Tray For Play

Originally Published: October 2016 Words: Dan Fenn Pictures: Dan Fenn
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 Trayback Land Rovers tend to be associated with the serious business of winching your way into seemingly impossible positions on challenge events. But they can make a lot of sense if all you want to do is go confidently on lane runs and playdays, too – though as it turns out, that can lead you down a very slippery slope

Trayback Land Rovers with 37” tyres - that’s the stuff of winch challenges, right? Well yes, more often than not it is. But you don’t need to have a competitive bone in your body to appreciate the benefits of a sorted 90 if off-roading is the way you get your kicks.

Meet Martin Cole. He’s been one of us for about six years, having got into off-roading in 2011. To start with, he was happy simply to spend his weekends exploring the green lanes of his native Mid-Wales – and who wouldn’t be, when Britain’s biggest network of gloriously scenic mountainous byways is on your doorstep?

The lane runs were always interspersed with the odd playday, however. And a year or so back Martin found that the balance was tilting – anyone with a soul will always be able to enjoy a trip out on the Powys trails, but the Land Rover 110 Hard-Top he used at the time was spending more and more of its time taking on the extreme stuff. Which, of course, meant he was spending more and more time knocking out dents.

The 110 was far from standard, but too nice to trash. What Martin needed was a truck that could take the punishment without being turned into a shed.

And that’s exactly what he now runs. It’s a 90, but not the kind you’ve ever seen at a Land Rover dealership. Dating from the first year or so of 90 manufacture (we can’t say ‘Defender’ as they weren’t called that until the best part of a decade later), it’s been mightily reworked by another resident of Wales, Malcolm Whitbread.

All Martin says he knows of the 90’s history is ‘very little, other than it was built by Malcolm for a customer to do pay and play.’ Whitbread Off-Road is one of the most highly thought of companies you’ll come across anywhere, though, so it’s a good place to start.

And buying it was just the start, too. Because, while it was already far from standard, Martin had plans to take it further still.

Enter stage left his 110. Too nice to trash, but not too nice to donate a load of parts. ‘I spent the first two months of ownership swapping kit over from the old truck and fitting new parts,’ he says. ‘Mainly suspension, wheels, bumper and front winch.’

The suspension, since he mentioned it, is something he created himself using bits from an impressively wide variety of sources. Britpart, Terrafirma, Old Man Emu, Adrenaline 4x4, MIB, Gwyn Lewis, MM4x4 - that’s a whole lot of suppliers, but he’s managed to pull their stuff together into a system which, he says, ‘gives good travel considering it’s a made-up kit!’ Such modesty: ‘made up’ is a phrase with a distinct whiff of guesswork to it, but this is clearly not the work of a duffer – Martin is a man who knows his spanners, and knows what he’s doing with them.

He does get in there and do it himself whenever possible, he confirms, ‘with help off my dad when I need an extra pair of hands or welding done.’ Fair enough – though of course with Malcolm Whitbread having been involved, the truck’s already been welded by one of the best in the business.

The work done by Whitbread Off-Road, which Martin has understandably enough seen no need to mess with, included the fabrication of a full exo cage, rear tray and challenge-style front wings out of 50mm CDS tube. The 90 was also fitted with a 300Tdi engine; you’d normally associate this with an R380 gearbox, but here instead we have the older and more agricultural but blessedly less troublesome LT77.

Something that certainly did prove troublesome were the axles beneath the vehicle when Martin started using it. Troublesome as in they broke. Both of them. ‘My tyres are awesome,’ says Martin of his 37” Creepy Crawlers in what may or may not be an entirely unrelated comment, ‘though they are a bit hard on the running gear!’

So that was an early job for the scrap bin. And an unscheduled appointment with the workshop floor, though the result was that the 90 now sports a hefty pair of 24-spline axles from beneath a 300Tdi Discovery. Which is just as well, because Martin has recently bought a pair of ARB Air-Lockers – and that’s not something you want to be doing just before you decide you’ve got the wrong axles under your truck.

Other stuff he’s bought includes a new alloy radiator, in front of which is going to go a 115mm-thick intercooler from Allisport. That’ll mean moving the radiator housing back, which won’t be a problem as the engine is already tucked up nicely to the bulkhead leaving plenty of space.

He’s also going to fit silicon hoses in place of the rubber induction pipes and lob the standard Defender seats for a pair of aftermarket buckets. But what about the stuff he’s already done – is there anything there that he’d do differently if he were starting over?

Er, no, probably not. ‘I’d possibly not have gone for heavy-duty springs as they are very stiff while off-road,’ he muses. ‘But they do give it good road manners.’ Which, when you’re running on 37” mud tyres, is no bad thing.

Another more recent addition to the truck’s list of mods was the addition of a second winch at the back – another Warn 8274, to go with the one up front which he stumbled over for sale in someone’s garden and took home for an almost absurdly bargainous £80. Jealous? We were.

Anyway, the reason for fitting this is that, as it turns out, the entire premise of this article was completely wrong. As it turns out, Martin does have a few competitive bones in his body after all. ‘I amended the spec to allow me to compete in club trials and punch hunts,’ he says. ‘The rear winch was mounted in May this year, and I am hoping to start competing in some challenge events.’

Well, having progressed from laning to playdays, maybe it was inevitable that his tastes would get ever gnarlier. He does have the truck for it, after all.

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