24 November 2022
Alisdair Cusick checks out a rugged, no-nonsense 130, powered by a 430bhp BMW 3.0-litre straight-six turbodiesel
It was so effortless, I almost barely noticed. We’re on a main road in the Welsh borders, in evening commuter traffic. On an extended incline one lane briefly becomes two. We move to the outside lane and accelerate, then accelerate some more. Commuters get picked off as progress becomes beyond what you might be accustomed to. There is no wince-inducing harshness from an over-stretched engine, laying a smoke trail like The Red Arrows as gears are snatched one after another. Instead there’s just a steady, relentless push, in one gear, until we are at quite a lick. Yet we aren’t in a sports car, we’re in a Defender 130, on huge tyres, powered by a highly tuned BMW straight-six diesel.
To explain, we have to rewind slightly. The driver is Dave Lea, and the vehicle is a creative collaboration between his two businesses, 4x4 Fabrication and Mahker. Dave’s YouTube videos give the neat synopsis: “It all started while working on a Series in my dad’s shed,” he says. “I followed my dreams and joined the Marines. Defenders were always a part of me, and now here we are, building custom machines with my awesome team in Shropshire.” But there’s substance beyond that sound bite.
Dave may have begun rattling spanners on Land Rovers as a teen, but he had other plans: the Marines. Even there, his knowledge got him noticed. Suffering a troop transport breakdown and not content to sit there, raw recruit Dave stepped forward from the back of the truck, fixed it and got them back on the road. So impressed was his superior, he sought to maximise Dave’s apparent talent and off the young soldier went to the vehicle maintenance branch. Gaining his qualifications he was posted to the Royal Marine barracks, working on Jackals, Defenders and WMIKs, returning home when he could to yes, you guessed it, work on Defenders.
Leaving the Marines in 2012, he started 4x4 Fabrication and gained a quick reputation for engine swaps, rebuilds, fabrication work and custom builds. LRM featured his work recently; the Cummins 110 cover car of September 2021. Such is the quality of his work, 4x4 Fabrication has also done a number of projects for other Land Rover modifiers. A couple of years ago one customer commission led to Mahker making everything for the cars, whether that was a modified part or one that was built by hand. A casual wander around his workshops reveals the diversity of jobs the company carries out. In as many steps I go from a 110 having new anti-roll bar drop-links to an immaculate 200Tdi build; a Lightweight having an LSV6 conversion to an LSV8 110 undergoing a shakedown. The latter is complete with custom alloy dash, finished in black crackle paint, with a boost gauge from a Spitfire. It was one of the most eye-catching things I’ve ever seen on a Defender.
The 130 happened simply because Dave always wanted one. A customer selling a 130 proved too much to resist, especially as it came with the beefy Baja kit already fitted to the rear end. Inspired to make the car something special, Dave began the project, with the moniker ‘Dirty 130’.
EVO Corse wheels just fit the AP brakes inside
Evo Corsa alloy wheels went on first, shod in 37-inch BF Goodrich KM3s. Brakes are Mahker’s Monster 18-inch kit –gigantic AP calipers and discs originally intended for an armoured personnel carrier, no less. A bolt-on Safety Devices roll-cage was then fitted, while four Baja Design LP9 Pro spotlights sit proudly on top. Right up front sits a RED winch Explorer 2, housed in a beefy RED winch bumper, behind which is a Nakatenga Heritage-style grille, with Truck-lite headlights to finish off the nose.
Baja Design LP9 Pro lights are expensive, but fantastic, enthuses Dave
Purposeful front end, with everything specced for top performance
BMW 3.0-litre six-pot looks as though it was made to fit the Defender. Suits the car, too
Bold looks are one thing, but the real story is that engine. The Steyr-made M57 BMW straight-six debuted in 1998 and was fitted to the L322 from launch in 2002, albeit in a woeful state of tune. Lauded for its refinement and impressive economy, the 3.0-litre six-pot has carved out a lasting reputation, not least because of one characteristic common to all Land Rover engines – large torque outputs at low and medium crankshaft speeds. On top of that, it responds fabulously well to tuning.
The M57 was the ideal motor, but Dave wanted more than the standard 204bhp. So he set to building what became the development car for the company’s big power engine conversion. Not just big power, but reliable big power. Two years and 10,000 miles later, this engine runs oversized injectors and a custom tune knocking on the door of 430bhp. Torque is what Land Rovers need, and there’s around 600lb-ft of that, thanks to an enormous Venom Hybrid Stage 2 e9x 2573 Hybrid Turbo, forcing as much air as possible to combust. The custom cooling pack is equally tasty. “It is a bar and fin intercooler unit, fed by three-inch pipes, with a twin 40 aluminium radiator and two gigantic fans to cool,” says Dave.
“I want something which sounded good, was torque-happy, and suits a big truck like this. As much as I love a Cummins, it is a big engine for a Defender. In comparison, this straight-six is refined and delivers the goods. Normally, a Puma runs out of revs about 2500, but this one just keeps pulling.” He’s right, for the outcome is what sounds and feels like a Td5 on steroids. There’s a slightly grunty tickover and a torque delivery that is simply prodigious, from almost no revs. The exhaust was made in-house (of course) and is three-inch pipe from the turbo backwards, with a passenger side-exit and teardrop tip.
