Land Rover Defender TD5 1999 Conversion
By Barnaby Birkbeck
Founder of Electric Car Converts
A simple request: An Electric Classic Land Rover
A past client of ours, Les, came to us with a very simple request: he wanted a classic Land Rover to use every day. However, living in West Sussex, and regularly driving into London, he did not feel it right to own one that contributed to the poor air quality that London is sometimes known for.
Therefore, the brief was a little more complicated, Les wanted an emission free Land Rover, an electric one.
The Land Rover was a nostalgic thing for Les, like it is for many Brits. Having learned to drive in one over family farmland in the 70’s, Les wanted to enjoy all that Land Rovers had to give, whilst keeping up with 21st century requirements.
Acceleration (0-60 mph)
Les’s overall requirements were:
Fully electric Land Rover
Ability to be road tax and ULEZ exempt
End to end purchase
30 minute fast charging
100+ mile range
Customisable and upgradeable
Meeting the Challenge
As Les did not already own a vehicle our first step towards meeting this request meant finding Les the right car for the job. Les had initially come to us with the idea of modifying a Series II Land Rover and outfitting it with electric power. This is what Les’s father had. But after understanding the use case of the vehicle we saw a problem.
For all the nostalgia the Series II offers, it is somewhat lacking for a daily driven, London-going vehicle. Built in the 60’s and 70’s, things such as a radio, seatbelts and comfort were unheard of in Series Land Rovers, and so the vehicle was hardly a sound choice for daily commutes on the motorway.
To get around this issue, we, alongside Les, picked out a slightly more modern option, which still pays homage to the classics – a pre 2000 Land Rover Defender. This choice kept a good balance between the nostalgia factor of the older models, and the improvements that came over decades of Land Rover production. Finding one that was built before 2002 would be crucial, as it could then become road tax exempt once converted to EV.
After the model had been decided upon, we worked with Les to search the classifieds for the best option. We were looking for something around the £15,000 mark, with a galvanized chassis, nice bodywork and zero rust. The engine, gearbox etc weren’t important at all. We found one locally and viewed it together, Les then bought the car and we took it straight to our workshop in East Sussex where the electrification work could begin. Les was quick to decide on our Tesla Model 3 conversion option, due to the larger battery pack and fast charging capabilities – power was simply a byproduct of this.
After a couple of months of work, the resulting conversion to electric power meant that the Defenders performance was dramatically improved. The engine was replaced with a Tesla Model 3 motor, pushing out 280 horsepower – this drives the differentials directly, still maintaining four wheel drive. We also implemented electric power steering for better handling, electric heating for defrosting in the winter months and a limited slip differential to keep things safe on wet roads.
Beyond outfitting the car with an electric motor, we also worked out the battery pack size for Les’ range requirements. Based on Les’s average commute time and how the car would be used, it was deemed that a battery bank totalling 55kWh would be sufficient. This consisted of LG modules which are used by VW in the ID3 EV model. They were mounted in a custom made battery box under the bonnet and give around 150 miles of range, after which they can charge in as little as 30 minutes.
The End Result
Les is now happily driving his electric Land Rover in and around the London area – both on his day-to-day commute and when he takes it to car shows, off roading or down to the shops. The conversion has given him the range and fast charging capabilities he needs to enjoy his car to the fullest, as well as the perks of not needing to pay ULEZ fees (or any road tax for that matter). He can conveniently charge from home, and drive guilt-free knowing that he’s not contributing to global emissions.
Since the conversion was completed, Les has gone on to make his own modifications to the car, including adding a third seat in the front so that his grandchildren can ride in one of the (now) rarest cars on Earth. Les is also planning to respray the car, upgrade the suspension, and continue to enjoy modifying it into the perfect vehicle for him over the next couple of years.