Bio Bonatti 110

Camel Discovery

Rock Crawler D90

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.



Project Origins

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 110.

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 winters.

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 platform.

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 Equicar 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 Rover Tracks units.

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 easier.



 


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For questions or comments please contact nathan@pangaea-expeditions.com