Straight Up, With a Twisted
Deep in North Yorkshire, a small company is building the ultimate version of the nation’s favourite 4x4. James Fossdyke went north to find out what’s what
The word ‘iconic’ is so tired and overused that it’s now almost entirely devoid of meaning. The first PlayStation is iconic. So too are the Omega Seamaster and the George Foreman grille. Next thing you know, the first-generation iPhone will have joined the party.
Using the ‘i’ word to describe something as enduring and well-loved as the Land Rover Defender, then, would be to damn it with faint praise. Despite changing very little in more than 25 years of production, it became the nation’s workhorse and a calling card of the British farming community. If you visited the countryside, you’d find a Defender.
But now the Defender is gone, consigned to the scrapheap in the sky by emissions legislation, production issues and the cruelty of market forces. Your local Land Rover dealer simply won’t sell you one. But a Yorkshireman called Charles Fawcett thinks you can buy something even better.
In a nondescript industrial unit on the outskirts of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, Fawcett and his team take the unassuming Landie and evolve it, adding a range of upgrades to create what he believes is the ultimate Defender.
It might sound like a bold claim, but the truth is that improving the Defender shouldn’t be difficult. If truth be told, the Defender was rubbish. Of course, it was peerless off-road, but it was no use on it. The steering was woeful, the seats didn’t adjust properly and changing gear was like trying to dig out a rockery with a knitting needle. The engine was pretty lethargic, too, having been pinched from a van, and there was nowhere for your right arm. I could go on, but we’d be here all week.
Weirdly, though, Twisted makes no real effort to address many of these problems. The Defender’s basic shape remains unchanged, so the cabin is still best suited to those with only one arm and the handbrake is still somewhere by your left ankle. In short, Twisteds still have all the quirks and foibles of the car that Land Rover fans fell in love with - they’re just a bit more refined.
The ‘basic’ Twisted, the now-sold-out Series I, upgraded the standard car’s diesel engine to churn out a bit more power, fitted new suspension to make it ride more comfortable and added a handful of reasonably restrained visual upgrades. If you’d never heard of Twisted, you wouldn’t have guessed it wasn’t a standard Defender.
But if you want to, you can do far more. If Fawcett and his team think it fits, they’ll do pretty much anything - including fitting the 520bhp, 6.2-litre V8 engine from a Chevrolet Corvette. You can have your own interior trim colours, a choice of seats and even fit super-wafty air suspension that makes the car ride more like a Range Rover. The options list, then, is incredibly complex, and Fawcett says customers spend months deliberating over which extras they want.
Get it right, though, and the effects are simply staggering. The car we drove - a long-wheelbase five-door ‘110’ model with air suspension - was by far the best Defender I’ve ever driven. The external upgrades were relatively minor, but the mechanical improvements made a world of
difference. The sporty bucket seats were surprisingly comfortable, and the air suspension smoothed over the bumps while the extra soundproofing kept the worst of the wind and tyre noise at bay.
But no amount of padding can stifle the noise of that enormous, sonorous, fabulous V8 powerplant, which dominated the experience like a Stetson-wearing, shotgun-toting Texan in a quiet country pub. The noise fills the car, leaving you luxuriating in a petrol-fuelled bubble bath of thick, syrupy power. When you put your foot down, the automatic gearbox drops a couple of cogs, the whole car rears and the view out of the side windows suddenly gets very blurry. With that engine on board, the Twisted is fast enough to blow fully paid up sports cars into the long grass.
For all that though, it isn’t the easiest car in the world to drive. The throttle is incredibly sensitive when you’re pulling away, and the steering is still a bit vague - not ideal when the car, like all Defenders, feels a bit floaty and wayward, obliging you to constantly correct its course.
But Twisted admits this car isn’t supposed to be a practical daily driver used to take the kids to school or pop to Waitrose. The majority of customers already own several cars, and those that come to Twisted looking to replace a Range Rover or a BMW X5 are often advised to first buy a car to use every day, then decide whether they want the Twisted as a weekend distraction.
And that really sums up the Twisted ethos. Fawcett loves Defenders, and though his cars may be more civilised, better equipped, or even faster than the original, they’re definitely still Defenders. If that appeals, then you’ve probably already picked up the phone, but if you just want a comfy, luxurious SUV with the Defender’s rugged image, then you’re looking in the wrong place. May I suggest the Mercedes G-Class?
Twisted Automotive Sussex Court, Thirsk Ind. Park, York Road, Thirsk, YO7 3TA
t: +44 (0)1845 574 990