Land Rover’s robust and enduring Defender is still a platform for automotive creativity

The iconic Land Rover Defender will never die out; here’s our guide to the world’s best specialists providing restorations and restomods of this British design classic

Blackbridge Motors Mark IV
(Image credit: Blackbridge Motors)

By its very nature, a cult can’t be killed. And so it is with the original Land Rover Defender, a humble production car that survived to see its 70th anniversary. Beloved by everyone from architects, rock stars, fashion designers to long-term Wallpaper* staffers, customised by the likes of Paul Smith, Keith Haring and Studio Job, the Defender is continually finding fresh fans.

Himalaya Series IIa

Himalaya Series IIa

(Image credit: Himalaya)

Despite being replaced by the new Defender back in 2019, the original car remains at the core of Land Rover’s iconography, as well as inspiring new machines from Ineos’s well-regarded Grenadier and Fusilier to the more esoteric Munro Mk1 and Fering Pioneer.

Classic Series by Legend Motor Company

Classic Series by Legend Motor Company

(Image credit: Legend Motor Company)

It's also a vehicle that’s ripe for renovation, with a classless image that allows ultra-high-end offerings to mingle with stripped out, no-nonsense restorations. At the extremes, the Defender offers up a solid platform for endless power upgrades; JLR themselves have obviously taken notice, with the recent announcement of the OCTA, a modern-era Defender outfitted with V8 Twin Turbo power.

Land Rover Defender OCTA, coming soon

(Image credit: JLR)

We’ve rustled up a number of workshops and specialists who can give the original model a similar boost. After all, if you absolutely must have an overpowered SUV, transforming an original model has mildly less environmental impact than building a new model from scratch. Our guide also takes you from classically minded specialists who like to keep things pure and simple, through to the burgeoning art of electrification – big in the UK, not so much in the US, where the allure of the big V8-engined models is still strong.

Heritage Driven Unlimited Series Defender 130

Heritage Driven Unlimited Series Defender 130

(Image credit: Heritage Driven)

The following isn’t a definitive list, but the length and breadth of expertise out there is a strong indication that the cult of the Defender is still alive and well. Should you desire to give a Defender a second life, there are plenty of specialists out there determined not to let this mighty machine ever die out. Here are twenty-two ways to reinvent this evergreen classic, still the perfect platform for upgrades, conversions and all-round general enhancements.

Bahama Gold D90 by Bespoke Defenders

Bahama Gold D90 by Bespoke Defenders

(Image credit: Bespoke Defenders)

Restoration specialists

Keep it classic: these nut and bolt restoration specialists will bring your Defender back to concours condition, with subtle upgrades under the skin

ECD Automotive Design, USA

ECD Classic Defender 110

ECD Classic Defender 110

(Image credit: ECD)

ECD works on a wide range of JLR products, as well as classics like the original Ford Mustang and Jaguar E-Type. The Florida-based company has a ‘Classic’ model, which takes the Defender 90 or 110 models (short and long-wheelbase respectively) and overhauls everything to better-than-new condition, right down to the original diesel engine. Upgrades include more luxurious levels of trim and better hi-fi, but there’s also the chance to get a ‘base model’, exactly matching the Defender’s original spec.

Interior of the ECD Classic Defender 110

Interior of the ECD Classic Defender 110

(Image credit: ECD)

ECD Classic from $149,995, ECDAutoDesign.com, @ECDAutoDesign

Himalaya, USA

Himalaya Series 88 Kai

Himalaya Series 88 Kai

(Image credit: Himalaya)

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Himalaya build fearsome off-road machines but also lavish and carefully updated old school Land Rovers, like the Series 88 and Series 109 models, the Defender 90 and 110’s predecessors. This unique Series 88 Kai swaps out the original engine for a 6.2-litre GM unit, uprates and updates suspension, wiring and instrumentation, and finishes off the whole ensemble with new leather upholstery and hardwood trim.

Himalaya Series 88 Kai

Himalaya Series 88 Kai

(Image credit: Himalaya)

Himalaya Series IIa, prices on application, DriveHimalaya.com, @DriveHimalaya

John Brown 4x4, UK

John Brown 4x4 109 Defender

(Image credit: John Brown 4x4)

John Brown 4x4 will service, refurbish and restore your classic Land Rover. As one of the UK’s preeminent suppliers of the marque’s early models, it’s also become an expert in upgrading and preserving some of the earliest models. This 109 was a ground-up restoration, finished off with a number of original spec military-grade extras like the radio aerials and tools. The North Yorkshire-based company is also venturing into electrifying early Land Rovers.

