The Long Story

Originally Published: November 2012 Words: Glyn Bardsey Pictures: Steve Taylor
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Dan Hickling’s Land Rover 90 is still a Land Rover 90. But it’s a Land Rover 90 with a 100-inch wheelbase. That apart, its resemblance to the vehicle it once was is, well, pretty much zero...

It’s been eight years since Dan Hickling’s Land Rover last appeared in the pages of this magazine. Back then, it was a comparatively standard hard-top 90 with a couple of inches’ lift and an ARB in the back. Its owner, Alistair Read, did use it for challenge events, but there was nothing even then to suggest what it was going to become.

Fast forward to the present day and its old owner lives in Australia. The 90 continues to see regular action on the challenge scene, though, albeit in a new pair of hands. And it’s now unrecognisable from the vehicle we featured back then.

There’s one very obvious reason for this. Yes, you spotted it – Suzuki rims. Oh, wait…

The Land Rover has indeed changed its wheels, in much the same way that it’s changed colour. And where there’s colour, there’s shape (just ask the Foo Fighters), and lo a green hard-top was all of a sudden an orange trayback.

An orange trayback whose hubs fit Suzuki Grand Vitara rims, you say? Hmmm, sounds like it might be running non-standard axles. And so it is.

Non-standard axles, and a non-standard distance between them. Most 100-inch Landies got to be that way because someone decided to throw a bunch of Defender panels at a Range Rover chassis, but Dan’s truck is different. It’s still on its original chassis, but its rear axle has been shifted backwards by just over seven inches, using over-length trailing links and an A-frame extension, to create a wheelbase of the fabled length.

Different, we say, but not unheard-of. The components he used, after all, are off-the-shelf jobs from the likes of Devon 4x4. But that just scratches the surface of what makes the truck special.

To cut to the chase, we mentioned non-standard axles. To some, this might mean Range Rover units, or maybe a Salisbury in the back. But Dan has taken a very unusual no-messing-around option and fitted a pair of Dynatrac Pro 60s.

These are based on the famously strong Dana 60 and intended for built-up American trucks, specialist rock-crawlers, vehicles with ultra-high torque outputs or super-low gearing and so on. Dan’s have 35-spline halfshafts with an inch and a half diameter, and are fitted with ARB Air-Lockers. Their massive strength can be seen from one look at the ribbed casing on their diff housings – they’re designed for much heavier, more powerful vehicles than a Land Rover, which means that in this application they’re hugely over-engineered.

Not that Land Rovers are necessarily under-powered, but a 300Tdi mated to a ZF auto isn’t going to scare anything built to handle a big-block V8. The engine and box, both of which came from a Discovery, replaced the 200Tdi and LT77 manual that were in the vehicle when Dan bought it. He’s kept it all pretty standard, though the engine breathes through a K&N air filter at the top of a raised intake behind the cabin, and next to it is a gearbox oil cooler through which air is drawn by an electric fan.

Relocating an axle sounds like a recipe for custom propshafts, but of course by pulling the wheelbase out to 100” you make it exactly the same length as a Discovery. That’s where Dan sourced them, though of course they needed to be modified at the axle end to mate to the Dynatrac diff noses.

Finishing off the driveline is a set of Simex Jungle Trekkers mounted on the aforementioned 16” Suzuki steel wheels, which come from a Grand Vitara. When we took these photos, Dan had just got his hands on another set of Simexes, this time in a 15” rim size, and was on the lookout for some wheels on which to build them up using the Staun internal beadlocks he’s got lying in wait.

Actually, though the tyres do finish things off we’ve missed a bit out. American axles mean American brakes, and the items used on the Dynatrac 60s come from a Chevrolet Astro dayvan.

This is basically the American version of an MPV – the size of a Transit, the weight of a small island and powered by a 4.3-litre V6 engine. It’s like a lounge on wheels, though many older ones end up getting pimped into what look more like brothels on wheels.

Neither of these is a thing you could accuse Dan’s Landy of, naturally. And to be fair, a set of calipers is about as much as you’d want your truck to have in common with a self-propelled knocking shop. Interestingly, the brakes require so much fluid movement that the Land Rover system wasn’t up for the job, so the 90 now runs a master cylinder and brake booster from a Chevy Camaro.

