In praise of projects, part 1: The first timer


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As a first-time project, we think Gary did pretty well! : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
We examine three different types of project to see how each owner’s approach differs and what top tips they have. First up, the first timer...

At LRM, we love a Land Rover project. I’d wager that if asked, we all have an idea we’d love to execute. It might be that simple fix we keep meaning to get around to, the ideal camper conversion we have planned, or the dream of one day putting an old Series back on the roads. Working on a Land Rover is, for many, a huge part of the attraction of owning one.

We’re celebrating those who undertake projects, because we appreciate not just the work that goes into a one, but understand the immense reward at the end. Those cut knuckles, oily fingernails and time spent looking for the 10mm socket are all forgotten when we get to savour the end result.

One of the most satisfying parts of the process is that many of the best practitioners are self-taught, and you can join those ranks, too. Start simple, do your research and slowly build your skills. The more you achieve, the more you learn, and the more you are then happy to have a go at. Before you know it, you’re not just maintaining a vehicle, or performing a repair, but planning modifications, or actually achieving that dream restoration.

Author Alisdair admires his own restoration project

I talk from experience here because I did exactly this in 2017-18, when I restored my 1957 Series I, covering the whole process in LRM Technical each month. I had help, I had challenges, but I also learnt an immeasurable amount about the car and had immense fun. If I can do it, anyone really can.

In this series of three features, we'll look at three owners who have done it, crossing the whole projects spectrum. We’ll see not just how they went about it but what their top tips are – so you can do it, too.

So here’s to all the tinkerers, fettlers, modifiers and restorers. If you’ve built your ideal Land Rover, write to us ([email protected]) and tell us all about it. As I say, we love a project.


Gary Thurbon: Wolf 90

Owner Gary justifiably proud of his perfect Land Rover

​​​​​​Many of us harbour aspirations to build the car we’ve always wanted. It could be anything from a complete restoration, a vision of our perfect Land Rover, or just the sheer enjoyment of actually having a go.

But don’t let never having tackled a project before put you off. Enviable results can
be achieved if you do the right things, in the correct way, as reader Gary Thurbon and his head-turning 90 brilliantly demonstrate.Gary has what can only be described as a dream job. He works for Jaguar Land Rover and drives prototype Land Rovers for a living. Officially, he validates Vehicle Dynamics and stability of JLR products, work which has taken him to Pikes Peak, Death Valley China, and, er, Nuneaton. Typically, he’s most often driving the yet-to-be-launched cars at the IDIADA proving ground in Spain. I know, a terrible life, eh?

Mechanically it is standard, but cosmetically it is transformed

Whilst his day job takes in the cutting edge of our favourite marque, he’d never owned a Defender before and hankered after one, “basically, to see what the fuss was about,” Gary tells LRM. Inspiration for the base Land Rover reflects his early automotive industry career and a visit to Ashchurch, the military vehicle depot, working with Wolf Defenders in-period. “Seeing hundreds of them, lined up, with zero miles, I appreciated how cool they looked with all the bits and pieces bolted on,”
explains Gary.

Not quite a NAS 90, not quite a Wolf

Though he would have liked a North American Spec (NAS) 90 – and who wouldn’t – he settled on a Defender 90 Wolf as the perfect base for his project, with an ambition to blend the utilitarian war machine’s roots with the unmistakable style of iconic open top NAS. “I wanted a cool, open top car for summer, basically!” he admits.

Gary’s masterplan kicked into action just before Covid, but numerous visits to auctioneer Brightwells saw him return empty-handed, outbid each time on suitable ex-MOD cars. Frustrated and pressured by running out of annual leave, he decided to chance it and buy one online, unseen, from Brightwells. “Obviously I didn’t want to strip down a brand new one, it had to be the right spec and condition to warrant me taking it apart,” he says, explaining his 160,000km XD FFR purchase. There’s further reason a Wolf is a wise choice. Buy a civilian Land Rover, and it can be a mystery what parts were used for maintenance, modification or repairs over the years. The army has to use standard parts, from approved quality suppliers, so you know the vehicle is what it should be from the outset.

The Wolf 90 was the base, next had to come a plan. Which is where Phil Holland, of Range Rover restoration specialist TwentyTen Engineering, first appears. Gary and Phil were apprentices together in Block 9, Solihul, as youths. “He’s got quite a good eye for colour, wheels and trim,” says Gary, who asked his respected pal’s opinion of a concept: Porsche Miami blue bodywork, with black body bracketry held on by shiny silver fixings. The instant nod of approval from the expert was all the approval Gary needed. The theme was set for the car.