John Brown 4x4, JohnBrown4x4.com, @JohnBrown4x4ltd

Legend Motor Company, USA

Classic Series by Legend Motor Company

Classic Series by Legend Motor Company

(Image credit: Legend Motor Company)

Based in Salt Lake City, Legend Motor Company offers the ‘Classic Series’, another GM engine transfer into an uprated and restored Defender body. Much has been made of Land Rover’s original decision to make the bodywork out of aluminium. Originally intended as a way to get around steel shortages after WWII, Land Rovers have been associated with the material ever since, benefitting from its lightness and durability. Legend go further, installing a classic body on a brand new chassis, suspension, engine and transmission, together with air-conditioning and a removable Bluetooth stereo system.

Legend Classic Series, from $189,000, LegendMotorCo.com, @LegendMotorCo

Overfinch Heritage, UK

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

(Image credit: Overfinch Heritage)

A long-standing unofficial partner, Overfinch Heritage revels in adding levels of luxury finishes and accessories to what was once a true utility vehicle. While sister company - just ‘Overfinch’ - is dedicated to JLR’s contemporary vehicles, the Heritage arm is no less obsessed with bringing details and features to the iconic Defender shape, going above and beyond what the parent company could ever manage.

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

(Image credit: Overfinch Heritage)

This 2009 Defender 90 Classic soft top has a decidedly non-standard 6.2-litre GM V8, along with an optional picnic drawer in the hardwood rear deck.

Defender 90 Classic by Overfinch Heritage, €299,990.00 plus tax, OverfinchHeritage.com, @Overfinch.com

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

Overfinch Heritage Defender 90 Classic

(Image credit: Overfinch Heritage)

Wallis & Son Defenders, UK

Wallis & Son Defender

Wallis & Son Defender

(Image credit: Wallis & Son)

Cambridge-based Wallis & Son can trace its origins as engineering specialists back to before the First World War, starting with an aeronautical focus. The modern company is a conventional car repair outfit with a special interest in sensitive and subtle Defender upgrades. If you’re after a more purist approach to the Defender, this is one way to go.

Wallis & Son, WallisandSon.co.uk, @WallisandSon

Project Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

Project Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

(Image credit: Monarch Defender)

Bespoke alterations

Foot down. The original Defender was never much of a mover, unless it was a slow crawl over steep rocks. These experts will unleash the car’s capabilities, off-road and on

Arkonik, UK

Arkonik Kraken Defender D110

Arkonik Kraken Defender D110

(Image credit: Arkonik)

Based in Somerset, with an outpost in Carolina, Arkonik likes to start from scratch, taking as sound a donor vehicle as it can find and then rebuilding it to the unique specifications of a customer. This Arkonik D110 is an uprated 8-seater 1992 Land Rover finished in unmissable Phoenix Orange, with new bodywork and a choice of original and uprated engines (including the ever-popular GM Chevrolet V8). The company also has a constantly updated stocklist of pre-built vehicles.

Arkonik Kraken Defender D110

Arkonik Kraken Defender D110

(Image credit: Arkonik)

Arkonik D110, from $145,000, Arkonik.com, @Arkonik

Bespoke Defenders, UK

Bahama Gold 90 by Bespoke Defenders

Bahama Gold 90 by Bespoke Defenders

(Image credit: Bespoke Defenders)

This North Yorkshire-based company specialises in transforming Defenders into individualised bespoke creations, swapping out engines, gearboxes, trim, with all manner of optional extras. This Bahama Gold D90 was created for a client who keeps the car in Spain for half the year, and elements like the convertible canvas roof were created especially for its time in the sun.

Bahama Gold 90 by Bespoke Defenders

Bahama Gold 90 by Bespoke Defenders

(Image credit: Bespoke Defenders)

Bespoke Defenders, BespokeDefenders.co.uk, @BespokeDefendersUK

Blackbridge, USA

Blackbridge Motors Mark IV

Blackbridge Motors Mark IV

(Image credit: Blackbridge Motors)

Scott Gilbert’s Blackbridge Motors has created this ‘Beach Cruiser’ model from a Defender Mark IV. Describing the vehicles as ‘Defender-inspired’, Blackbridge’s process goes further than most in that the car itself is a complete restmod, rather than a restoration. Under the familiar bodywork – here in chop top convertible mode – the Mark IV follows the standard Blackbridge route of using an all-new chassis and General Motors engine, running gear and four-wheel-drive system. The result? Classic British looks with reliable American muscle.

