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Christian's Big Foot Defender in it's element in Iceland : credit: © Christian Salisbury
If you’re planning on crawling across lava fields or powering up icy glaciers then this 2006 Defender 110 Td5, aka the Arctic Panda, is the way to go. LRM editor Patrick Cruywagen gets the lowdown from its German owner, Christian Salisbury

Arctic Panda’s owner, Christian Salisbury, is a banker and electronic music producer​​​​​​

A German banker in the finest British off-roader ever made. How did that happen?
I have a British father but I was born and grew up in Germany watching British TV shows. There was not really a big Land Rover following here in the 1980s but I was always impressed by Land Rovers when I saw them on television.

The one thing that people over here do when they see a Land Rover is to call it a Jeep, which is their generic name for any 4x4. We have no childhood history of Land Rovers though my uncle would go overlanding in Norway every year and come and show us his photos upon his return. It always seemed so far away and I never ever thought I would go overlanding in Scandinavia.

You owned a VW before the Defender:
In my 20s I purchased a VW T5 California 4Motion and decided to go to various Scandinavian and European countries. I had to convince my girlfriend, who was used to hotel holidays, to join me. We also went to Iceland and Morocco in it and fell in love with overlanding.

During our 2017 Morocco trip we got stuck in the northern Sahara sands with our four-wheel drive VW despite the fact that it had a lift, snorkel and off-road tyres. We decided that we needed something stronger and more capable for our trips. My English roots decided that it had to be a Land Rover Defender. Five days later we bought one which I found on the internet in Bavaria.

On a high… Great ground clearance enables Arctic Panda to reach remote locations

Why this specific Defender?
We bought our 2006 Defender Td5 in 2018 at a time when old Defender prices were already pretty crazy. Back then a good standard Td5 cost between ¤30,000 and €40,000. Today that figure has increased and if you add bigger tyres and accessories that figure is well over €50,000. I was recently offered double this for mine at a local off-road show. Obviously it is not for sale.

The reason why we went for this specific Defender is that for me it’s the perfect compromise between performance and reliability. Thanks to the bigger intercooler, more turbo pressure and some aggressive mapping it achieves 187 bhp.

Christian wanted it to be just as practical and good-looking as his VW camper

How did this love affair with Iceland start?
Our first trip was in 2015 and we spent four weeks there.  Today Iceland is the place where we like to spend most of our spare time as we are in love with the place. The views and landscapes are like nothing else we have ever experienced. We used to tell ourselves that we would only visit places once as there is so much to see in the world, but we keep coming back to Iceland.   

That’s why we decided to create our own Iceland-proof Defender. This year marked our fifth trip. We had four great months in the highlands and discovered so many new places as we spent lots of this time travelling with Joe Shutter, another Defender driver and ace photographer. There is always something new to discover there.

While there I also fulfilled a dream: I shot a film about my musical journey through Iceland. This one-hour film shows me driving with the Defender to the places in the highlands where I have been composing the songs for my new album over the last few years.

How do you create a Defender to take on Iceland?
There is one big difference between a typical Iceland Defender and our Arctic Panda, as it’s called. In Iceland they usually use 37-inch or bigger wheels on standard axles to maximise off-road capabilities. We have gone a slightly different route: we took portal axles and combined them with 35-inch wheels. The portals have a reduction of 1.1:16, so we don’t lose any torque via the 35-inch wheels. As for the stress on the powertrain, it’s as if we are driving on standard wheels, so no worries there.

Portal axles are key to impressive ground clearance

The portals have a four-inch lift. The best thing about this is that they lift the axles and diffs too, so this combined with the 35-inch wheels leads to a huge gain in ground clearance. The portals have the bolt pattern of the Mercedes G-wagen so we have been forced to use Mercedes rims. We have gone with Hutchinson beadlocks shod in Cooper Discoverer tyres and I am very happy with the result and performance. Then we got RE Suspension to make some customised suspension for our Arctic Panda, as we sure needed it.

