Midnight Club


21 November 2023
Nara Bronze stunner is truly outstanding in its field : credit: © Max Brown
This stunning OEM+ rebuild is the result of obsessive parts hoarding, a clear plan and hundreds of late nights. But the finished article isn’t being squirrelled away in a collection – far from it

The familiar off-beat thrum of a five-cylinder engine cuts through the still summer air. From the distance an unmistakable silhouette approaches, sun dancing off the gleaming paintwork, causing the colour to flicker from bright copper to deep bronze.

As the Land Rover draws closer, the driver’s side window rolls down and a smiling, if slightly tired-looking face leans out. ‘‘We made it!’’ grins Max Brown, owner and builder of this stunning Defender.

You may recognise Max’s name from previous issues of Land Rover Monthly. As well as being a complete Land Rover nut, he also knows his way around a camera and has done a few photoshoots that have graced the pages of LRM in the past. Today’s a bit different though, as he’s not snapping someone else’s Land Rover – this time, it’s his own.

Marsland chassis finished in Buzzweld GIO for factory satin look; all  brackets and other parts blasted, cleaned, galvanised and painted

‘‘In hindsight, I should have built it and then booked the ferry. It’s been non-stop takeaway dinners and working into the early hours of the morning at my unit. For months I’ve been questioning my sanity every evening, until last night when I started bolting the last few bits on. And then all of a sudden it made sense.’’

Kunifer brake pipes longer-lasting than steel, skilfully shaped to match originals

That’s right; this stunning 110 hasn’t just been rebuilt with meticulous attention to detail and futureproofing in mind, it’s all been done very much against the clock. Max’s drive from his home in Essex to our first shoot location in Cambridgeshire is the Defender’s first real test drive, having only been MoT’d, taxed and insured days before. Prior to hitting the M11, testing had only consisted of running the Td5 engine up to temperature and doing a lap of the yard at the unit. So, what’s the ferry reference all about then?

‘‘Oh, I’m off to the Sahara in it in a few days; that’s why I had such little time available to get the photoshoot done. And I’ve pretty much used up all my leave at work trying to get it finished,’’ he explains. Talk about a quick turnaround; most people would want to put a good few hundred miles on a freshly-finished truck to iron out any teething problems before bolting the tent on and heading for distant lands, but Max isn’t fazed. Looking around the Defender at the quality of his work, I can see why.

110’s panels were all sprayed individually, so final assembly was nerve-wracking

Unlike some projects that come into our lives circumstantially or on a tipsy eBay whim, Max had a very clear vision of the Land Rover he wanted to end up with. ‘‘The initial idea for the project was a means of building a vehicle that combines all of my favourite aspects from Land Rover over the years. The best spec, the best colour, the best engine. And build it properly, as if it had been assembled on the production line at Solihull, but better. Every single nut and bolt, screw and rivet is correct, even down to the right lengths and finish. It’s proper anorak-spec.’’

The base vehicle Max was adamant he needed to build his dream Land Rover from was a tired-out Defender 110 XS station wagon, but the right one took some finding. ‘‘I had my heart set on one of the last Td5s, as I think that’s peak Defender,’’ says Max. ‘‘I actually spent two years tracking down the best base vehicle for the project, and travelled as far as the Isle of Mull in Scotland to view a potential candidate. It was a bit gutting to drive all the way home with an empty trailer, but it wasn’t the right one. Then, as luck would have it, the 110 I ended up purchasing for the project had been owned since new in my home town, just five miles from where I live.’’

The donor Defender didn’t stay in one piece for long before Max set about stripping it to bits and taking stock of what was good, and what was not so good. The ropey XS’s chassis was actually in remarkably good condition, with just minimal ‘lasagne’ on the layered section at the base of the rear crossmember, but that didn’t stop Max from ordering up a brand new Marsland galvanised chassis to give the Defender the longest lifespan possible in its new form. And the galvanised chassis was just the start.

No plastic Puma inner arches here – originals restored to galvanised perfection

‘‘Futureproofing was at the forefront of the build from the outset, corrosion has no place here. Every single item we took off, down to the smallest steel bracket, has been restored where necessary, sandblasted back to bare metal, rust-treated, galvanised and then finished in satin black. I chose to go for paint over powdercoat, as it gives a much more original look and is easy to touch up if it gets scratched in the future. Although I don’t regret doing things this way, this approach proved to be a much more time-consuming and costly process than other alternatives.’’

