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Roof and side panels were sourced from a later model 90 : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
Boasting air suspension and a BMW M57 engine swap, Andy Hoile’s debut Land Rover project was big on ambition

As seagulls screech above, the familiar metallic rattle of a garage door handle being turned cuts through the winter air. The door rises, dry runners graunching in their tracks, and the low sun catches a bonnet’s front edge, causing fresh paint to flip from deep brown to radiant coppery orange. Andy Hoile, owner and builder of this unique Land Rover, shimmies down the side, pops the door and slides into the driver’s seat, taking care not to catch the bodywork on the blockwork.  The single garage is barely wide enough to store the Defender, but this is exactly where it was built.

Owner Andy Hoile confesses that he let the project get a little out of hand…

Andy strikes up the engine and the 90 emerges from the darkness. Eye-popping hue aside, it’s quite clear this Defender is far more than a blow-over and a nice set of wheels. A six-cylinder thrum emanates from the engine bay, and the suspension adjusts and settles on the uneven ground as Andy hops out, accompanied by the buzz of an air compressor. Out in the open, the result of a lot of hard graft in a relatively short time and a very small space is clear for all to see.

“I was actually going to sell it,” admits Andy. “I’d tidied up a couple of bits for the new owner, but then the sale fell through and I thought I might as well keep it and refresh it. Things got a bit out of hand.” Understatement of the century. In fact, you may actually recognise Andy’s name from the October 2023 issue, where the 90 starred in the Work in Progress page at the back of LRM. Having chatted to him more since, and with the 90 overhaul rapidly approaching the finishing line, we knew we had to see it for ourselves and get the full story.

“I got it about seven years ago as a replacement for my Nissan Navara, which got to a certain point in its life (around 120,000 miles) then decided it needed every single expensive component replacing at one time. The idea was a Land Rover would still do what I need, but is a far simpler vehicle and one I can do bits on myself. It’s ironic really, because this is probably more sophisticated now than the Navara ever was,” Andy laughs.

Andy’s 90 shortly after he bought it seven years ago and having the lift kit and chunky tyres removed. Little did he know what a comprehensive project it was to turn into

Despite already changing the wheezy original 2.5 turbo diesel for a 300Tdi, Andy’s online browsing opened his eyes to what could be done, and the BMW repower seed was sown

“Back when I first bought it, I really thought I’d made a mistake. It had the original 2.5 turbo diesel 19J engine, and was lifted on some horrible +2 inch springs with wide-offset steel wheels and massive aggressive tyres. It handled horribly and the tyres were lethal – the old diesel engine struggled to pull the gearing with the bigger wheels, so I was quite happy when it broke a valve as it gave me a reason to change it for a 300Tdi. That was much better so I put it back to standard height with some alloys and ran it like that for a while, then I thought about selling it. Once the deal didn’t go ahead, I thought I’d go through it and tidy a few other things up, but then I went online and saw all the BMW conversions and other bits and pieces you can do to these now, and it sort of snowballed.”

Work began by chopping off the shoddily-replaced rear crossmember and welding on a new one-third chassis. Meanwhile, the drum rear axle got swapped for a disc-braked version

Andy’s vision for his perfect Land Rover was to evolve and change along the way, but first he needed solid foundations. “The chassis wasn’t that bad, but someone had previously replaced the rear crossmember and it wasn’t done to a very high standard, shall we say. I nosed the Land Rover into the garage, stripped the back end and cut it off just by the damper brackets, and welded a new one-third chassis on to tidy it up.” While it was in bits, Andy took the opportunity to replace the drum-braked original rear axle with a disc unit, before making a start on the rotten front dumb irons. “I was so green to Land Rovers back then that I didn’t realise you could just buy new ones!” he laughs. “Hours and hours went into repairing and welding them up. But it’s all sound now. Once I was happy with the chassis, I went over the whole thing in Rustbuster two-pack paint and Dinitrol.”