A consistent colour theme across the whole car

Military fixings all left on the car

Wolf pre-intake baffles also carry the colour theme

Our man set to work stripping down the 90 to a rolling chassis at home in his garage, removing the wings, bonnet and rear rub. Phil was still used as a sounding board whenever he hit an issue. “All his experience just points you to the answer, basically,” says Gary. One tip was to collect all the fixings that came off the car, put them in a big jar, estimate what is in there and just get them ordered in stainless. “Man, was I off in my estimation,” admits Gary. “I probably ordered a tenth of what I actually needed,” he laughs. Each fixing was then highly polished in a chuck for even more gloss.

The bulkhead was removed, and was sent for a Miami Blue makeover before being refitted. The wings were replaced along with the bonnet to relegate the terminally-dented originals, but that meant multiple original fixing holes had to be measured, transferred and double-checked before over 200 of the Defender’s other components could be refitted. Gary’s choice of colour scheme is actually very astute, for there’s a body colour, a contrasting colour for the utilitarian extras, and then a bright flash of silver adding a highlight. The scheme itself builds contrast into the looks of the car, before light plays on it for further effect.

The big 20-inch diameter, 9-inch wide Mondial-inspired wheels were imported directly by Gary, who was seeking the right stance, offset and California look. A further NAS reference comes in the unique high-level brake light, built by Gary using a brake lamp from a Freelander – and most effective it is, too.

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Original Wolf roll-cage remains

Tan leather interior a touch of luxury

​​​​​​Inside, the Wolf’s original roll cage was kept, as was the interior bracketry, but standard mil-spec seats were changed for sportier and more supportive buckets, re-trimmed in tan leather and Alcantara, with matching leather finishing off the dash. Door tops and interior trims have been left off to keep the car basic, simple and clean looking. To follow the theme, the black plastic centre trim was left on the dash, to keep a dark horizontal line across the car along with an Alcantara-rimmed Momo wheel. “I wanted it to look like it had fallen out of the SVO catalogue, basically,” explains Gary.

Dash colours and material choices are tastefully considered

​​​​​​So how does this Defender drive, for someone whose profession involves driving dynamics? “Potholes are to be avoided, and any on-centre definition and high-speed confidence is lacking,” reveals Gary, also noting the roofless car (there is no hood at all) is used for family cruises, not hot laps on track. Dual-rate 110 rear springs set the current ride height, on standard Wolf shocks. ‘‘It does need some handling tweaks, but that’s the next step,” says the JLR expert.

Manufacturer level of fit and finish

His approach clearly reflects those Jaguar Land Rover roots, because the car definitely has a manufacturer’s air about it, looking almost like a one-off special. Crucially, he started having made certain the key decisions were the right ones. High-end presentation, with a close focus on quality fit and finish – achieved by someone working in their garage at home, remember.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re aiming for a detail-correct copy of a Camel Trophy icon, or have a more personal, long-harboured vision of your take on Land Rover perfection. Anyone can pull off a project with a great level of finish, even if it is your first time. Get some inspiration, grab the spanners and most of all, enjoy it!


Gary's tips

1. You’ve got to make your mind up about what you can or can’t do. I know I am mainly set up for final assembly. It is better for me to outsource work, then assemble the ready-to-go finished elements at home, so that’s what I did.

2. Know when to stop, and don’t simply continue to add stuff. To avoid looking over-styled, take a step back, work to a plan. And then, most importantly, stick to it.

3. If you’re choosing a theme, try your best to be consistent with it. It’s a challenge, because you’ll have fresh ideas and see new, tempting goodies you might want along the way, but the most important thing is to avoid diluting the finished product.”

4. If you can, try to find a mentor or someone who’s been there and done it before to help you through the process. Having ‘that person’ to turn to, ask advice, or go to for help, is a massive bonus when you need it.


In part two, we meet the Tinkerer: Nick Weatherby, the enthusiast who's always got to have a project on the go.



Defender Wolf XD 90, FFR 24-volt

Military spec convoy light and axle spot also retained

• All MOD parts in place: map light, gun rack, side air intakes, tool kit brackets, aerial mounts, convoy light
• 20x9J Mondial alloys
• 275/55R20 BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres
• Corbeau low base wing-back seats, retrimmed in tan leather and Alcantara, matched to dash
• Momo steering wheel
• Swing away spare wheel carrier
• Custom floating high-level brake light


• Paint and advice: TwentyTen Engineering,
• Seats: Nationwide Trim,
• Blasting and powder-coating: Lankie’s Refurb, 07597 463877
• Fasteners: CBH Fasteners,
• Coatings: A1 Plating,  


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