High-spec everything, from trussed axle cases to giant brakes from an armoured personnel carrier
A billet adaptor mates the engine to a six-speed MT82 built to Extreme spec by Winchester Gears, fitted without interior modification to the cabin. Axles are, as Dave jokes, “specced beyond belief.” 300M shafts front rear, feed heavy-duty CV joints and drive flanges, titanium bolts, 1350-series propshafts, with axle cases Dave’s team added trussing to, for ultimate strength. ARB lockers, with pegged diffs are geared to 4.11 ratio so as to avoid huge transmission loads. “We’re running 37-inch tyres, but the car thinks it’s on standard wheels – yet will climb a mountain in low-range.”
Suspension features Old Man Emu remote bypass dampers and springs
Dampers are Old Man Emu (OME) BP-51 remote bypass units with six-inch OME springs, kept in check by Eibach anti-roll bars and Superpro bushes. To cope with the lift, six degree castor-corrected trailing and radius arms front and rear locate axle to chassis.
Interior has Harris Tweed accents. Despite engine transplant, gearsticks remain in factory positions
Gauges and locker controls in neat dash pod
Thoughtful touches are everywhere: winch controls are easily accessible, yet recessed so the grab handle can still be used
Individual rear Recaro CS seats recline to give tall folk greater comfort
Within the soundproofed interior there’s Harris Tweed headlining and fillets on the dash, and Recaro CS seats. The rear has two, with custom-made recliners so even the tallest passengers stand a chance of getting comfortable.
Baja-style rear spare wheel holder gives the whole car a unique look
Practical, adjustable, fittings on the rear tub permit accessories to be used
“The intention was to build a bike-ready 130, then offer a 130 for different sports, from boating, to shooting,” says Dave. This one takes two mountain bikes in the back, as well as the monster twin spare tyres. The result is a high-riding Defender, ready for anything but with incredible driveability, thanks to the torque-rich delivery of the M57. A lifted 130 build can’t go without mention of the Bond Spectre movie cars, but here, Dave is adamant, there is no comparison. This is a car built for a purpose, not as an on-screen prop.
There’s perhaps more kinship with some custom 130 builds in America, where tall-tyred Defenders have found recent popularity. But again, the ethos behind this car centres on functionality, not showing off – it’s also focused on originality of thought and design.
“I hate it when you go to a show, there could be 50 different brands and businesses there, but they all turn up with the same gunmetal car, with the same seats, the same dash – I just wanted to be different, which is what we’re about.” says Dave. Different they may be, but there’s intelligence and skill, too. “It was built to take my mountain bikes, but I can also take it to a show, and get attention for the business,” explains Dave.
Full pose mode: the modified 130 is an imposing sight
As we drive back from the photoshoot, Dave constantly enthuses about fresh ideas. Not haughty concepts, but ideas simply using the right materials, in the right place, well. Dave explains the clever crackle-paint dash I saw. “I wanted something like the plastic, but in aluminium and better, like a fighter jet,” he says, quickly adding, “the next one I do will be even better.” Little wonder his business is hot property in the Land Rover restoration and modification scene. He is full of inspiration.
We all have ideas, but this is an example of how professionals do things when they’re on top of their game, and have the resources and know-how to execute them.
The man with all the ideas: Dave Lea
Dave's Spec list:
• BMW M57N2 3.0
• Venom Hybrid Stage 2 e9x 2573 Hybrid Turbo
• 535d 219 injectors and custom calibration
• Custom intercooler and radiator
• 76mm custom intake and cold air feed
• Billet adaptor plate to gearbox
• 4x4Fabrication in-house 3-inch stainless steel side-exit exhaust
• Winchester Gears Extreme Spec MT82
• Winchester Gears Stage 2 transfer case
• 1350 Series Mahker propshafts
• Mahker Stage 3 axles
• ARB locking diffs
• Old Man Emu +6-inch springs
• Old Man Emu BP-51 remote bypass shock absorbers
• Adrenaline heavy-duty trailing and radius arms with 6-deg correction
• EVO Corse 18-inch wheels
• BF Goodrich KM3 37x12.50R18
• Mahker 18-inch brake kit
• AP callipers and discs
• Superpro bushes
• Eibach anti-roll bars
• Gwyn Lewis steering bar
• Safety Devices roll cage
• Custom Baja-style rear spare wheel carrier
• Baja Design LP9 Pro spotlights
• RED Explorer 2 winch
• RED winch bumper
• Mahker steering guard
• Mahker headlight surrounds
• Truck-lite headlights
• Body wrap and protection panels
• Nakatenga Heritage-style grille
• Carbonfibre bonnet
• Recaro CS seats
• Harris Tweed dash fillets and headlining
• Turbosmart boost gauge
• SPA Design pressure gauge
• Mota-Lita steering wheel
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