The 90, still being worked on in the single garage, got a new rear chassis section before being turned around so that the front dumb irons could be comprehensively repaired

As well as repairs to the front and rear of the chassis, Andy had to turn his hand to the bulkhead’s rusty footwells and top corners while the engine and gearbox were still out

The bulkhead was next on the hit list, and needed significant work to get back to a useable state, given the high standards Andy had already set himself early on. The upper corners needed attention, and both rusty footwells were cut and drilled away and replaced with fresh steel. With good bones to build on, the rest of the bodywork could be addressed.

“This is a typical example of a project getting out of hand,” reveals Andy. “The tub and bulkhead are the only original panels left, and I modified the centre bulkhead to let the seats recline further, then capped it off. I ended up buying replacement side panels and a roof that were from a late Defender; my originals had loads of dents from the previous owner, a farmer, carrying stuff loose in the back, hitting the insides of the panels. I also got a new TDCi bonnet and genuine front wings; both front doors and the taildoor are galvanised ones from SP Panels, and I had the original tub cappings galvanised as well.”

Bespoke paint took a long while to be formulated

​​​​​​The panels were painstakingly prepared by Andy’s friend, Paul Boxell, who spent hundreds of hours making sure they were completely flawless before being painted and refitted to the repaired chassis. Most of the individual parts were painted in the single garage, and the hangers suspended from the ceiling and test-sprays on the walls inside are still there now.

“It took me weeks to decide on the colour,” Andy tells us. “It was either going to be something similar to Grasmere Green, like they used on the Heritage editions, or metallic red. When I settled on the red, it took just as long to get the perfect shade and level of flake. In the end, once I’d narrowed it down to two, I just mixed them together and that was the final hue. It’s a hybrid of Root Beer Red and Bronze Pearl.”

Exmoor Trim black billet door hinges contrast with red paintwork

​​​​​​All the panels were painted off the vehicle apart from the tub and bulkhead, which stayed on the chassis. To contrast the custom red, Andy decided to keep the wheelarch spats, bonnet and roof black, which keys into the smart 18 inch Sawtooth wheels. There are further splashes of black in the form of Exmoor Trim billet security door and bonnet hinges, while the lighting is subtly upgraded with Wipac LED sides and indicators – the headlamps remain halogen as Andy says they keep the character of the Land Rover.

When it came to assembling the body, Andy didn’t spare the horses in regards to making the Land Rover quieter and more solid-feeling. “I had flashbacks of when I first got it, with the tinny van panels and rattles of that 19J engine, so I went all-out on sound-deadening and insulation.” Andy estimates that around 100kg of Dodo Mat sound-deadening material has made its way into the doors, tub, side panels, roof, bulkhead and floors, all in a bid to make the drive as civilised as possible.

Rear tub has plenty of soundproofing and protection

You wouldn’t know it was there, though – the front headliner has been retrimmed in luxurious Alcantara, and the rear part of the roof has been lined in black campervan carpet to match. In the back, Mud UK trims clad out the insides of the van panels, and the loadspace is lined with protective rubber matting and chequerplate for when Andy takes his two boisterous dogs out.

Maximum comfort

Providing far more comfort and support than standard seats, a pair of Exmoor Trim pews flank an Exmoor cubby box perched on Mud rails, giving a more relaxed seating position for the taller driver. “They’re great seats,” beams Andy. “And they’re heated. Actually, everything is heated.” Making sure Andy never has to bust out the ice scraper again, the 90 got new heated front and rear screens, and the door mirrors also have heater elements behind the glass.

One thing that strikes you about this Land Rover is how, despite having so many upgrades, the wiring has been kept so neat and discreet. Andy confesses the wiring was one of the bigger headaches with the project, as he’s added so many extra systems that the 1990 base vehicle would never have left Solihull with – it now boasts such luxuries as electric windows and remote central locking. Andy’s attention to detail and eye for a better-than-factory finish extends to the 90’s new powertrain and suspension, both far bigger undertakings than binning the keep-fit windows and manual door locks.