Wheels are from a Mercedes-Benz G-wagen

The regs in Germany are very strict and it is nearly impossible to get a Defender with tyres bigger than 35-inch, plus it is going to cost you thousands. So our Arctic Panda is a compromise between getting it road legal for the German autobahn and still having something that is capable and comfortable when off-roading in places such as Iceland.

How does it go on the autobahn?
Perfect, it is fast and quiet as it has been totally soundproofed. The Td5 also benefitted from some fairly aggressive mapping and a bigger intercooler. Many people expect it to be all over the road but that is certainly not the case. If driving short distances I comfortably sit at 75 mph but if doing long distances then I tend to stick to 62 mph: if I go faster the oil in the portals overheats and drains out.

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Christian designed and built his own camper interior, mainly from bamboo

Tell us about the camper interior:
I did some rough graphic design sketches to start, then took all the interior measurements, bought some bamboo and just started building it. It all worked out brilliantly as four years later nothing has failed and it still works well. I went for a clean design with hidden screws. I also built the pop-top roof-tent myself. In Iceland the weather can be miserable, so your Defender needs to be a comfortable refuge that you can sit in. Our Defender is a proper camper with a perfect interior. I wanted it to be just as practical and good-looking as my VW was.

Bespoke and lightweight: leather handles

What does it all weigh?
I was on a weighbridge with it fully packed for four months (150 litres of diesel plus water) and it was 3.4 tonnes. That is heavy. I would like to get that number down and have some ideas on how to achieve that such as a new tent plus using carbonfibre for some of the accessories such as the door handles.

Despite the weight I still get around 26.7 mpg which is great. It still pulls really well, and when I do local weekend trips at home it weighs closer to three tonnes.

Land Rover country: inland, Iceland’s roads are mostly dirt

What are the major challenges when off-roading in Iceland?
There are two major off-road challenges in Iceland. The first is river crossings. The glacial rivers are grey in colour so you don’t see the ground or any hidden rocks. When I still had my Volkswagen I remember losing three tyres on one track in Iceland. Luckily I had three spares with me.

Now with my Defender I can cross rivers without fear. The second reason is that many of the remote tracks have huge rocks on them, so you have to be alert and go around them all of the time. With my portals and bead lockers you just drive and can go straight over them. You don’t have to watch the ground all of the time. I can now relax and enjoy Iceland with the Defender’s current set-up in a comfortable manner thanks to the improved ground clearance, approach and departure angles.

Spot the Arctic Panda...

I built Arctic Panda to travel and see places. I am not the kind of guy who has to attempt an extreme track just to say I have done it, especially if there is a chance of getting stuck or damaging the vehicle. I would rather turn around and be safe.

Tips for people planning a trip to Iceland?
Make sure you have good and new tyres. Remember my story about losing three tyres on one track… I would say a good mud tyre is the way to go, while a snorkel is handy for river crossings. With those two things in place you will have a ball in Iceland and be able to do most things.

How do you test river depth?
Clear rivers are not glacial and they have a regular depth. Not so for a muddy or grey river, they are glacial. When you come to one of these they are higher in the evenings and lower in the morning as the sun melts the glacier and the levels increase during the day.

I have a pair of fisherman’s waders and a long stick and use these to check depth when I reach a glacial river in the evening. If it is too deep then we just sleep there as it will be way shallower in the morning. Simple really.

Girlfriend Sabrina is now a camping convert

Why a Defender for Icelandic travels?
We are tourists like everyone else visiting Iceland, but what separates us from them is that we can enter areas that tourists in SUVs or a Jimny can’t. So it does separate us from the masses.

You are not just a banker and Defender owner. You also create music. Please tell us more.
I am also an electronic music producer and during my four months in Iceland this year I completed a very special project while there. Prior to the trip I produced an album of music, the beautiful places that I had visited during past Iceland trips helped to inspire the music.This was not a commercial project, it was for me. Who knows where it will lead?

Christian has plans for more mods and adventures​​​​​​

What does the future hold for Arctic Panda? 
We love our Arctic Panda. For us it’s the perfect Iceland travel car. But of course there will be some more improvements in the future: the current pop-top will be changed to an x-Vision-x panoramic pop-top roof. We are also planning some new trips and we would like to ship Arctic Panda to Oman.

 

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