Blackbridge Motors Mark IV

Blackbridge Motors Mark IV

(Image credit: Blackbridge Motors)

Blackbridge Motors Defender Mark IV ‘Beach Cruiser’, from $169,750, BlackbridgeMotors.com, @BlackbridgeMotors

Chelsea Truck Company, UK

Flying Huntsman 6x6 by Chelsea Truck Company

Flying Huntsman 6x6 by Chelsea Truck Company

(Image credit: Chelsea Truck Company)

Project Kahn has garnered a reputation as a maverick outfit, unafraid to go to extremes when re-shaping and re-styling a huge swathe of luxury models. The company’s 4x4 specialist outpost, the Chelsea Truck Company, will not only widen and uprate any kind of classic Defender, but will also add an extra axle.

Flying Huntsman 6x6 by Chelsea Truck Company

Flying Huntsman 6x6 by Chelsea Truck Company

(Image credit: Chelsea Truck Company)

The result is the Flying Huntsman, a monumental, George Miller-style slice of automotive excess that would cause Land Rover’s original engineers to quake in their boots.

Land Rover Defender 110 XS Utility 6x6, £500,000, ChelseasTruckCompany.com, ProjectKahn.com, @afzalkahn

Heritage Driven, USA

Heritage Driven Keswick Green Defender 130

Heritage Driven Keswick Green Defender 130

(Image credit: Heritage Driven)

Combining more traditional restorations and overland set-ups with radically overhauled models, New Mexico-based Heritage Driven can take the Defender to new extremes. This bespoke long wheelbase Defender 130 finished in Keswick Green set its owner back nearly $300,000.

Heritage Driven Unlimited Series, price on application, HeritageDriven.com, @HeritageDriven

Manz Motor Company, USA

Manz Motor Company Land Rover Beach Runner

Manz Motor Company Land Rover Beach Runner

(Image credit: Manz Motor Company)

The Defender 110 Beach Runner is just one of a number of custom offerings from New Hampshire-based Manz Motor Company. The open-topped beach cruiser started life as a 1993 model, before being comprehensively rebuilt and kitted out in black paint and contrasting leather interior. Manz will also indulge those who want to add another pair of wheels to their Land Rover.

Manz Motor Company Land Rover Beach Runner

Manz Motor Company Land Rover Beach Runner

(Image credit: Manz Motor Company)

Manz Motor Company, ManzMotorCompany.com, @ManzMotorCompany

Monarch Defender, USA

Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

(Image credit: Monarch Defender)

So named for its use of the classic Gulf Oil racing colours, Project Gulf Runner is a recent offering from Iowa outfit Monarch Defender. The company is completely dedicated to Defender restoration, with a wide-ranging stocklist of upmarket one-off builds, including the classically styled Retroflux model and the forthcoming Nomad EV model. Uprated interiors, new engines (or battery packs) are just the start of the available upgrades.

Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

Gulf Runner by Monarch Defender

(Image credit: Monarch Defender)

Project Gulf Runner, Monarch Defender, from $239,000, MonarchDefender.com, @MonarchDefender

Transatlantic Trading Company Ltd, USA

TATC 110 Defender

TATC 110 Defender

(Image credit: Transatlantic Trading Company Ltd)

Founded in Vermont by a couple of UK expats, TATC brings the glories of the various Defender models to the American market. Offering a range of upgraded models, including swapping out the diesel engine for a V8, TATC’s meticulous overhaul of the classic 110 model can seat up to 12 people and is shown here with a General Motors V8 Conversion.

TATC 110 Defender

TATC 110 Defender

(Image credit: TATC Ltd)

TATC Defender 110, from $128,000, LandRoverDefenderUSA.com

Twisted Automotive, UK

Twisted Automotive

Twisted Automotive

(Image credit: Twisted Automotive)

A legendary name in Land Rover performance, Twisted Automotive also offer their services on the diminutive but competent Suzuki Jimny. Their core offering is still the iconic Defender, however, and decades of experience makes them the go-to choice of serious drivers.

Twisted Automotive

Twisted Automotive

(Image credit: Twisted Automotive)

As well as offering conversion kits to gradually uprate and transform your existing Defender, Twister also undertakes bespoke commission from its North Yorkshire base. A sales outpost in Tokyo hints at the global cult following of these high performance offerings.