Continuing the OE look, the new chassis got a good wash and a healthy coat of Buzzweld’s Galv-in-One paint, which dries to a smooth, factory-looking finish. With the chassis taken care of and the fittings on their way to satin-black perfection, what about that other big puzzle piece, the bulkhead?

‘‘It was actually in amazing condition to begin with,’’ Max remarks. ‘‘I had it shot-blasted, which showed up that it only needed one tiny repair to the diaphragm where it meets the gearbox tunnel, but other than that it was perfect. It made no sense to replace it with an aftermarket one.’’ The tub needed some love in the form of new side skins, and a replacement front angle panel where the second-row seats fit, from YRM. ‘‘I added strips of clear Gorilla tape between all the surfaces where all the panels bolt together, to insulate them. Land Rover never bothered, which is why the bubbling and corrosion starts. It means assembly takes longer, but it’s worth it.’’ Happily, the often-rotten B-pillar and sill assemblies and even the doors of the Defender were in fine fettle, so were all retained.

At home in the Essex countryside, but 110 will be Morocco-bound by the time you read this

You might notice that the second-row seats aren’t yet fitted – they’ve been left out for now, to accommodate camping gear for the upcoming trip. Talking of which, I’m surprised the 110 isn’t sporting more expedition-related accessories, but Max is quick to put me right. ‘‘It’ll have a pair of roof bars and a hard-shell tent, then the fridge and everything else is going in the back. It’s not a dedicated overlander by any stretch, I just really wanted to have an adventure in the diary to aim for and look forward to.’’

Looking closer, the intricacies of the rebuild are plain to see. The heater box, for instance, was completely stripped to its component parts, cleaned, re-sealed with a new core and then carefully reassembled with those all-important correct rivets. I take a moment to inspect the Land Rover warning label on the heater’s case, as it looks brand-new. ‘‘That’s because it is,’’ laughs Max. ‘‘I spend ages on eBay browsing for anything that might be useful and at the right price. That sticker was one of the things I found. When I come across new-old-stock or take-off parts, I try to get them just to have in stock for the future. The Utility side panels were another; it’s rare to get used pairs in straight condition, so when I saw them, I snapped them up.’’

The conversion from station wagon to utility body style isn’t the only personal twist Max has put on the 110 on its journey back to new-built glory. The most obvious is the stunning paint scheme; vibrant Nara Bronze – code 825 – with Santorini Black roof. ‘‘It’s my favourite Land Rover colour combination. I had a previous 110 sprayed the same, but the finish on this one is another level. The paint shop did an amazing job.’’

Genuine Land Rover fasteners and parts used throughout

As well as the eye-catching paintwork, the keen-eyed will spot some other non-standard extras which have been added to improve the overall look and useability of the Defender, without going over-the-top.

A genuine Fire and Ice Edition grille and light surrounds house subtle LED headlights and the proper accompanying indicator and high-beam lamps, which have been rewired with dual-filament Osram bulbs to work as both sidelights and driving lights. The genuine accessories also include a NAS step which doubles as a towbar – handy for his girlfriend’s horses – and Max has his eye on some side steps, but is unsure which style to go for. ‘‘I like the tubular type, but no-one really uses the old individual folding steps any more, which I think would complement the Wolf wheels better. So I may go for them instead.’’

The timeless steel wheels in question are pumped 30mm further out than standard on hub-centric spacers, and are shod with the newest Goodyear Wrangler M/Ts that Max could get. ‘‘They’re not easy to find now, but I wanted them because that’s what Land Rover fitted to the final editions. I managed to get hold of this delivery-mileage set, but they took some hunting down.’’

Noise and heat carefully managed with no less than 12 sheets of Dynamat

The OE theme continues inside the Defender, where a smattering of almost-invisible upgrades makes the 17-year old 110 much more comfortable and refined than it would have been when it left Solihull, even in its top-spec XS trim.

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Before any of the interior went in, no less than 12 sheets of Dynamat were applied to the insides of the doors and tub, with more across the seat box and floor panels to cut down on noise intrusion as much as possible. New-old-stock leather trimmed XS gearknobs look and feel fantastic, and brand-new Land Rover rubber floor mats still smell box-fresh.