BMW M57 3.0-litre turbo diesel mated to a six-speed manual

“I actually bought the engine really early on in the project – it came out of a 2004 BMW 330d, so the sump bowl is in the right place for a Land Rover. The seller was collecting the parts to convert his own, then changed his mind. It was a good deal, so I snapped it up,” says Andy of the venerable M57 lump chosen to push the 90 along. He elected to refresh the relatively unknown 3.0-litre diesel with a set of new injectors, rebuilt turbocharger, a swirl flap delete and new lightweight alloy pulleys before hanging it in the engine bay and bolting it between the rails with kit from Max Wiseman at House of Torque.

As with the rest of the Land Rover, the fit and finish of the conversion is excellent – there are no stray wires or wayward pipework here; the loom is routed and tucked discreetly, with the ECU mounted at the back of the engine in a similar position to a Defender TDCi.

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House of Torque tailpipe with 3in bore

​​​​​​Andy chose to retain the BMW donor car’s six-speed manual gearbox, which is adapted to drive a rebuilt and upgraded LT230 transfer box. As well as an Ashcroft automatic torque-biasing centre diff, it houses a 1:1 ratio gearset to make the most of the engine’s torque band, and the centre diff lock has been converted to air-actuation as there’s no longer room in the tunnel for a mechanical linkage. Choosing to keep the transfer box’s original mounting position meant Andy could retain standard-length propshafts, a pair of new OEM items.

To ensure the Land Rover pulls up straight and true from any speed, the front axle has been upgraded with a pair of four-pot calipers from a Defender 110, and both the standard front and rear brakes have been replaced with LOF Roadspec discs and pads for extra bite. At the same time, both axles were stripped, cleaned and powdercoated in dark grey.

Not satisfied with coil springs, Andy put his wiring and plumbing skills further to the test by upgrading to air suspension all-round. “It was probably the biggest headache,” he explains.

Air suspension and dual anti-roll bars really improve the 90’s handling

“It uses Discovery 2 air springs, and the system itself is from Airlift. It’s all sensored, so self-adjusts according to load, and has five ride height presets. But you can also control each corner independently through the switches on the dash, or on the app on your phone, which is a good party trick,” he laughs. The air system is fed by twin air compressors, mounted in custom soundproof boxes on the underside of the tub, and uses chunky ⅜ inch pipe instead of the more commonly-found ¼ inch stuff. The combination of plentiful air supply and large-bore pipework makes height adjustment incredibly responsive – the 90 springs from fully-decked to maximum height in no time at all.

Bilstein B4 dampers are mounted on tubular turrets

​​​​​​Damping is taken care of by Bilstein B4 dampers, with the front pair mounted on tubular turrets forward of the springs, similar to a Range Rover P38. ‘‘To be honest the Bilsteins are a bit firm for the air suspension – I fitted them when it was still on coils. I want to change them for Fox ones as they’re supposed to be valved better, but it’s still more than tolerable for the time being,” Andy smiles.

Rear anti-roll bar really improves the car’s handling

Andy took the time to re-bush all the suspension arms with uprated Super Pro bushes, and has added anti-roll bars front and rear to tighten up the 90’s handling on the road. “I made sure the new rear chassis section I bought had the brackets to mount the bars already attached,” he explains, “but I had to weld hangers onto the front to bolt it on. The work was well worth it though. Between the air suspension and the anti-roll bars it rides and handles beautifully.” No doubt contributing to the excellent road manners are a set of 255/70 R18 Michelin Latitude tyres, a far cry from the aggressive remoulds that shod the 90 when Andy first bought it.

New Ministry of Defender Puma-style dash is screwed to the repaired bulkhead, and instrument cluster and switch gear for new systems find their homes in the console

Gearstick took many hours of work to get positioned correctly

Talking of refinement, the job that’s been done in the front of the 90’s cabin is not to be sniffed at. ‘‘I wanted a Puma dash, and got a Ministry of Defender one which I’ve made work with all the switches for the electric windows and heated seats, and mounted the Airlift controller down the bottom,” says Andy, with an air of apprehension. “But I really made a rod for my own back with the gearstick. It took me days of work to get right because of its position, it had to be a really specific shape to feel right and not clash with the dashboard.”

