08 April 2023
We’ve seen every engine conversion under the sun, except one – the Puma. Could this be the one we’ve been waiting for, to perfectly bridge the gap between old and new?
It’s a glorious late autumn afternoon and I’m pottering around the quiet lanes of the Midlands in a canvas-topped Series IIA diesel, with Ian Baughan of IRB Developments beside me. I hate driving other people’s cars, but I’ve been implored to. Out of politeness, I’ve given in, and here we are.
Intercooler behind the regular Series grille and wing louvres hint this isn’t a standard car
We’ve tootled out of his yard, looped a few lanes and I’ve learnt all I need to. Or, I thought I had. The road opens up, straightens out, and Ian urges me to push on. I do, in a respectfully measured way. “Is that full throttle?” Ian tests, obviously knowing full well it isn’t. “Give it full throttle,” he commands. I do as I’m told; the car picks up, turbo vanes change angle and we’re pulled onwards at a rate quite unfamiliar to a diesel Series driver. “That’s 70!” Ian enthuses. My brow furrows in disbelief as I glimpse left to the central speedometer. My eyes tell me I’m in a Series, doing 70mph. Unlike any other Series Land Rover, my ears aren’t bleeding, there’s no sound of straining mechanicals. We’re not even shouting. This is no ordinary diesel IIA you may think, and you’re right. Because while it looks like a barn find, it is powered by a 2.2-litre Puma engine and gearbox.
Retaining classic Series looks was a key aim of the Puma project
The car belongs to John Rowe, who, looking for something to replace the 90 he particularly enjoyed – and a retirement project – chanced upon the late IIA, dismantled and forlorn in Ian Baughan’s unit. “I was going to buy it, and just put it back together,” says John. “Then Ian started.” By ‘started’ he means Ian’s casual mention of a long-standing idea he’d festered, to put a Puma engine in a Series. “So, he convinced me,” John smiles. If the pair were going to do it, then John insisted it remain tax- and MoT-exempt, yet have some mod cons. “Heated mirrors, heated screen, Webasto heater, all the little things you would never associate with a Series.” Not to show off, he insists, but for the comfort of driving. “So I said I’d do it, as long as he did his homework,” recounts John. That was the start of a process, and more than two years ago now.
Disc brakes all-round mean braking is impressive
Front axle basically a Stage One setup, but with discs
Ian takes up the origins of his idea. “I wanted to make a Series you could use every day. Proper brakes and steering, improved suspension and a usable powertrain. The 2.2 was the obvious choice, because I play a lot with Puma – I think this is the first six-speed Series, too.”
Engine positioning was the most difficult part of the build
A low-mileage 2.2 and gearbox were sourced, a new IIA chassis arrived – ungalvanised – then they dangled the engine on a hoist... For weeks. Much head scratching ensued, to work out if it would fit low enough so the bonnet could be shut, otherwise they would need a hump in the bonnet and John didn’t want that. Too low, and axle articulation was restricted, another no-no for the project. Lots of measuring and checking discovered a sweet spot where the engine would fit on standard mounts, the bonnet would shut, and axles could travel. “Once Ian had that set, the rest could be measured off that,” says John.
Engine bay layout the same as Puma-engined Defenders
MT82 gearbox means six speeds
The MT82 gearbox mounts on standard crossmembers, using custom mounts. This means the front propshaft is longer than a Series item and the back is a lot shorter, so both were made to suit. The front axle is basically a Stage One setup, meaning CVs rather than UJs as original. Disc brakes all-round use standard Defender components except brake pads, right down to a Defender brake master cylinder and pedal. Power steering uses a P38A steering box, outside the chassis, so there’s no play – and having driven it, very un-Series-like – but the engine bay looks like a factory Defender.
Air intake uses louvres in the wing to retain the IIA panel
It rides on parabolic springs, though the gas shocks are one area being tweaked further, for improved ride quality. Rolling stock are a bigger offset Wolf rim, but are ET 0 (offset greater to the outside), wearing 235/86 R16 BF Goodrich All-Terrains.
Aged patina remains
Custom switch panel, starter button and Lucas ignition switch
The wiring loom was also a headache, partly because they started with a secondhand loom, but the big issue being, unlike a Defender, there’s no dashboard to hide wiring behind on a Series IIA. They ended up with a facia panel on the passenger side, hiding the fusebox and OBD socket, and the wiring loom is engine-side, but re-taped to look period. For instruments, Ian kept the centre Series placement, but housing Puma Defender clocks.
