19 January 2023
Named after the god of strength, this could well be the ultimate Defender expedition camper…
Several months ago, I wrote a brief update in my column in LRM magazine about the work underway at Dunsfold to convert the parts storage and servicing buildings into a new museum to house the vehicles in the Dunsfold Collection. I mentioned the generosity of the volunteers who are giving up occasional Sundays to join working parties and wrote that Dunsfold would welcome any LRM readers who wanted to help out.
Several readers contacted me and have become regulars on the team, but the most astonishing offer came all the way from Norway. LRM reader Atle Gandrudbakken emailed to say that he and his wife, Hilde, would be visiting the UK in early summer and would be delighted to join us for a day. It turned out they would be taking an extended touring holiday in their Defender and, naturally enough, I asked what they had. An email with pictures promptly arrived that introduced me to Hercules.
Hercules by name... Rear three-quarter view shows the sheer size of the body
I can’t think of a better name for this four-tonne 6x6 behemoth and I couldn’t wait to see it in the metal. Several weeks later and I’m sure I felt the ground shake as Hercules rolled into the yard at Dunsfold, making the accompanying 110 camper following it look tiny by comparison. Atle and Hilde had also volunteered their British friends and travelling companions Tim and Isabel Riley, the owners of the 110, to join the working party, alongside LRM reader Roland Beverley and regulars Nick Dimbleby, Greg King and Paul New.
Introductions out of the way and everyone allocated to their team, and we were off. By the end of the day three new display rooms had been painted, eight filing cabinets full of archive material had been sorted and catalogued, and a cobweb-covered area in the attic worthy of Indiana Jones had been emptied of thousands of old Land Rover magazines and documents, and boxes of parts that hadn’t seen the light of day for 20 years or more. And that’s when we put the kettle on and gathered round to inspect Hercules and hear the story behind Atle and Hilde’s ownership of this remarkable and substantial vehicle.
This is what happens everywhere in the world when you lift a Land Rover bonnet
“My first Land Rover was a 1963 109in that I bought in 1975,” says Atle. “I’ve had many more over the years including a Range Rover Classic that I bought new in 1995, and a 2004 Defender 110 Td5, both of which we still own. Along the way there were also three Freelanders which were company cars, a new Discovery 2 in 2003 which was exchanged for another one a year later, a Freelander V6 which was so good it was followed by another one. In 2007 we bought a 1984 One Ten V8, and then finally a 2003 Discovery 2 V8.”
“It would be fair to say that we are total Land Rover nuts and we’ve always enjoyed travelling in our Land Rovers. As well as many visits to the UK we have been to North Africa and we have done the Silk Route all the way to Mongolia, been to the Russian border in northern Norway, and pretty much everywhere in Europe.
“In 2006 we were on our way to Morocco in the 110 when we arranged a visit to Foleys. We were mesmerised by a Defender 6x6 expedition vehicle they were preparing and afterwards we kept dreaming about owning such a vehicle. That ambition never went way and 12 years later, when we were on one of our frequent visits to the UK and about to set off for Scotland and the Orkneys, I found an advert for a Defender 6x6 for sale in Staffordshire. Needless to say, we had to go and have a look. It was love at first sight and it didn’t take us long to decide to buy it. Six weeks later I was driving it back to Hafslo, the town where we live on the Norwegian coast just north of Bergen.”
The Defender 6x6 as acquired by Atle and Hilde in 2018
Given that Atle acquired the vehicle in 2018 and it appears to have come off the production line on September 20, 1995, I’m intrigued to know more about its history. Atle knows quite a lot about its past, and certainly enough to have got it through the rigorous importation process that led to it being granted Norwegian registration, but there are still some intriguing questions.
A contact in Land Rover Norway was able to provide Atle with a copy of the Direct Dealer Warranty Record which reveals that it started life as a Defender 130 300Tdi chassis cab. What is particularly interesting is that it was registered N130 CKV, which is a factory registration that was obviously chosen very carefully to include the number 130.
The 6x6 conversion was contracted out to Boughton Engineering of Amersham and completed in March 1996, with the overall project coming under the auspices of Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations department which gave it Job Number 8012 and signed it off as completed on April 22, 1996. All of this reinforces the likelihood of the vehicle being built for Land Rover’s own fleet, and the speculation is that it may have been used as a support vehicle for a launch.
Snorkel does not indicate 10 feet wading depth…
Needless to say, the possibility that the vehicle may have originally served a purpose on Land Rover’s own fleet generated a great deal of interest, and Nick, Greg, Philip and I all decided to see whether we could fill in any of the gaps in the story. We all expected JLR to have records but none of our usually helpful contacts at JLR could help, and we were told that records no longer exist.
Philip made a bit of a breakthrough when he found photographs in the Collection archive of a Defender 6x6 in Land Rover fleet livery with the registration L130 VKV, and a 127 carrying E127 LDU. Both are factory plates and suggest that whoever was responsible for registering company vehicles was using the 127 and 130 numbers quite deliberately, and in my view this makes it pretty likely that N130 CKV was also a fleet vehicle.
