Project Defender Td5, part 11: Dashboard upgrade


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Trevor chooses a bold, new look for the Defender dash : credit: © Trevor Cuthbert
More media, extra gauges, switches and a CB radio. How will it all fit? Trevor Cuthbert has a neat and aesthetically pleasing solution

Need to know

Time: 9 hours
Cost: £246.19
Difficulty: 3 out of 5
Models: Defender 90, 110, 130
Tools needed: Drill, side cutters, spanners and socket wrenches, sharp craft knife, general workshop tools, square files.
Parts & costs: Defender and SIII Dash Console £112, Raptor Engineering; Defender and SIII Dash Pod £49.20, Raptor Engineering; Defender and SIII Trim Panel £25, Raptor Engineering; CB radio TCB-55ON. £59.99, UK 4x4 Norfolk CB Centre.
Work safely:
• Disconnect battery before work begins.
• Ensure cables are secure and protected from sharp objects.
• Have your work checked by a professional if you have any doubts.
• Take great care when using a sharp craft knife.
Contacts: Raptor Engineering Ltd, 07503 122 223,
• UK 4x4 Norfolk CB Centre, 07985 170973,

A couple of years ago I fitted a new radio to my Defender 90. It is a single-DIN unit with all kinds of features including DAB, Bluetooth, audio streaming and hands-free calls. The radio works perfectly and does all the things it is supposed to, but there are a couple of issues. One is that I struggle to read the control buttons and what their function is, and the buttons are too small for my thick fingers. Conversely, the audio unit in my normal car has a large (double-DIN) touchscreen with large and clear control buttons, and I never have trouble operating the radio and rarely select the wrong function or go off into some obscure menu that I can’t get out of, as I do in the Defender.

The pre-2002 utility Land Rover dash has remained largely unchanged since the early 110 appeared in 1983, and is quite similar to the Series III dash from 1971. In standard form, these dashboards will not accommodate a double-DIN audio unit, and have limitations for adding extra gauges and switches or other accessories that we owners like to install.

I decided early on that a double-DIN audio unit was a key requirement in the Defender, plus additional gauges, switches and a CB radio. This means that my standard pre-2002 dash needs to be modified to house all of the items on my Defender wish-list.

It is possible to carry out a homemade modification on a Defender dashboard, and many owners have done so, creating impressive instrument/switch panels that would not look out of place in the cockpit of an aircraft. However, I am lacking the time and talent to create such a thing, and there are some excellent products on the market that are relatively inexpensive and quick to fit, such as the Defender Dash Console produced by Raptor Engineering.

This console costs £95 for a single-DIN unit and £112 for a double-DIN unit. Neither will break the bank if one considers the time and effort involved in making something from scratch. Phil at Raptor Engineering is also massively helpful and provided an unusual and very impressive service to ensure my dash console would work perfectly.


Preparing for the dash console

The terms single-DIN and double-DIN would imply that each are an industry standard size, and it is true for single-DIN audio units. However, when I spoke with Phil about his double-DIN dash console, he told me that, in his experience, double-DIN audio units vary in size depending on the manufacturer, and he has encountered three slight variations so far.

Phil suggested I select the double-DIN audio unit that I wanted for my Land Rover and send it to him; he would then make the panel to exactly fit my unit. He further offered to fit my CB radio of choice, as well as power outlets and switches.

I duly purchased a JVC double-DIN audio unit locally, and a CB radio from UK 4x4 Norfolk CB Centre, and sent off both of these to Raptor Engineering. A box of goodies arrived within a week and I was then ready to transform my Defender dash.

Before fitting the dash console, I checked that all wiring emerged from the dash in the correct location and was powered, such as leads for the DRLs, air compressor, existing cigar lighter cables (that will power the console’s 12-volt socket and dash lighting) and the ISO power connection for the radio unit (the ISO speaker connection was renewed to power four speakers).

Small but important: The JVC double-DIN radio unit’s hands-free telephone function is supplied with a mic, connected with this jack. The usual aerial lead is also installed.

For future use: The 25 amp two-core and seven-core cables that run from the dash to the battery compartment, and other spare leads, are all labelled for future identification.

Quick service: My Defender double-DIN dash console arrived with the radio fitted, as well as the CB, switches and the 12-volt and USB power outlets.

