28 April 2023
Our former Editor chats to TV tough guy, Ed Stafford, about the theft of his Defender, how he found it and got it back on the road, and his plans to enjoy an adventure-packed future
Your 2015 Defender 110 was recently stolen – every owner’s worst nightmare. Tell us more about it: I was in Brazil filming a survival show at the time. I started getting messages from mates about a Defender that had been stripped and was on bricks not far from where I live.
When I saw the photos I knew it was mine. It had been taken from our back garden and parked in a little side road about half a mile away. They then nicked the wheels, doors, seats and even smashed the windscreen just to get the headlining out. I remember thinking at the time that I will find out who did it and take them out. Incredibly, they left a lot of Gucci bits like the winch and steering wheel; maybe someone disturbed them while they were busy.
Ed (on right) shares a tale with our man Pat
What happened next? When I eventually got it back I was told that the insurer was not going to pay out anything because of the various modifications that were not declared. The Land Rover dealership in Leicester quoted me stupid money to replace the missing parts. So I decided to do all the work myself instead.
I do now love it more than before because I did all the work myself to get it back on the road again. When I bought it, it already had loads of mods such as the bull bar, winch, new stereo, roll cage, soundproofing, sub woofers, racing exhaust, stage 2 remap, reversing camera and loads more.
I think the previous owner spent about £14k getting it looking like it did when I purchased it, as it had receipts for all of the work done. When I purchased it for £34k, as much as I loved it, it was an off-the-shelf product. I think I got a good deal back then.
Sawtooth alloys a present from the tow truck team
Would you describe yourself as a Land Rover mechanic? I am definitely not a mechanic. After getting it back after the theft, I spent hours and hours working out things like how to put the check straps on the door. Because I have invested time and effort into it, I feel a stronger emotional connection to my 110. I was being tight and trying to save money by fixing it all myself.
I just surfed the net and ordered the missing bits and then replaced them myself. I spent around £8k getting it on the road again.
Incredibly, when it was returned from the breakers’ yard the local garage who delivered it put standard black Sawtooth wheels and BF Goodrich KM3 tyres on to roll it off the salvage truck. I rang them up afterwards to arrange to return them and they just told me to keep them. Incredibly kind of them really. I just had to buy a spare wheel and tyre.
Security for the 110 is now a big consideration for Ed
Have you learnt any lessons from the incident? Since the theft I take the steering wheel off every night after parking it behind a locked gate. My insurer has insisted on that. They are just so stealable. My brother suggested armour-plated cabling around some of the wires but in reality this will just buy you some time. I have considered a few covert security measures such as immobilisers. It probably does need a tracker.
What next for the Stafford family? We have decided that we are going to move to Costa Rica for a while even though we both have pretty adventurous jobs. We feel that we have fallen into the same humdrum middle-class nonsense as everyone else and wanted to do something exciting as a family, hence the decision to head off soon. I offered my brother my Defender while I am away, but he goes fishing in remote locations and does not want to risk it. So the Defender will be going into storage.
Ed at the wheel of his 110
As a former LR brand ambassador you have driven the latest Land Rover products – do you like them? They are just totally different beasts to this 110. We have had five petrol Range Rover Autobiographies, as well as the new Defender X, which when I specced it up, was £104,000, which is just daft really. I do really like them and they are fun to drive due to the dynamic suspension, but it was not really me. Those new Land Rovers never made me smile like this does.
We all fall into the trap that when we buy a certain car we think we will be happier, but with most purchases it just becomes another car. An old Defender is not just another car because of the way you have to slam the door or the closeness of your cheek to the window when driving; it just makes you smile because you are opting to be less comfortable. It is kind of a daft thing to do.
