02 January 2024
There’s lots to like about a Tesla-powered Defender, especially as Fellten has developed a complete bolt-in drivetrain to make the swap to electric a doddle
In the sun-dappled Bristol development workshop, a superb 1993 Arrow Red and Santorini Black Defender sits quietly, for there is no hearty diesel or grunty V8 under the bonnet. Instead, the powertrain for this Land Rover comes from a Tesla.
Electrification, particularly within the sacred halls of classic motoring, might ruffle a few feathers, and the concept of an electric Defender in particular could well be perceived as iconoclasm to some devout aficionados. However, it’s not an entirely sacrilegious notion, because all the pros of going electric – instantaneous torque, cheaper running costs and zero emissions from the tailpipe – are surely music to every Landy owner’s ear? All you’re missing is the noise.
Enjoying a break and a brew-up, EV-style
Enter the team at Fellten UK (meaning lightning in Welsh), composed of brilliant minds and impressive craftsmen. Based in Bristol, the company (formally Zero EV UK) has made a name for itself by designing, developing and manufacturing bolt-in systems and components for specialists to electrify classic cars.
Fellten is perhaps better known for providing electrified systems for the classic Mini (from 1984 to 1996) as the conversion is approved by MINI. It offers 110 miles of range while maintaining the car’s original weight distribution and internal space but with significantly more power. Fellten also offers a 440bhp system for the Porsche 964 with a 200-mile range, as well as universal 55kWh battery packs (with built-in CCS charging and advanced thermal management). The company’s footprint spans the UK, Australia, North America and Europe, such is its reputation for quality, safety, reliability and production volume. And now, in its latest venture, Fellten has its sights set on a system for the Land Rover Series IIA, III and Defender.
The Fellten system consists of a new Tesla Model 3 rear drive unit and its own aforementioned battery pack. Codenamed UBP55E, it has been developed to fit most engine bays originally equipped with a straight-six, V6 or V8 – so, perfectly at home in a Defender.
Component parts: Radiator, Engine bay battery, motor, and seatbox unit
This comprehensive package boasts up to 110kWh of battery power, divided between the engine bay and the seat box, along with a charger, a combined inverter and motor controller, and a powerful 220kW Tesla electric motor. There is also an aftermarket electric pump which circulates coolant through an upgraded radiator, the inverter, and the traction motor.
The Model 3 drivetain is a lot more compact than the Defender’s original oily bits, making it possible to largely maintain the original 90’s original weight (1671kg vs 1735kg, as tested) and balance, so it feels very similar to a standard 90 when off-road or towing. The Model 3’s rear drive unit has been mounted lengthwise, sitting where the old gearbox and transfer ’box used to be.
The max rapid charge rate is 70kW, so you can top up the battery from 20 to 80 per cent in around 35 minutes.
Model 3 drive unit ists longitudinally
According to Chris Hazell, CEO of Fellten, the easiest part of the build was scanning the engine compartment and components to create the 3D space for designing. However, several challenges were encountered, including the packaging constraints to fit the main battery box as DVLA (and other government body) regulations state no modifications should be made to the body or chassis. There are also no shortcuts in building an EV conversion system that is unobtrusive and designed to OE-level specifications, so the Fellten team solved these challenges using CAD design, and also created a secondary 55kWh battery pack that replaces the whole seat box. Like the rest of the system, both battery packs come with a three-year warranty.
The whole rear of the 90 remains as it left the factory, so loadspace is unchanged and towing capacity is similar to the original, although you can expect your battery range per charge to drop when laden. But that’s no different to driving a petrol or diesel car, where the larger the load, the worse your fuel economy becomes.
Fellten’s EV conversion offers 110 miles of range
To get underway, simply turn the ignition key and choose D on the panel located on the dashboard. The traditional 200Tdi growl is replaced with an electronic hum, and the driving experience is a little alien too (but the 90’s iconic vibrations and rattles remain intact). For starters, all of its 300lb-ft punch of torque is available from zero rpm; from standstill 60mph is reached in a brisk 6.5 seconds, while top speed is 95mph. It makes driving effortless and would no doubt prove very useful when greenlaning or off-roading. It’s worth noting you can upgrade to a 442lb-ft conversion and double the horsepower to 300bhp, if you wish.
