An Owner's Tale
Editor's Note:John Lee is the co-owner of Expedition Exchange Inc. (www.expeditionexchange.com), a 4x4 outfitter in Southern California. When we first spoke with John about his Defender 90, we learned of the great adventures he had taken across the world with his friends. After spending some time looking through the numerous image galleries on his website, we knew our readers would want to hear directly from John. His wealth of knowledge covering camping, off-road driving, vehicle modifications, and survival is vast - not to mention he owns one very well-equipped Land Rover.
- Kevin McNulty
As a vendor and co-owner of Expedition Exchange, I am fortunate enough to have access to almost all aftermarket components available for my personal off-road vehicle, a '97 Land Rover Defender 90. I am often asked why my Defender is relatively unmodified and looks so plain compared to many other off-road vehicles. The answer is simple: With the amount of aftermarket components I'm exposed to every day, I see for myself and also hear about what works and what doesn't on the trail, and I limit my vehicle's mods to the ones that actually work. At almost every large club run, I see off-road trucks fail with alarming regularity because the owners didn't modify their vehicles properly. Most times, the mods were costly and difficult to install and didn't really add anything beneficial. Even worse, they usually detracted from the vehicle's overall reliability, which to me is the most important attribute in any aftermarket modification. If a product makes the vehicle less reliable than it was from the factory, why do it? I wouldn't recommend anyone doing anything to their vehicle that compromises its reliability and repairability in the field.
I'd like to cover some of the mods I've done on my Defender 90, and perhaps they'll relate to the trail truck you would like to create. Just keep in mind that there is no one way to create an off-road vehicle. What works for me and my personal vehicle may not necessarily work for your personal trail truck, especially if your vehicle is an off-road race truck or a competition rockcrawler.
Let's start with suspension because I am constantly asked about suspension and I believe it's one of the first mods four-wheelers usually do their vehicles. The factory Land Rover springs are not up to the task of carrying very heavy loads, at least not the size loads I carry when hitting the trail. To sustain me for a trip, I carry all sorts of spares, clothes, personal effects, a fridge, food, water, spare fuel, tools, and so on. These pieces of gear and supplies weigh a considerable amount. Furthermore, these items are in addition to the greater vehicle weight caused by adding vehicle armor, a winch, a roof rack, etc. The factory Land Rover springs are also relatively low and provide only a decent amount of ground clearance. Had I stayed with factory springs, my vehicle would now be sitting on the bumpstops.