Traditional Smiths heater disguises uprated motor
“To get it driving, we threw it together,” admits John. “When we knew it worked, we took it apart again, before paying to have seats recovered, etc, to reduce money being spent out.” Paintwork was left as is, for the panels were usefully good and straight, still with evidence of a landscaping business signwriting on the tub. “The selling point for me was that someone who loved Series vehicles could have this, and use it in London,” says John.
“I love the look of it, but I don’t enjoy the drivability. If you want to go on short trips, they’re fantastic. But the idea was to go on some decent road trips and really stretch its legs.” Every nut and bolt removed was cleaned, acid-dipped and zinc-plated, as were the axle cases. “I’ve tried to futureproof it, so it should last,” explains John.
Interior captures the feel of the Series, but much smarter
Defender rear wheel carrier repurposed to carry spare
Tailgate both drops down…
… and hinges from side, too
What does he make of the end result, aware it is a prototype? “I’m glad I did it,” he tells LRM. “On normal roads, away from side roads, it is fantastic. It puts a smile on your face, and when people think they’re stuck behind an old IIA, you’re away and gone.” Ian adds: “It runs a custom engine calibration, as performance in first was lively, being lighter than a 90.”
We’ve had decades of engine swaps in Land Rovers, to the point that you name it, someone has done it. But the results don’t always live up to the promise. Jump into this conversion and everything is instantly familiar, visually and in drive quality. The interior is pure Series, albeit with a smaller wheel. The pedals have Defender weighting, as does the steering. The engine and exhaust note feature that pure Puma whistle. Every single element is recognisable as having Solihull origins.
Original cast dealer plate a nice touch
I’ve driven many modified Land Rovers, and some can be disappointing. But not this. I’d go as far to say as this is the best I’ve ever experienced.
The rich character of a Series, with the modern drivability of a Defender. Perhaps that is why it’s so great, for there’s nothing to dilute what the car is about: peak Land Rover.
Custom exhaust, used Defender bore, but Series routing
• IRB custom spec SIIA chassis made to original specification
• Stage One V8-specification front axle with Stage One CV conversion and Stage One V8-specification swivels
• HD drive flanges all-round
• HD rear half-shafts
• Disc brake conversion all-round using Defender brake parts
• Rebuilt L230 transfer ’box
• Standard MT82 gearbox
• Standard 2.2 TDCi engine (2015MY)
• PWR V1 intercooler
• Full turbo back stainless steel exhaust system
• Custom wiring loom
• Parabolic springs (GME)
• Uprated gas dampers
• OME steering damper
• Range Rover P38 steering box conversion
• Gwyn Lewis sumo bars
• ET 0 offset Wolf wheels
• 235/ 85 R16 BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres
• HD hoop stick set and sand hood
Not a one-off
Ian tells me he has orders for two more builds. “Both earlier cars, with lights in the grille, and in glossy paint, rather than patina finish.” Prices start at £60,000, depending on final specification. There are options for tuning from 145bhp and 425Nm of torque, or 165bhp and 470Nm. Contact Ian at irbdevelopments.com.
Low Emissions Zone and historic tax
“Because our car is over 40-years old it’s MoT- and tax-exempt,” says Ian, so is able to enter London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), regardless of engine. But how is it still a historic tax class, when it has the running gear of a Puma Defender? Under MoT rules, there are limits to modifications, Ian explains, before the car no longer qualifies. “There’s a points system. Although it’s non-standard, this 88in stays within it: original axles, original suspension type, original chassis,” he says, earning enough points to keep the original identification of the vehicle.
The car’s fuelling changed from petrol to diesel, but, the Puma being a Land Rover production engine, with the same cylinder count and usefully smaller capacity than the original, Ian says it falls under ‘acceptable changes’. MoT rules allow modifications ‘to improve efficiency, safety or environmental performance’, which this undoubtedly does. Hence the car remains in the historic tax class, and therefore is also ULEZ-compliant.
“A basic engineering report was sent with the V5 changes [though technically not needed for an historic tax class],” says Ian, “and the V5 came back updated.”
To demonstrate – and indeed celebrate – the point, we popped into the centre of Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone in the 88in. Mingling with the modern traffic around the finance centre off Newhall Street, the little Land Rover looked like the legal alien it is. We may as well have been in Manhattan rather than the home of Land Rover.
• demandengineering.co.uk – custom exhaust
• designdevelopmenteng.co.uk – disc brakes, Stage One V8 parts and HD half-shafts
• buzzweld.co.uk – paints
• 4x4tyres.co.uk – wheels and tyres
• purelymetal.co.uk – HD hood sticks
• Britpart.com – numerous parts
• DH Auto Upholstery, 07506 370350
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