The most significant difference in the driving experience is the regenerative braking system. Unlike traditional brakes, which rely on friction to stop the wheels from turning, regenerative braking uses the vehicle’s electric motor to create resistance to slow down the vehicle. In addition, the motor running in reverse acts as a generator and captures the kinetic energy that would typically be lost as heat and converts it into electrical energy, increasing the range. If you can anticipate the traffic ahead, there’s no reason you can’t drive without ever having to touch the brake pedal, reducing wear and tear on braking components. If you’re used to the engine braking while in a low gear, it becomes intuitively easy to adapt to, so that in theory the brake pedal is only used for emergencies.
The conversion only has a minimal impact on the the Defender’s weight, so it remains as enjoyable to drive as the original
The Defender, often likened to a four-wheeled brick, does not offer the range at higher speeds that the aerodynamically sleek Tesla Model 3 does. Once above 50mph, the majority of the energy is consumed in navigating air around the Defender’s front, however in urban settings, on the farm or off-roading, it’s irrelevant.
A consumption estimate for the electron-fed Defender is around 500W per mile (two miles per kilowatt hour). Most EVs will cover between three and four miles per kWh, so it’s on a par with larger, more powerful models.
Crawl mode allows for excellent low-speed finesse over rough ground
In rugged terrain, the Fellten 90 introduces another advantage. The engineers have developed modes, akin to the Terrain Response, including a specialised Crawl mode. Once activated, the accelerator pedal’s response adjusts, providing more nuanced control and gradually permitting additional torque for climbing over rocks
and other off-road obstacles.
As businesses ponder the viability of electric conversions, the Fellten system unfolds as an enticing prospect: “The FL10 UBP55E was developed to facilitate restorers and restomodders to add electric conversions to their portfolios without getting hung up by complex installation processes. Beyond the physical bolt-in kits, we can also offer training and comprehensive support, paving a pathway for classics to glide into the electric future, equipped and empowered.”
The custom gauge pack is designed to replicate the original analogue dials but with a drive indicator, range dial and digital trip computer
Retailing at £50,000 fully installed, this financial commitment is not just an ecological statement but a savvy, long-term economic strategy, especially as cities continue to find ways to reduce their carbon emissions.
The electric Defender promises substantially lower running costs (costing from as little as £4.40 to charge from zero to 100 per cent overnight at home) compared to £29.20 to travel the same distance in a diesel 90. Moreover, the elimination of numerous mechanical components significantly reduces maintenance costs.
It’s also significantly less than what Land Rover will charge when it eventually offers the current L663 Defender in a full electric configuration, and more importantly, retrofitting lets you keep your own Land Rover on the road. The only major drawback is you will have to do without your Landy for two weeks while Fellten works its magic.
Original Vehicle: Electric 1993 Defender 90 hard top
Conversion: Fellten’s EV conversions will be done by a network of specialist fitters
Time to convert: Fitting and testing takes two weeks
Drive unit: Tesla Model 3 Rear Drive Unit mounted longitudinally, custom mounts
Control Software: Fellten proprietary software
Battery: Fellten 55kWh/350 volt battery pack, IP67-certified steel structure and enclosure and carbonfibre lid; optional 55kWh seat box pack
Cooling: Integrated aluminium plates with glycol-base coolant
Rapid charging rate (CCS2): 70kW
Range: 110 miles real-world (with 55kWh pack)
Regenerative braking: Single-mode regenerative braking system from Tesla Model 3
Pricing: From £50,000 fully installed and tested by independent specialists
Warranty: Three years
Wheels, tyres and brakes
• Black modular steel wheels
• BF Goodrich Trail-Terrain T/A 265/75 R16 tyres
• Masaï 4x4 wrap-around tinted glass window package
• Masaï 4x4 LED headlights
• KBX facia grille
Gauges: Fellten analogue-look package
HVAC system: PTC heater element fitted to replace original water-heated matrix, fitted inside standard Defender heater box.
Fellten’s commitment to the EV community doesn’t stop at hardware. The company also offers certified training programmes that cover every facet of working with EVs and ensuring the safety of converted vehicles. These comprehensive training sessions, available both online and in-person in the UK (and soon in Australia), equip enthusiasts and professionals with the technical know-how to navigate the electrified world of vehicles. See Fellten.com/training.
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