New-old-stock XS gearknobs in place; centre console adds a splash of colour

Deviating from the standard look slightly, Max chose to have the Td5’s centre switch console painted Nara Bronze, which adds a welcome splash of colour to the cabin, and a Discovery 2 cruise control switch nestles discreetly on the side of the steering column cowl – part of an Empire Tuning kit which will no doubt pay dividends on the long hauls across the continent. For mapping and navigation duties, Max simply uses his phone, which clamps atop the dashboard in a £20 3D-printed holder clipped in where the ashtray would normally fit. Easy, effective and reversible. The only other touches Max wants to add to the interior are some MUD UK side panels in the back, fresh carpet in the load area without cut-outs for the rearmost seats, and the headliner will be retrimmed in black Alcantara after his trip.

Heater box stripped and reassembled; correct decal applied

The engine bay remains delightfully clean and original, with just a de-webbed exhaust manifold and uprated stud kit hinting to some mild tuning of the venerable five-cylinder turbodiesel. ‘‘It’s got a Td5 Inside remap, which really does make a huge difference over standard. I didn’t want it smoky or obnoxious, and it isn’t. It just makes getting up to speed so much nicer, which helps when fully loaded.’’ The Td5’s distinctive exhaust note is amplified slightly thanks to a centre-silencer delete pipe, which gives the perfect blend of a rorty sound when desired, without any droning at cruising speeds.

The donor Defender’s gearbox and transfer ’box were in rude health, so have been largely left alone save for a good scrub and some fresh gaskets. The only change that has been made to the gearing is the fitment of an Ashcroft Transmissions 1.3 ratio gearset, which bridges the awkward gap between the standard Defender and Discovery ratios and gives brisk acceleration and torque for towing but also reduces engine RPM when covering motorway miles.

So clean you could eat your dinner off it – but it won’t look like this for long

Underneath, both axles have been stripped, blasted, painted and rebuilt with new bearings, seals and brakes throughout, with the only upgrade being a pair of tougher one-piece Puma halfshafts in the rear. The Defender is suspended on Britpart OE-spec coils all-round, with new genuine Land Rover dampers keeping axle movement under control. ‘‘I’d have used Britpart shocks too, but they only do oil-filled. The later genuine dampers are gas and oil, which is better for prolonged off-road use. They obviously cost more, but it should pay off in the desert.’’

Peering under the Defender is almost as jaw-dropping as the stunning paint on the top. Swathes of satin black is broken up by bright copper-kunifer brake pipe, beautifully shaped to match the original steel lines but far longer-lasting, and the new silver calipers and bolt heads are somehow even brighter against the darkness of the chassis and axles than I’ve ever seen before. ‘‘That’s why I was so excited to get the photoshoot done before my trip, because it’ll never look this good again!’’ Max laughs.

Maybe not, but while many people who have completed a rebuild to such a high standard would bring the Land Rover out for high days and holidays and have it wrapped in cotton wool the rest of the time, it’s encouraging to hear that, even after all the hard work and late nights, Max isn’t afraid to take his creation by the scruff of the neck and throw it headfirst into adventure. Which is, after all, what Land Rovers are all about.


The builder

Max is celebrating finishing his 110 by throwing it straight into adventure

Max Brown  is no stranger to taking Land Rovers apart and putting them back together again – his full-time job is at Foley Specialist Vehicles, a name synonymous with top-quality rebuilds and incredible bespoke Defenders. ‘‘The guys at work have been really supportive. I’m hugely grateful to everyone at Foley’s for their help and advice, and a special thanks to Marti, George, and
Mr Kim for all their help on the build.’’

When he’s not spannering, Max channels his creativity through photography and travel, two passions he’ll be indulging on the Morocco trip he worked so hard to get the Defender finished for. By the time you read this, he and this fantastic 110 will already be out there.

To keep up with its adventures, give the Defender’s Instagram page a follow: @prjct825.



2006 Defender 110 XS Station Wagon

Body and chassis
Marsland galvanised chassis
• Buzzweld Galv-in-one coating
• Body resprayed in Nara Bronze and Santorini Black
Puma utility side panels
NAS rear step
• Fire and Ice grille and light surrounds

Td5 Inside ECU remap
Centre silencer delete pipe
• De-webbed exhaust manifold
Uprated manifold stud kit

Ashcroft 1.3-ratio transfer ’box gears
• Puma one-piece rear halfshafts

Britpart OE-spec coil springs
Genuine gas-filled dampers
OE metalastic bushes

LED headlamps
• Fire and Ice indicators and sidelight units
• OSRAM dual-filament LED bulbs

Switch console colour-matched Nara Bronze
• 3D-printed ashtray phone holder
• Dynamat sound deadening throughout

Wheels and tyres
Genuine Wolf steel wheels 
• 235/85 R16 Goodyear Wrangler M/T tyres


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