Love Is Love
In terms of frenzied followings, there are few in the off-roading Pantheon that hold a candle to the Land Rover Defender 110. It’s slow, impractical, expensive, unreliable, and increasing hard to find. In spite of all that, enthusiasts will spare no expense to own this cherished British stalwart. And as a build specialist explained to us, the future of this extinct (for now) line seems to lie in owners spending time and money to make a Defender uniquely their own, conjuring aftermarket magic to customize a vehicle more capable than its creators could ever have dreamed possible.
Much of what makes the Defender such a desirable ride is its outright scarcity. Because we all want what we can’t have, right? Defenders remained on the stateside market for four short years, from 1993-1997. American production halted when the US government mandated that all new cars beginning in 1998 must have airbags. This was an extravagance that simply was not financially feasible.
But the Defender’s roots run deeper than the days of grunge and the Clinton administration. Much deeper. The Series 1 Land Rover arrived in 1948, making use of a post-WWII surplus of British aluminum and channeling the spirit of the American Jeeps that were so critical in their fight. The vehicle officially took the Defender name in 1983 when the Defender 90, 110, and 127 debuted. Those numbers signify their respective wheelbases in inches, by the way. It remained a coveted source of national pride across the pond for the entirety of its lifespan. Paul McCartney, Sean Connery, and even the actual Queen of England herself are counted among Defender owners.
When production finally ceased in January of 2016, over two million Defenders had been built in its 67-year run. An estimated 75% percent of those still are running, wherever in the world they may be. And they have made it to virtually every corner of the globe, from the tundra of Eastern Europe to the South African Cape, to a family owned automotive shop in the heart of Virginia.
Mincz Tire & Automotive is a successful family business in the Richmond, Virginia area, operating since 1949. Their skill set entails just about everything that a vehicle could mechanically need. As third-generation owner Jason Mincz puts it, “we kinda specialize in the stuff that nobody wants to mess with.” So, when a customer came to them with a 1991 Land Rover Defender 110 looking for professional help, they knew what a unique project they had on their hands. And while swapping engines, transmissions, brakes, and every part you can name is nothing new to the crew at Mincz, this would be their first opportunity to swap out virtually every piece of machinery on a vehicle like the Defender 110—a near complete gut job.
The Mincz team rose to such a rare challenge. Over the course of the 18-month build, owner Jason Mincz and his team created what may very well be one of the most capable Defenders in the countr… worl…Milky Way Galaxy. Apart from one Land Rover transfer case, the build spared virtually none of the original inner workings. And no expenses were spared, either. “It’s aftermarket,” says Mincz. “And it’s high-end aftermarket.”
Leading off, the Defender’s powers itself with a GM Performance LS3 crate engine paired with a TCI 4L80E transmission. For everybody keeping score at home, that’s a Corvette engine inside a beloved British off-road legend (talk about Allied Forces). The team installed a TCI breakaway torque converter, as well as ARB compressor and air lockers, front and back. Cut-to-fit Spidertrax axle shafts, axle housing, and hub assembly replace the stock components. Wilwood Performance brakes were called upon for the front and rear, while Derale cooling components are found throughout the vehicle.
And the list doesn’t stop there. XD Holeshot wheels and 35” Toyo Mud Terrain tires is how FrankenRover rolls around town. A Terrafirma lift kit helps out the already-great ground clearance. A custom snorkel is fashioned with a Rugged Ridge breather hat for when the water gets too deep. Auto Meter gauges fit back into the stock dash. A custom-made driveline parking brake with Wilwood components, a TCI Outlaw shifter, and Rigid industries LED lights are just a few more of the too-many-to-name upgrades on this one-off boundless beauty now commanding 500+ horsepower.
So, where will this Defender end up? Mincz thinks his customer will likely split its time between Virginia and his Texas ranch. And he’ll get all the UTV-style use out of it he can. And while he’s equal parts excited and relieved the project is over, he’s received hints that similar jobs may follow this one’s success. Here’s hoping that it gets run to its fullest capability—it would be a shame for such a capable legend to spend its days behind closed doors.