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Hammond shows us round his favourite Defender

  1. When I wrote to Jimmy Savile at the age of seven to see if he could Fix It for me to have a go
    in a long-wheelbase Land Rover, the miserable sod never bothered to reply. Every week, he sent other kids off to meet the Pope, climb Mount Everest, dance with Legs and Co. and fly spaceships.

    For crying out loud, I even lived just down the road from the Land Rover factory. So it couldn’t have been easier for Jimmy to Fix It for me. He could have Fixed that one in his lunch break. But no, nothing. Jim’ll Fix It for me? Ha, well I’ll F*** it for him, I decided - my language was, perhaps, a little strong for a seven-year-old, but the sentiment entirely forgivable, I’m sure.

    Words: Richard Hammond
    Pics: Lee Brimble

    This feature first appeared in the May 2008 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. The point was, as a lad growing up in suburban Solihull, I craved the wilderness, the wide open spaces and what was, to me anyway, the glamour of machines that could carry you beyond the sprawl of Birmingham and into the desert, the jungles and the mountains that lay, I was sure, just beyond it.

    Not one to harbour a grudge, I spent the next 30 years or so brooding about this oversight on the part of Sir Jimmy Savile and decided that the only way to overcome this childhood wound was to Fix It for myself.

  3. So I have. And this is it. In fact, it’s taken eight years to fix. I seem to have got a little carried away with the business of turning this Land Rover into the one I dreamed of having a go in when I was seven.
    I shan’t give you the full list of what I’ve done to it, because you would saw your own legs off out of boredom. So here’s the seriously edited version:

    The engine is a 4.5-litre V8, hand-built by legendary Land Rover and V8 specialists, JE Engineering. It’s been balanced and gas-flowed, has a custom crankshaft, camshaft and induction pipes and is set up for maximum torque right across the rev range.

  4. A full-length, stainless steel exhaust system remains, but via a lever mounted in the cabin, diverters can be operated to send the exhaust gases direct from the headers out through the custom-built stainless steel sidepipes with no silencers to get in the way.

    Elsewhere, it’s had a four-inch suspension lift, with dislocation cones for maximum axle articulation off-road, matching radius arms and all-new bushes. (Stay with me; this is important.) Front brakes are now vented grooved discs, the rear axle is taken from a Discovery to allow rear discs too, in order to cope with the extra power.

  5. The bespoke, chassis-mounted internal roll cage was made from cold-drawn seamless tubing by
    Qt Services, the people who now build the Bowler Wildcat frame. It will be here when the world has come to an end and we are all dust.

    Inside, it has new seats front and back and a custom-built speaker cabinet housing three sub-woofers with six further speakers dotted about the cabin powered by three amps. It is very, very loud and, if turned up to full volume, can cause you to go to the lavatory. There are DVD screens in the back, and the rear view mirror also acts as a DVD screen and as a monitor for the reversing camera. The stereo runs off a separate electrical circuit and battery which also powers the under-car fluorescent UV lights.

  6. There now, that wasn’t so bad was it? Looking at it now, as an adult - well, almost - I can see how it might seem an odd starting-point for a customised car, a Land Rover. A bit like training a camel to do parlour tricks. But I love my Land Rover, and if I am going to spend years and a small fortune customising a car, I may as well do it to one that I like to start with.

    Not only that, but a Land Rover is actually the perfect project car. It has plenty of little faults to address when going about the business of trying to improve on the standard car. And that’s good. You don’t see many customised Rolls-Royce Phantoms. That’s because they are perfect to start with, there’s nothing to improve. Boring. But with a Land Rover, well the world is your oyster; you can pick from a whole smorgasbord of little things to improve upon.

  7. They are, in factory original condition, noisy, they leak water in from the top and oil out from underneath, you can never demist the windows in winter, they handle like scaffolding towers, and use more fuel than Beijing.

    And so, by those measures I have made mine, well, worse actually. The 4.5-litre, hand-built V8 has taken the thirst to a new level. It is now the king of the petrol vampires. I can’t find a petrol station that can pump it fast enough; it’s probably outside your house right now, sticking its fangs into your car and sucking out all its petrol. And, thanks to the sidepipes exiting straight from the headers, it is a little bit louder than it was as standard. For the money I have spent on it, I could have bought a brand new Range Rover. It costs more to run than an Enzo.

  8. And so to the question, ‘Does it work?’ Well, in some ways, yes. Off-road, the immense torque of that V8 means it clambers up and over everything, the dislocating suspension allowing the wheels to drop and stay in contact with the ground at impossible angles. Charging around the tracks and fields of the Eastnor Castle proving ground where the original Land Rovers were developed 60 years ago and where the Land Rover Experience team still take awe-struck crowds of lucky punters every year, the thing really can go pretty much anywhere.

    But that isn’t really the answer to the question. Because to work, as a customised car, it has to achieve the goal I set for it. And yes, it did achieve that goal. I probably could explain how it feels, growling around in it, feeling it wrench and struggle with the tricky bits and calmly wander across the rest without breaking sweat.

  9. I probably could, but I’m not sure I want to. Some things we just enjoy and don’t feel the need to explain. You might enjoy it too. Or maybe you wouldn’t. But either way, it won’t stop me setting out in my Land Rover with a grin on my face.

    So has it worked? Yes, yes it has. And one day, I would love to take Sir Jimmy Savile out in it and scare the jewellery off him.

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