1997 Land Rover Defender Built to Tackle the Toughest Trails In America

FrankenRover

Harry WagnerPhotographer, Writer

Land Rover Defenders are cool. They are also expensive. Last imported into the U.S. in 1997, these vehicles conjure up images of the Camel Trophy or crossing Africa with the spare tire on the hood. It is rare to spot a Defender these days, and even rarer to see one modified for hardcore trail use. Over the last 20 years Bill Ritchie’s Defender has taken many different forms, but none as capable as the current iteration, which he affectionately refers to as FrankenRover 3.0.

Version 1.0 saw a swap to a longer Defender 110 chassis and a 300Tdi engine that were imported from overseas. Version 2.0 added Unimog axles and 42-inch tires with 18 inches of clearance under the differentials. Version 3.0 ditched the portal axles, lengthened the wheelbase, and lowered the Rover significantly. Now the belly has 18 inches of ground clearance!

Bill says, “My friend KC and I built Version 2.0 to tackle Las Cruces back when I lived in New Mexico. Now that the Rover stays in Moab it has been purpose built to tackle the terrain there.”

Dirt Squirrel Fab stretched the wheelbase to 119 inches and replaced much of the body with tube, skinning the tube work to match the original Defender lines as closely as possible. The results work so well that we don’t expect to see Version 4.0 any time soon.

Tech Specs

1997 Land Rover Defender
>Drivetrain
Engine: Rover 2.5L 300Tdi
Transmission: Rover R380 5-speed manual
Transfer Case: Rover LT230 w/ Ashcroft underdrive
Front Axle: Dana 60 with 4.56 gears and Yukon Grizzly Locker
Rear Axle: 14-bolt with 4.56 gears and Detroit Locker
>Suspension
Springs & Such: 3-link with ADS hybrid coilover air shocks (front); 4-link with ADS hybrid coilover air shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 39x13.5R17 BFGoodrich Krawler KXs on 17x9 TrailReady HD beadlock
Steering: PSC double-ended ram, pump, and orbital valve; Artec steering arms
Lighting: Wisamic Harley Davidson LED headlights, AutoSmart LED taillights
Other Stuff: Warn XD9000 winch, 15-gallon Jaz fuel cell, Currie Enterprises AntiRock sway bar, custom tube work by Dirt Squirrel Fab, Artec axle trusses
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