Gearknob smartened up

It’s fair to say that all the effort has been worth it, and the modified Exmoor Trim gearknobs are a smart touch – the main gearknob has been flattened and re-engraved to show the six-speed gearbox’s pattern, and the transfer box one just shows selection for high- and low-ratio, as the diff lock actuator is now on a button. Andy, a machinist by trade, made them himself.

Elsewhere in the cab, the old cable-type throttle pedal has been replaced with a fly-by-wire TDCi unit to talk to the M57’s ECU, and a plush Momo steering wheel – mounted on an Optimill boss – improves response and opens up a bit more legroom.

The 90’s original instrument cluster has been carefully integrated into the newer dash, and an aftermarket tacho lets the driver keep an eye on the M57’s revs as they row through the six-speed gearbox. The cab is an exercise in restraint – only the aluminium dashboard vents add a splash of bling, while everything else is understated, well thought-out and classy.

Good on-road performance guided Andy’s thinking

As we wrap up our photographic shoot, I take one last look around Andy’s 90, then we head back to the garage. Seeing the Land Rover’s poise on the road, and watching it effortlessly disappear into the distance on the B-roads around his native Dover, light dancing off that gorgeous paint, I can’t help but admire what Andy has achieved. Many of us make all sorts of excuses to put off starting our dream build until we have the right tools, the right weather, or the right workshop, but not Andy.

He took his first ever Land Rover, used what he had available to him for the project, called on the help of a couple of mates and got stuck in, without compromising on quality and attention to detail. His spirit and resourcefulness really are to be applauded, and the finished article speaks for itself.

 

SPEC LIST
1990 90 Hard top

Body and chassis
• Original chassis
• New rear one-third with anti-roll bar mounts
• Front dumb irons repaired
• Front anti-roll bar mounts added
• Painted in Rustbuster two-pack
• Protected with Dinitrol
• TDCi Puma bonnet
• Galvanised side and rear doors
• Genuine replacement wings
• Late-model roof and side panels
• Centre bulkhead trimmed and capped
• Custom Root Beer metallic paint
• Bonnet, spats and roof painted black
• Exmoor Trim billet hinges
• Stainless steel vent flap pins
• Rebel steering guard coated black

Engine
• BMW M57 3.0-litre diesel
• New injectors, rebuilt turbo
• House of Torque conversion kit
• Alloy ancillary pulleys
• Alloy radiator and intercooler
• ECU mounted on bulkhead
• Electric fans
• 3-inch bore House of Torque exhaust system

Driveline
• BMW six-speed manual gearbox
• BMW slave cylinder, Land Rover master
• LT230 transfer box, ATB centre diff 
• Air-actuated centre diff lock
• 1:1 transfer box gearset
• New OEM propshafts

Suspension and brakes
• Air Lift Performance suspension kit
• Discovery 2 rear air springs all-round
• Bilstein B4 dampers
• SuperPro bushes
• Front and rear anti-roll bars added
• Heavy-duty track rod and drag link
• Four-pot front brake calipers from Defender 110
• Disc-braked rear axle
• LOF Brakes Roadspec discs and pads

Electrics
• Dash-mounted suspension controller
• Aftermarket tacho and temp guage
• Original instrument pack integrated
• Heated front and rear screens
• Heated door mirrors
• Central locking and electric windows
• Twin air compressors under tub
• Wipac LED sides and indicators
• Rear LED work lights above door

Interior
• Exmoor Trim heated leather seats
• Mud UK raised seat rails
• Exmoor Trim cubby box
• Ministry of Defender Puma dash
• Alcantara front headliner
• Campervan carpet in rear
• Dodo Mat throughout
• Momo wheel, Optimill boss
• Custom gearlever
• Custom billet gearknobs

Wheels and tyres
• 18in Sawtooth alloy wheels
• 255/70 R18 Michelin Latitude

 

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