I know it will get me out of trouble and thanks to the tyres it will be pretty capable off-road, but driving an old Defender is certainly not a sensible thing to do. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ed first drove Defenders with the British Army
Do you remember your first ever Land Rover experience? When I left the army at 25 I took up a job in Belize which involved taking gap year kids into the jungle using three old white Defender 110s, which had been battered beyond belief. The British Army was in Belize at the time so the garage we used to repair them knew what they were doing. Those Defenders were used for getting in and out of the jungle, they went everywhere, and we would load them up with people and supplies.
The mud tracks were just cut into the forests and it was a great big Land Rover playground. My time there made me fall in love with adventures and expeditions; in the military we did very little of this sort of thing.
Belize changed that, adventures with a conservation focus. I liked what I was doing and it didn’t have the inherent seriousness that one finds in the forces. I was a captain when I left the army, responsible for 90 other people’s lives, so you have to be good and vested in it. I knew it was time to leave. My battalion went to Afghanistan not long after and they suffered massive casualties while I was walking the length of the Amazon.
The rear of the 110 remains standard
Do you remember using Land Rovers in the military? Yes, they were everywhere. I remember training recruits near Birmingham where we used Land Rovers, red old Defenders to be precise. I was not in love with them at the time. Not like now.
Are there people in the field of exploration and adventuring who you admire? I think Mike Horn is a mean old bugger. He had swum the length of the Amazon using a boogie board and did the last bit in a dugout canoe, so he definitely inspired my Amazon walk. The only difference is we went from coast to coast which added two weeks of walking onto our trip. Mike is phenomenal and I am nowhere near as hardcore or disciplined as Mike, that is not me at all.
I make it up as I go along and if it f**ks up, well, then it f**ks up. I have fun along the way. There is a place in the world for the Mike Horns and I admire that dedication. That is probably why I never went the special forces route when I was in the military. His solo journey around the Arctic Circle was just extraordinary – it went through two Arctic winters and just blows my mind. He probably is the most hardcore man out there at the moment.
Ed enjoyed his day out with us on the LRM shoot
You named your son after Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Like me, you obviously admire the man: What Sir Ran has done very well in the world of exploring is to play the media and contacts game very well. The Transglobe Expedition that he did in the seventies cost £27million, which is just daft. Ridiculous to think how much money they spent to circumnavigate the world via both poles. Ran is an inspiration.
There might be climbers from, say, Yorkshire who are extraordinarily talented, but they shun the whole media side because they are purists. I think that the only reason people like myself and Ran have been successful is because we are media-savvy, can give motivational talks and we have a bit of charisma. Ran plays the game which allows him to earn money from what he does while the Yorkshire climbers might have to take on a job to pay for their climbing trips.
Rack is a useful addition for future adventures
What advice would you give to LRM readers when things go awry on an expedition in the middle of nowhere? You assess the situation and what you have around you and in the vehicle. Make the best plan with what you have. It might be self-extraction or it might be sit where you are and wait for help. Don’t run around like a headless chicken as it’s completely non-productive.
My survival stuff has taught me that often your state of mind is a game-changer. Things can become overwhelming very quickly. With the TV stuff you can always pull the plug and get out of there, not so when you are walking the Amazon and you need to find food or you are going to die: it is more real.
If the consequences of your actions are possible death then you double or triple doubt yourself. So instead, treat it like a game and make it fun. You are still using your skills as best you can, but you are not like a rabbit paralysed in the headlights.
The bodywork of Ed’s 110 is a patchwork currently, but he has plans to smarten it up
What next for your 110? There are things that I can’t do such as the respray and retrim, though I quite like the way it looks now, so it will go to the experts for that. Bridge Classic Cars, near Woodbridge in Suffolk, will be taking a look at it and advising me on the way forward. I’ve got it back on the road since the theft with the help of my brother, but it’s time to call the A-Team now.
I like the writing on the side from the wrecking yard, but it has been a patchwork fix by my brother and I so it just needs some tidying up, especially the wiring.
I’m happy that I managed to get it back in the road again but I do want it to look smart. Of course, it will always be a utility vehicle, so it won’t get decking in the back and stuff like that. I need to get rid of the little bits of rust and smarten it up.
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