So, a Defender with an auto box, Disco props, American truck axles and muscle car brakes. It’s definitely a bitsa, this one.

Not that Dan’s scared of spending money when the time’s right. His second pair of Simexes sees to that, as do rear shocks with 15” of travel and, of course, the axles themselves. You don’t come by a pair of Warn 8274s with Gigglepin mainshafts by lashing it up out of scrapyard finds either.

These are augmented by a central Goodwinch TDS with air freespool, which pays out through a circular fairlead welded to the North Off-Road roll cage. The same company supplied the winch-mounting rear crossmember, which tucks in nicely under the trayback Dan and his dad fabricated to replace the tub aft of the cabin.

Between this, the cage and the tubular front wings, the vehicle’s entire body is capable of rubbing against trees without being damaged. There’s a set of rock sliders, too, which run back beyond the cabin to act as nerf bars, so even if the trees in question are no more than stumps it’s still able to dismiss them with a shrug.

Talking of tree stumps, how many of us have come back from a day’s off-roading feeling a little sadder, a little wiser and a lot more like someone whose front wheels don’t point in the same direction any more? If that happens to Dan, he’ll be too busy worrying about having his legs wrapped around the steering column to care, because he’s hit something very hard indeed. And it may well have been something that didn’t go off when the Germans dropped it on us, too.

You don’t bend a Sumo Bar without a fight, for starters. And the axle itself… well, just look at the thing. There’s also a ram there for hydraulic assist, which is up top of the axle and well out of harm’s way, and the steering pump has been converted to high-flow by drilling it out. Finally, the arrangement of rods and ends (see what we did there?) crossing the front of the vehicle is finished off by a panhard rod, attached at the axle end on a huge drop mount.

It looks formidable when you first see it, but in fact this is a truck that was built for strength, not complexity. Many Landy owners will spend big money on trying to do something no-one’s thought of before, and often they discover that while actually, lots of people have thought of it, there’s a reason why no-one’s ever seen it working. Dan, on the other hand, spent his cash on doing what every other modified Land Rover does – but better.

That’s why, beneath the unassuming skin of this relatively modest looking trayback, you’ll find so much that’s unusual, even unique, but very effective. It’s why you’re so unlikely to see it broken down in the car park at a challenge event, too, even though it gets regular hammerings at LRS and Viking 4x4 challenge events. You can look over the vehicle from end to end and you won’t see anything flash, anything unnecessary or anything intended to turn it into a world-beater with the wave of a magic wand. All you’ll find are the simple things done well.

All the same, Dan admits that had he started again, there’s something very major he would have done differently. What might this be? A top-secret engine tweak? Hydro-active-mega-nutter suspension? Tyres filled with moon dust?

No. ‘If I could start again,’ he says, ‘I would have bought a new galvanised chassis and started from the ground up instead of altering what I had.’ Once again, a classic case of doing the simple things right.

As it is, Dan’s ideas for the future include changing the body for a Whitbread kit in order to bring down its centre of gravity. You’d expect that he might revisit the idea of a galvanised chassis at the same time, but he certainly won’t be moving away from the trayback design, and he says he’s very happy with the extra travel the longer rear trailing arms give him, so a move back down from the 100” wheelbase seems unlikely to say the least.

When you look at a vehicle with no end of swoopy mods, asking the owner what he’d have done differently can lead you into what can feel like a bit of a therapy session. By just keeping it simple but building it right, Dan has created a Land Rover he doesn’t need to fret about.

That’s the short story. This is a competitive trayback with a well thought out set of mods that shows the value of strength over complexity and demonstrates how effectively an extended wheelbase can be used to enhance a vehicle’s off-road potential. And eight years after it first appeared in these pages, it’s a classic case of how a project can turn from one thing into another. It’s the 90 that Ali Read built, but it’s a whole lot more besides. And that, in every sense of the word, is the long story.

DISCOVERY, WARN 8274, SIMEX EXTREME TREKKERS, 90, DEFENDER, ARB AIR-LOCKERS, DEVON 4X4 A-FRAME EXTENSION, DYNATRAC 60 AXLES, SUMO BARS, NORTH OFF ROAD WINCH TRAY

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