► Last-generation Defender rebuilt by Yorkshire firm Twisted
► Upgraded from top to toe, inside and out…
► while keeping the essence unchanged
The reality and the dream of Land Rover ownership don’t always meet in the middle. It’s not unusual to really like the idea of owning a proper old knobbly-tyred Defender, with sturdy roof rack carrying a selection of jungle-clearing tools, but to be rather disappointed by the experience of actually driving one. Too slow, too loud, too cramped, too wobbly… and that’s the good ones.
The answer to your prayers may be Twisted, established 20 years ago by life-long Land Rover enthusiast Charles Fawcett. Twisted now employs around 50 people, who modify classic Defenders – or, to look at it another way, put classic Defenders back together the way they should always have been built.
The aim is to build cars that keep all the ruggedness, versatility and off-road ability associated with Defenders (and the Series cars that predate the use of the Defender name), but to improve the performance, and modernise – a bit – the comfort and convenience features. Whether you’re taking your own Land Rover to them for modification, or asking Twisted to source everything for you, they can create a Defender that’s right for you, so long as it stays true to the timeless no-nonsense Land Rover ethos (and doesn’t upset Twisted’s strong preference for clean, simple styling).
They’re not cheap – a Twisted Defender will cost you at least £50,000, and prices can easily reach £200k.
You can easily pay more for a Twisted than a brand new Defender, or the upcoming Ineos Grenadier, or a Jeep Wrangler, or a Mercedes G-Class.
What exactly do you get for your money?
Two things: beautifully crafted Twisted-sourced components, blending seamlessly with original Land Rover hardware; and patient, painstaking hand-assembly by experts with a passion for doing the job perfectly.
The Defender and its Series predecessors date back to 1948, but Twisted tends to work with donor vehicles from towards the end of the Defender’s life, some of which are retrofitted to look older. There’s a lot of scope for body style – two or four doors, up to seven seats (albeit the rear two are kid-size), and passenger-friendly or load-orientated. Not that Twisted customers tend to be farmers, and not many are frequent off-roaders, but the company insists on retaining that ruggedness and versatility.
Today’s Twisted Defenders are principally 2.2-litre diesel fours or 6.2-litre supercharged V8s, always four-wheel drive, always with the ladder-frame chassis and independent suspension that built the Defender legend, and the visual boxiness that makes them look roomier than they actually are.
When you specify your car, there’s a big choice of wheels, and many decisions to make about soundproofing, audio equipment, trim and seat styles. But Twisted ensures everything that carries its badge has to work like a Land Rover should and look like a Land Rover should.
How does it drive?
Our on-road test drive in Twisted’s Series-style 110 Station Wagon, based on a 2016 delivery-miles Defender and powered by the 2.2 turbodiesel, with a six-speed manual gearbox, showed that Twisted delivers on its promises. Compared to old Land Rovers I’ve driven, this had more responsive handling, better ride quality, stronger brakes and significantly better refinement – without straying too far from the feel of the original.
It doesn’t have vast amounts of power, but what’s available is all highly usable and controllable.
Twisted’s approach is built on respect and admiration for Land Rovers, but coupled with a determination to spend as long as it takes replacing sub-par fasteners, straightening panels, applying many coats of paint and upgrading components big and small – from the exhaust, brakes and suspension to the seatbelts and soundproofing.
But it’s important to stress that it still looks, feels and drives like a Land Rover. Just better.
Driven any others?
We also took a spin in a petrol V8. It’s a supercharged GM engine, as found in countless pick-up trucks, hot rods and muscle cars, and it feels very different to the diesel. It offers much quicker acceleration – as you’d hope, given that its 430bhp is almost 260bhp more than the diesel – and a sharper, more sudden delivery. There’s only so much you can deduce from a short test drive, but I suspect the novelty would wear off – whereas the diesel feels like you could enjoy driving it all day, every day.
Our two test cars were kitted out differently: sports seats in one, reupholstered stock seats in the other; different levels of soundproofing; one with more leather and alcantara, the other sticking with more of the original interior plastics. You have many, many choices. But wherever you look, everything is assembled with great care and precision, and everything that moves does so with just that bit more elegance.
What’s next from Twisted?
An electric Defender is in an advanced state of development, in conjuction with Dutch electrification specialists Plower, and first customers should get theirs early in 2021.
Charles Fawcett acknowledges that it’s a big leap, and one that he only made in response to demand from customers – many of them living in the London congestion charge zone. ‘I fought it for a while. I wanted to not like it. When I first jumped into our development vehicle, I went down the road and I could see a place for it. It will tick a box for a certain group of people, but what I’m most pleased with is that it still drives like a Defender.
‘It still handles right. I was keen to get the ride height right. A Defender has to sit at a certain height. That’s what gives it the wheel articulation and it’s part of the character of the thing.’
He’s personally very keen on early three-door Range Rovers, but isn’t convinced that it would be a good idea to use the Twisted badge on them. And he recently bought a boatyard, with a view to breathing new life into cult offshore powerboats from the ’80s and ’90s.
But the core of the business will remain the Defender: restored, reimagined, revitalised, recycled. He says: ‘The average car’s on the road for 13 and a half years and then it’s scrapped. Where actually a 2007 Defender is kind of just getting going. There’s so much you could do with that base vehicle to give it another 15 years.
‘I enjoy that part of the business. We’re not throwing things away. We are recycling. We’re not bolting plastic bits on the side for the sake of it.’
What a pleasant surprise. This is so much more than a smartened-up old Land Rover – it really does deliver on Twisted’s promise of making classic-looking Landies that are sensitively updated, brilliantly assembled and finished, with wonderful detailing and no compromises on practicality.
This expert attention to detail doesn’t come cheap. But if you can handle the prices, and if what you want can’t be satisfied by the latest offerings from Merc, Jeep and Land Rover, then this is a sensationally good way to get the 4x4 of your dreams.
Specs are for Twisted Series III 110 Station Wagon