Convenient system: The front panel is taken off for the fitting process by unscrewing the eight stainless steel hex socket button screws, using a 3mm Allen key.

Wiring confirmed: While the front panel is still on the bench, the earth feeds for all of the switches are established, as is a fly-lead to power to the 12-volt socket.


Fitting the dash console

The dash console takes about 20 minutes to fit to a standard dash. Clearly all of the cable changes and the addition of my extra wiring harnesses takes additional time, and I actually spent hours sorting out all the circuits. But this is time well spent, and it’s very satisfying when, ultimately, everything works perfectly straight away.

A template is provided with the console to mark where the original dash needs to be cut, though Raptor Engineering also offers a pair of inexpensive trim panels that will conceal any mistakes, making the finished job very neat and professional-looking.

Clear and concise: The dash console comes with fitting instructions. Having fitted a console in the past, I had already made this MDF template, complete with locating screws.

Datum points: After removing the central switch panel that houses the cigar lighter and rear wash-wipe switch, the screws enter the vacated holes in the dash.

Cutting the skin: With the template correctly located, the soft outer vinyl and foam of the dash is cut through using a craft knife fitted with a fresh new blade.

Break the adhesive bond: The vinyl and foam are peeled away from the steel core of the dash and any remaining foam cleared away from the line where we’ll cut the steel.

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Cutting methods: The inner steel section of the dash has now been cut away using the angle grinder for this incomplete Defender, otherwise a power hacksaw or nibbler is best.

Cover-up: If you make the dash cut too wide or untidy, these trim panels are excellent for correcting the mistake and they also freshen up a tired lower dash.

One way to secure it: Having offered the dash console frame up and marked a couple of fixing holes, a 9mm bit is used to drill the plastic trim and steel upper dash for Rivnuts.

Self-tapper will also work: A pair of M6 Rivnuts are fixed in place through the steel inner dash and will allow for easy removal of the dash console, should the need arise.

Added bonus: The M6 Rivnuts have firmly clamped the plastic trim to the steel inner dash. On their own and with the dash console bolted firmly, rattles will be reduced.

Tight and secure: Utilising the captive Rivnuts, the dash console is now bolted in place with a pair of M6 x 20 set screws, with spring washers to prevent loosening.


Adding a Raptor Dash Pod

The Raptor dash console houses many components that I will use in the finished vehicle. However, there are further items that I want to build in that will not fit in the console without overcrowding the unit. So to keep my dash logical, I am installing the additional components to a separate Defender Dash Pod from Raptor Engineering, which will match the dash console and allow me to add two further instruments (gauges) and switches for the on-board air compressor and differential lockers.

Spliced in: The small wiring harness that was supplied with the Td5 tachometer has been connected to the Defender wiring, including a cable running to the ECU compartment.

Grouped and ready: The other cables seen here include the wiring harness that was supplied with the ARB air compressor and the USB socket that is attached to the audio unit.

Simple but effective: The dash pod is well made and designed, and can be fitted to the top of a Defender dash without leaving a permanent mark or screw holes.

Available at a glance: The tachometer is fitted on the right of the aluminium panel in order to be in a fairly close line of vision from the Defender’s driver’s seat.

Remove the old ashtray: The pod is positioned at the centre of the dash top, and each of the various wiring harnesses are pulled through, ensuring nothing is going to be trapped.

Telescopic magnet helps: Getting the steel mounting plate fitted under the dash top is a little fiddly, but eventually the M6 bolts are in place and tightened with a 10mm ratchet spanner.

Job done: The dash pod is now securely in place and the instruments, switches and USB socket are installed. The USB will need a mounting insert, but everything else fits perfectly.

Power-up: The wiring is powered to test. The ARB switches are not illuminated because their wiring is not yet connected at the battery. Td5 tachometer is at top right.


Bring the thunder!

In part 12, it’s finally time to get the Defender’s newly installed Td5 engine up and running. First, though, the cooling system needs to be plumbed in with a new radiator and intercooler. Additionally, a turbocharger needs to be fitted to the engine. I have yet to decide on whether to fit a standard turbocharger, or to go for an uprated unit. Either way, it will be exciting to bring the Land Rover to life.


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