Twisted Automotive, TwistedAutomotive.com, @Twisted_Automotive

The Land Rovers Electric project

The Land Rovers Electric project

(Image credit: The Land Rovers)

Go electric

Create a buzz. The rock-solid Defender platform has plenty of space for batteries and plenty of customers looking for bespoke zero emission rides. These firms all create electrified classic Defenders for the modern era

Bedeo, UK

Bedeo Reborn Electric Defender

Bedeo Reborn Electric Defender

(Image credit: Bedeo)

UK-based specialists Bedeo supplements its business uprating and electrifying vans for small businesses with a side hustle creating EV ‘icons’. First up is this Reborn Electric Defender, which started life as a regular Land Rover Defender 110 and now has a 75kWh battery and four electric motors to give a range of around 150 miles.

Reborn Electric Defender, enquiries to Bedeo.tech, @Bedeo_Tech

Everatti, UK

Everrati Land Rover

Everrati Land Rover

(Image credit: Everrati)

Everrati are now a well-known quantity in the niche world of classic electrification. Well known for their all-electric Porsches and the occasional Mercedes, the company is also adept at converting classic Range Rovers and Defenders. This is the Everrati Land Rovers Series IIa, a lovingly restored early model Land Rover that preserves its utilitarian simplicity, needing only a 55kWh battery to exceed the original performance and range. Extras include Bridge of Weir leather interior and teak decking.

Everrati Land Rovers Series IIa, more information at Everrati.com, @EverratiCars

The Landrovers, Netherlands

The Landrovers Electric project

The Landrovers Electric project

(Image credit: The Landrovers)

The Landrovers runs the full gamut of restoration offerings, but it’s the Dutch outfit’s new Electric Defender that has caught our eye. Two models, the Panterra Lion and Panterra Cheetah offer different levels of performance and range, with a completely revised touchscreen instrument set-up and a maximum range of around 375 miles thanks to in-wheel motors.

Interior of The Landrovers Electric project

Interior of The Landrovers Electric project

(Image credit: The Landrovers)

Panterra Lion, from €522,500, The Landrovers, The-Landrovers.com, @TheLandrovers

Raglan Motors, USA

Raglan Motors Electric Defender

Electric project by Raglan Motors

(Image credit: Raglan Motors)

North Carolina-based Raglan Motors build beautifully finished electrified Land Rovers, integrating tried and tested Tesla batteries into uprated and overhauled bodies to create strong, silent machines. Starting with either the customer’s own car or a specially sourced donor vehicle, the company is committed to keeping the Land Rover’s legendary abilities intact, albeit in zero emission form.

Raglan Motors, Raglan.com, @RaglanMotors

Retro Defenders, UK

Retro Defenders Electric 90

Retro Defenders Electric 90

(Image credit: Retro Defenders)

British outfit Retro Defenders is branching out into electrification with its Defender 90 conversion. Taking a kit from Electrogenic, the Project Privé EV is a 1997 model Defender with Dolphin Grey paintwork that gives the boxy form a contemporary high-tech look.

Defender 90 Electric by Retro Defenders, price on application, RetroDefenders.co.uk, @Retro_Defenders

Retro Electric, UK

Retro Electric

Retro Electric

(Image credit: Retro Electric)

British company Retro Electric has a broad portfolio of classic conversions, ranging from the Volkswagen Beetle and campervan to the Porsche 911 and Fiat 500. Their take on a zero emission Land Rover started life as a 2004 Defender 90, and the car has weathered the addition of an 85 kWh battery pack and a Tesla motor without losing any of its agricultural charm.

Electric Land Rover Defender 90, from £100,000, RetroElectrics.co.uk, @RetroElectrics

Zero Labs, USA

Zero Labs Land Rover Series III 109

Zero Labs Land Rover Series III 109

(Image credit: Zero Labs)

Los Angeles-based Zero Labs offer a host of tempting electric restomods, focusing on classic SUVs like the Toyota FJ 60, Jeep Wagoneer, original Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer.

Zero Labs Land Rover Series III 109

Interior of the Zero Labs Land Rover Series III 109

(Image credit: Zero Labs)

In amongst all this American and Japanese metal is this electric Land Rover Series II/III 109, an elegant proposal for transforming the classically good-looking 60s and 70s era model into a contemporary cruiser that’s been tastefully upgraded inside and out.

Zero Labs Electric Land Rover Series II/III 109, price on application, ZeroLabs.com, @ZeroLabsAuto

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.