure, so they actually add a special vent to enable air to escape when the door is slammed.

Building a Defender that feels like a modern SUV is about more than just perfect sealing and leg room though. It also needs to be quiet and refined, two things Defenders simply aren’t. That’s why Heritage Driven has poured an enormous amount of effort into sound deadening, new diesel and petrol engine options, and upgrading the suspension and steering systems to feel as smooth and luxurious as possible. After these core components are handled they add all the updated amenities you’d find in a new four-wheel drive like power windows and door locks, air conditioning and heating, a tilt-column steering wheel, cruise control, remote start, and keyless entry. The dash is handmade to capture the vintage feel while incorporating modern twists like LED lights and digital gauges. They even go as far as forging their own components to replace parts they didn’t feel were adequate, such as the stock door handles. The end result is a vehicle that looks like a Defender, but handles like anything but.

A Closer Look at Heritage Driven’s Work

So what does a completed Heritage Driven Defender look like? To give you an overview, we’ve grabbed some images and specifications on a recent project of theirs called Slate. This 110 was displayed at Overland Expo East, and without a doubt is one of the most beautiful resto-mods we’ve seen so far, so let’s dive right in.

Body and Chassis

The Slate 110 began its new life on a fresh galvanized frame with one of Heritage Driven’s custom tubs, providing 3 additional inches of legroom on the driver’s side and 6 more inches on the passenger side. Every body panel was purchased new, including the doors, front clip, and a Puma hood. They also opted for billet aluminum door handles and vent covers, which replaced the factory equipment that Heritage Driven felt was too flimsy. Every seal and gasket was swapped out as well, giving it that air-tight finish we mentioned earlier.

Parts

  • Galvanized 110 chassis
  • Handbuilt “tub” with shaved firewall
  • All-new body panels including doors and front clip
  • Puma hood
  • All seals and gaskets replaced and tightened to seal the cab properly
  • Optimill billet aluminum hinges, handles, vent covers
  • Corris Gray OE Land Rover paint with full undercoating beneath the vehicle
  • +50-millimeter flares
  • Rear slider window delete

Engine, Transmission, Axles, and Steering

To give this Defender greater range and reliability, HD chose a Cummins 2.8L turbo-diesel as the power plant for this project. This was mated to a GM 6l80E automatic transmission through a set of adapters before being connected to an LT230 transfer case with custom 4WD cable shifters. A Currie 9-inch axle was utilized in the rear with 35 spline axle shafts and an Eaton limited slip for additional traction on the trail. The front, on the other hand, sports a Currie Rock Jock 44, and each differential is turned by a Tom Woods driveshaft matched to the truck.

Parts

  • Cummins R2.8
  • GM 6l80E automatic transmission with tap shift
  • LS style engine adapter
  • Nicks 6l80E transmission adapter to LT230
  • Remanufactured LT230 with bespoke 4WD cable shifters
  • Tom Woods conversion drive shafts
  • Bespoke Ron Davis radiator
  • Air to water intercooler, with snorkel
  • Currie 9-inch rear axle built to HD build sheets, 35 spline axle shafts, Eaton LS
  • Currie Rock Jock 44, High pinion, built to HD build sheet
  • Internal rear parking brake, removing stock prone to failure drum

Suspension, Brakes, Wheels and Tires

Making a Defender look like a modern SUV is difficult enough, but making it ride and stop like one is even harder, which is why Heritage Driven ditched the factory Land Rover components for something a little more burly. They started with Wilwood disc brakes all around to prevent you from damaging your new seats anytime you needed to stop quickly. Terrafirma coils lift the truck enough to clear a set of Goodyear MTRs in 285/75R18s on a set of black aluminum wheels, while Fox remote reservoir shocks give the old Land Rover a cloud-like ride.

