The Bio Bonatti Project is an "green" vehicle build project. This green truck was rebuilt from the ground up with a focus on environmental responsibility and sustainability. From its inception, the Bio Bonatti Defender 110 was a low environmental-impact vehicle.
When Dustin Hindman spent a year working
in England, he saw and became enamoured with the Land Rover Defender
110 platform. While the Land Rover Defender is a relatively common sight in
the UK, they were only imported in limited numbers
to North America. The Defender 110 is an even rarer
beast. With the reintroduction of Land Rover to North
America in 1993, Land Rover North America (LRNA) imported
500 white Defender 110s to the U.S. This was the only
year that Defender 110s were to legally and officially
see the shores of U.S. soil. To this day, well-maintained,
15 year old examples of these NAS 110s can sell for
far more than their original 1993 sticker price.
Once Dustin moved back to the U.S., he
decided that he wanted to own a 110. Within the span
of a few weeks, we came across both a seller who had
the majority of the parts to build a 110, as well
as a seller who wanted to part company with a wrecked
Defender 90. When this serendipitous opportunity presented
itself, we had the starting point to build a unique
Defender 110. The plan: to rebuild the 1997 NAS Defender
90 from the ground up using a 110 rolling chassis
and the required new body parts to make a proper Defender
In 2004, we undertook a project to convert
a 1997 Land Rover Defender 90 into a custom one-off Defender
110. While we wanted to accentuate and enhance the off-road
capabilities inherent in the Defender platform, the vehicle
would be a daily driver in Austin, TX. As a result one of
the main considerations was practicality and drivability.
The source chassis for the project was
a 1995 ex-Canadian military Defender 110. The vehicle
had suffered a high side hit when a tank backed into
it. The body panels and tub on the driver's side were
ruined, but the only thing we were planning to use
was the rolling chassis, which survived without so
much as a scratch. The 110 body was reduced to a rolling
chassis, which was then media blasted to remove all
of the grime and surface rust from 10 years of Canadian
The donor chassis was equipped with a
2.5 NA Diesel motor. Because we were installing a
300 Tdi, the old engine mounts had to be cut off and
replaced with new mounts in the proper Tdi location.
With a little welding help from Keith at Rover
Tracks, the new mounts were in place. The chassis
and most of the fastening parts were then galvanized.
This ensured that they would look good and stay corrosion
free for decades to come.
While the chassis was off being galvanized,
we moved our attention to working on the body panels.
Most of the 110 body parts came off of a prototype
Defender 110 procured from Land Rover Project Vehicles
in the UK. Although Land Rover wouldn't tell us exactly
what the truck had been used for, an inspection and
educated guess led us to believe that the body (a
1997 or 1998) was probably a test mule for the Td5
The overseas trip from England to the
US wasn't kind to the body panels, so numerous dents,
bends and dings had to be worked out of most of the
panels. We were eventually able to straighten out
the panels, through the slow and laborious process
of annealing and working the Birmabright material
with a body hammer and torch.
The body panels were a hodgepodge of different
colors. In order to give the vehicle a factory painted
appearance, the body was completely disassembled.
Rather than do the painting ourselves, we sent the
body panels off to SVE
Autobody, a paint and body shop that is well known
in the Boulder area for its quality work (they do
most of the collision repair work for the local Land
Rover Dealerships). Although not the cheapest method,
the quality of the paint job was top-notch.
While the body panels were off being painted,
the chassis came back from the galvanizers, and it
was time to begin reassembling the truck. The first
task was to put the rolling chassis back together.
Rather than reinstalling the Land Rover factory suspension,
we upgraded it to an Old Man Emu heavy-duty suspension
designed specifically for the Tdi 110. Installing
the suspension kit on a bare chassis was the fastest
suspension install that we've ever done... too bad
they can't all be that easy.
We also decided to upgrade the rolling
stock on the vehicle. In place of the LR steel wheels
and 7.50r16 tires, we installed a set of Land Rover
deep dish alloy wheels and Goodyear 285/75/16 MT-Rs.
The combination of OME suspension lift and oversized
off-road biased tires was sure to give the truck an
aggressive stance, while upgrading 4x4 performance.
Once the rolling chassis was in place,
body parts began to trickle in from the paint shop.
The first to be installed was the bulkhead (firewall)
and body tub. Once these were in place, we were then
able to drop the 300 Tdi motor and drivetrain in between
the chassis rails. The source engine was pulled out
of a wrecked Defender in the UK and shipped over from
UK, a Land Rover salvage specialist. At the time
of installation, the engine had a paltry 30,000 miles
on it, virtually a new engine by diesel standards.
The next step in the assembly process
was to fit the rest of the body panels for the vehicle
cab. While this would seem to be an easy task, it
requires putting the truck together, taking it apart
and shifting panels around a number of times. The
slightest change in chassis mounting in one area of
the body, can significantly effect body panel alignment
in all of the other parts of the vehicle. The multiple
assembly might seem tedious, but the payoff in the
long run is a well put together vehicle with modest,
even door gaps (hard to believe on a Defender).
With the body in place, the project really
began to take shape. However the longest stretch of
work lay ahead of us. We still had to route the wiring
harness, reassemble the door fittings, install the
interior, install the cooling system and hook up the
countless other bits and pieces in the engine compartment.
About this time in the build process,
we also had to move. So we packed up the garage, took
the semi-assembled Defender 110 and loaded it on a
flatbed and moved everything to the new place on the
other side of Longmont, CO. Once we settled into the
new digs, it was back to work.
Next up was installing some of the trim
pieces including the dash in the cab of the 110. The
NAS dash was replaced with a European spec dash with
dash indicator lights for the glow plugs. We also
started hooking up all of the various electrical bits
like the running lights, brake lights, etc. Rather
than keeping the NAS Defender light configuration,
we opted to add the European style tail lights and
front marker lights.
Once the engine was hooked up and running,
the 110 was in the home stretch. A custom exhaust
system was fabricated for the vehicle, and most of
the factory steering linkage was replaced with heavy-duty
One of the design flaws of the factory
Land Rover station wagons is that the spare tire mounts
directly to the rear door. Over time, the weight and
vibration tends to cause the door and its mounting
hinges to fail. Since we wanted to build this truck
the "right way", the factory door mount
was removed in favor of the vastly superior Mantec
rear tire carrier. This stout unit moves the majority
of the weight off of the door and on to the rear chassis
cross member, a structure far better suited to handle
the extra weight.
After a test drive,
all that was left was to finish up the exterior and
interior trim. Most Defender owners will tell you
that the factory wipers are crap, so they were ditched
in favor of SilBlade silicon wipers, a huge upgrade
over the factory equipment. We also installed a Camel
Trophy style front bumper and Brownchurch winch guard
from the UK, to give it that classic Land Rover look.
Door and sill protection for this long wheelbase vehicle
came in the form of custom Slick
Rock Fabrication rock sliders, with a set of off-set
nerf bars built in. The nerf bars will help to keep
rocks away from the 110's body in an offroad situation,
while also making entry to the vehicle a little bit
Last on the list of modifications was
the addition of a Mantec raised air intake. Instead
of the standard metal Mantec intake, we outfitted
the truck with their newly-designed injection-molded
plastic snorkel. This snorkel would be yet another
unique feature to visually set the truck apart.
The end result of this
long project is a well built, eye-catching, U.S. legal
Defender 110. WIth so many features and modifications
that differ from the NAS 110s, the truck is truly
a one-of-a-kind vehicle that is built to last.