Defender engineer Greg King is wondering whether Hercules will fit on his driveway at home...
We don’t know when the vehicle that would become Hercules was sold off by Land Rover, but it appears to have been converted into a fairly basic camper before a later owner really went to town on it, commissioning Youngs Conversions to complete the body that was on it when Atle bought it in 2018 and is still on it today. It was given the highly appropriate cherished registration L 6WD R at some point in its life.
“It was a great relief to be able to have completed the registration process in Norway,” says Atle. “Because without the confirmation from SVO that Hercules was built by the company and was not a private special build of some kind, we would have had to prepare loads of documentation and evidence to pass a long list of requirements before it could be registered. And there would always have been the risk that the authorities would refuse to accept it.
Upgraded 300Tdi is now more than man enough for the job
“Once the registration process was completed, we began an extensive overhaul and a made a series of upgrades to the vehicle. Given the normal weight is 4200kg and the gross vehicle weight is 4700kg, the standard 300Tdi engine was struggling. Our solution was to fit a 2.8-litre 300Tdi from M&D with an upgraded turbo, a Turner head, and the largest Allisport intercooler, radiator and air filter, plus an upgraded air inlet as well as a special three-inch exhaust system. Water/ethanol injection was also added to keep the EGT down when climbing mountains. Ashcroft supplied an upgraded R380 gearbox and a special LT230 with 1.667 and ultra-low-range gears from Kingpin in Australia. We also fitted a Roamerdrive overdrive and converted from original right-hand drive to left-hand drive.
Hefty dimensions of 130 main chassis rails are necessary with 4.2 tonnes to carry
“Next on the list was a comprehensive service and upgrade of everything related to axles, springs and shock absorbers. I had to purchase a few sets of springs and play around to get the vehicle level, finding that if the front is too low then the rearmost axle will be too high, and the wheels will lose traction. We also fitted brakes from LOF, and the front discs and calipers are now similar to those used on the Aston Martin Volante. Gwyn Lewis has also made a set of upgraded propshafts for us.
“I also realised that Hercules really is a one-of-a-kind. The axles are Rover on the front, with a Discovery 1 in the centre and a Salisbury on the rear. No one has been able to find out what master brake cylinder was used. We fitted Compomotive 8.5x16 inch wheels shod in 305/70 BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM 3 tyres. Lights were also upgraded to LED all-round.
“A second alternator was fitted (175 amp from WASP) and I converted the electrical system into two separate systems, one for the starter with a 105 amp battery charged by the standard alternator, with everything else on the second system comprising the 175 amp alternator, 340W solar panels, MPPT, 315 amp batteries, 220V inverter, external 220V connection and plenty of USB contacts. There is also a TV and a separate WiFi connected to the internet by mobile.
Well-equipped full-height interior accommodates two with all mod cons
“Internally we fitted new diesel hot air and water systems, a new 12V fridge and an extra fridge box with freezer. The toilet was upgraded, and the shower was moved to the outside rear. New roof hatches with ventilation fans have also been installed. We put in a proper CB radio with a long-range antenna, a Kenwood radio with an excellent sound system, and front and rear cameras.
“We made our first expedition in it during the summer of 2019. Our travelling friends Tim and Isabel joined us in their 110 camper, christened The Beast, and we drove from our home up through Norway, visiting the important places like Lofoten, crossing the Arctic Circle, the North Cape, the Russian border, and then south through Finland, the Baltic countries and Poland.
A piece of masking tape summarises how everyone in the civilised world feels...
“Then Covid happened and 2020 and 2021 were spent in southern Norway exploring many beautiful places and remote roads and visiting many Land Rover gatherings. This year we left Norway in early April to spend three months in the UK, staying with Tim and Isabel in Herefordshire during workdays and on the road enjoying long weekends. As Hilde is able to work remotely all the time, and I am half-retired and also able to work remotely, we have a lot of freedom. In June we will visit the Billing show and then go on for proper holidays in France, Spain and Portugal before we head home to Norway at the end of July.
“Hercules is 100 per cent a Land Rover and drives like one, despite its size and bulk. It can go anywhere a 110 can go and quite a few places where one can’t! It is also a comfortable and functional home for Hilde and I and our two Flat-Coat Retrievers, Fridtjof and Landy.
Atle, Hilde and Hercules are members of the Norwegian Land Rover Club
“Hercules will cope perfectly with narrow and twisty roads and can easily handle 25 per cent gradients up or down. It cruises very comfortably at 60mph and is very relaxing to drive over long distances. Apart from the need to fill it with diesel (quite regularly…) we are otherwise off-grid.
“It is a vehicle that we can keep travelling in as we grow older. We love the fact that it creates such enthusiasm and positive reactions wherever we go. We get thumbs-ups, smiles and wonderful comments from grandmothers, kids, people in McLarens, Ferraris and Bentleys, as well as every Land Rover owner or enthusiast we come across. There are still many places in the world we want to visit and we shall keep travelling for as long as we can, with Hercules as our reliable and constant companion.”
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