Parts

  • Wilwood disc brakes on all 4 corners
  • Terafirma HD control arms
  • Terafirma coils
  • Fox remote Res 2.0 shocks
  • HD Rear sway bar custom ground by TK1
  • Classic aluminum 18- x 9-inch wheels
  • Goodyear MTRs 285/75R18s

Armor and Accessories

If you’re going to spend this sort of money on a Defender, you might as well go all out with the upgrades necessary to make it capable and cool, right? We certainly think so, and so does Heritage Driven as they equipped it will a slew of accessories that really round out the build. In the front, they fitted their own custom steel bumper with a Warn 10.5-s winch running synthetic winch line. All of the lights were swapped for LED replacements, and two large LED auxiliary lights were fitted to the front bumper beneath the hoop. A front skid plate has also been equipped to prevent damage to the radiator and intercooler on technical trails. Speaking of technical trails, we were pleased to see a set of rock sliders equipped on the truck, but then slightly confused because there are huge steps beneath them. Let’s just say we’d be ditching those pretty quickly.

For comfortable camping, Heritage Driven opted for a James Baroud Evo rooftop tent which matches the gray truck splendidly. ARhino-Rackk Batwing awning takes of the tent’s left flank, and is mounted to the truck’s Front Runner roof-rack. Despite all of this equipment, they still managed to find room for a set of Maxtrax on the rack for easy recoveries.

The back is wrapped up by a Bearmach tire carrier and an NAS tube bumper with integrated 2-inch receiver hitch. There’s also a Front Runner ladder, which provides access to the tent without forcing you to bring the tent ladder along for the ride.

Parts

  • HD winch bumper with Warn 10.5S winch, with front skid plate
  • NAS spec tubular rear bumper with 2-inch hitch
  • Bearmach tire carrier
  • LED headlights, aux lights, reverse lights, marker lights
  • Front Runner full length roof rack and ladder
  • Rhino-Rack batwing awning
  • James Baroud Evo rooftop tent
  • Maxtrax traction aids, with Front Runner mount
  • Fire and Ice side steps
  • HD rocker/sliders

Interior

As you’d expect from a vehicle catering to a high-end clientele, the interior of Slate is absolutely stunning. Exmor leather bucket seats are used throughout for a comfortable and supported driving experience for every occupant. The interior trim and dashboard are custom Vacuformed pieces designed to give the truck a modern feel and function without sacrificing its classic appearance. That means you’ll get all of the power windows, locks, cruise control, and sound system features you’d expect from a car of this caliber.

Parts

  • Vintage air conditioning without reducing legroom
  • Cruise control
  • Dakota Digital HDX 5.4-inch gauges
  • Exmor leather seats
  • Bespoke Vacuformed interior trim
  • Bespoke Vacuformed dash
  • Kenwood DMX905s head unit
  • Ebony suede headliner, Mud interior lighting
  • Power windows, power locks, cruise control, tilt column
  • Sparco steering wheel

To be honest, there are things I would definitely do differently on this truck. I wouldn’t use LED headlights, I’d probably select different wheels, and I would certainly skip the suede headliner, but that’s what is so great about Heritage Driven. Each one of their Defenders is made to order, so you can get the exact truck you’ve always dreamed of. If you want a perfectly clean “factory” Defender with new Land Rover parts they will build it for you. In fact, they already have a package for that called the Heritage Classic. Like all of their trucks it is a complete restoration from top to bottom, but on the Classic, they only use traditional Land Rover components for a “new” Defender right here in the States. Customers could also select a Heritage America package which converts the truck to left-hand drive, utilizes a powerful modern engine, and gives you all of the niceties of a new SUV. The final option is the Heritage Overland, trucks that come with options like dual fuel tanks, water systems, and rooftop tents.

Although these trucks are undeniably expensive, Heritage Driven is one of only a few Defender restoration services who are truly improving these trucks over the originals. They aren’t just slapping a new coat of paint and some accessories on these trucks, but making them straighter, better sealed, more powerful, and most importantly, more reliable than ever before. If you have the means and are looking for classic Land Rover looks with modern comfort and reliability, we’d definitely recommend checking out Heritage Driven.

To learn more about this company or their work, visit their website here. 

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.