The never-ending development of a 4wd is a deeply personal experience and sometimes both frustrating and even emotional when you realise you could have done something better or different in hindsight. Like many, my project is ongoing and as I gather more remote travelling experience so does the concept of what I actually want in my truck. Financial realities also tend to keep things real and mean it has been one step at a time over many years.
So a little bit about the Landy you see in many of our blogs and posts at Open Sky Touring. I purchased a 2011 Defender Puma 2.4L TD wagon in late 2011 second hand with just under 4,000km on the clock. It was stock apart from a Land Rover tow kit. And while I initially started with the basics like a bull bar, winch, and draw system I have continually refined what I actually want and need, to best set the Landy up as a capable remote tourer.
The cargo area of the vehicle will be completely redone over the next 12 months and while I have a concept in my head I will be sitting down with Shane from ‘Decked out Fabrications’ and Aaron from DC Tourers (auto electrician) in Cairns, to progress the concept to reality. However, with that still to come, what I am now quite satisfied with is the running gear on the Landy, and I thought I might share what I have done under the vehicle in case others are thinking along the same lines.
Research, experience, advice and personal preference will determine if you get satisfaction from your vehicle upgrades. Sometimes what you did to your vehicle 3 years ago will not be what you really want now or in the future. I have found this, as the more I tour the more I realise the practicality and limitations to extras I had previously thought were the ducks nuts. My advice is to not be afraid of this, it’s all part of the adventure and the fun.
For the running gear I have predominately worked with Rene Stiegiest from the Landy Centre in Cairns. Rene is a Land Rover Master Technician from Switzerland having spent many years with Land Rover in Europe and the UK, before coming to Australia and working as the Master Technician at Land Rover Cairns for a number of years. I first came across Rene in 2013 when he was starting out on his own in the back half of an old Land Rover enthusiasts work shed.
Rene is not only a great mechanic, but a great resource to bounce ideas off and share his extensive knowledge and experience of what has and has not worked on his own and his customers vehicles over a lifetime of Land Rover use. Many of the aftermarket changes I have made have had significant input from Rene, and often involve niche pieces which are not widely known.
The Landy has pretty good clearance as standard and compared to most stock 4wds it sits quite a bit higher and after 5 years of owning and using it, this is still my opinion, so putting a lift kit on isn’t something I’m going to do. Having said that, the 110 Defender wagons, like all 4wds out of the factory, simply do not have the springs and shocks to carry the weight of long range fuel tanks, bull bars and winches and a full load of gear and over a short period of time they sag significantly.
Choosing upgraded springs and shocks is not easy and there is a lot of aftermarket stuff out there. Coils, dual coils, air bags, spacers, and a list as long as your arm of shock absorbers of hugely varying quality are just a few of the considerations when upgrading. My thinking has been about keeping things as simple as possible. As I don’t profess to be an expert vehicle mechanic, I like the idea of not having anything complicated to go wrong when I am out bush, so I have consciously aimed to minimise risk on this front. The less reliant on electronics the better in my view.
Whilst researching suspension options I came across the Beadell Tours informative website. Beadell Tours operate tag-a-long tours throughout the remote Southern, Central and Western Australian deserts and really know their stuff. I read everything on their blogs regarding the Land Rover 130 vehicles they use, particularly the comments on shock absorbers, coil springs, and air bags. Beadell Tours are out punishing their trucks more than most on bush tracks that many of us will never venture on and I found Mick’s advice and information extremely useful on numerous topics.
For the replacement coil springs I choose to stay in the Land Rover stable and simply replace the Landy’s 110 coil springs with the genuine Land Rover 130 springs which are a heavier gauge and importantly in the rear have a helper spring which activates under load. This ‘helper’ spring sits inside the coil (where others install airbags), and takes up the weight as the load increases. So no air bags, and no air lines or compressors and the setup is fully mechanical to minimise issues. Of note, in going with this option, there are compromises here in terms of a lack of adjustability, but I like the fact I don’t have to worry about it either. While I notice the Defender rides a little firm when empty, when it’s loaded the truck just feels right which is something we all have to put up with if planning to carry a decent load.
In terms of shock absorbers I ended up selecting the Koni Raid 90s. These are a big bore (70mm) shock that is rebound adjustable. When I was travelling off road I started to notice the vehicle feel like it was bottoming out on the standard shocks on dips and tended to bounce around without the control I was looking for. I also noted on many occasions that the factory shocks were extremely hot to touch after driving on even relatively mild corrugations. After Rene at the Landy Centre worked his magic and installed and adjusted the big Koni’s, we were quick to put the new setup to a real test with a trip up the Old Coach Road from Maytown to Laura and then Cape York.
The result was a huge improvement in overall ride and handling, and the temperature of the shocks after long drives was barely noticeable. Three years down the track, having crossed multiple deserts including the Simpson, toured the Vic High Country and Tasmania, I can say I am very satisfied with the choice. The benefit of investing in quality shocks and springs to suit the load has been worth every cent, and I rest easy knowing that I am able to fully service the Koni’s to be able to maintain the ride.