ECR4: PROJECT DEFENDER
So you want it all... performance, economy, off road ability, on road ability, looks and style. But how do you get all that into one package you ask? Simple really. You just take an NAS Defender 90, tear it apart to its smallest piece, buy enough parts to make your spouse cringe and spend countless hours building up your ultimate project! Simple.
Seriously though, ECR 4 came about because all my other Rovers to date (I've had way more than 4, but I only number the ones I really liked and kept for some time) have had some issue that I didn't like. The Range Rovers were great for comfort, but lacked ability on the trail. The Series Rovers I have had were great, but lacked the highway speeds I needed. The closest thing that I had owned to date to my "perfect Rover" was my 1997 Defender 90 Station Wagon. That was almost perfect, but I wanted more.
1. An easy to remove top with metal hardtop for Maine winters and soft top for summer.
2. The EFI V8 just wasn't up to the hard core off roading that my Rovers get into. Deep water and sitting at idle all day were not great with the 4.0. The V8 also pumped out too much heat in the summer.
3. The 97 D90 also lacked fuel range. When I went to Labrador I had to carry 4 cans and barely made some of the legs of the trip with only about 200 miles per tank.
There were a number of other items I wanted as well, but those will become clear as you watch the project (bigger tires, tougher axles, etc). I won't bore you with the details here. Lets just say the list of demands was long and to address all the problems I had faced with my Defenders from my first 1994 to my latest 1997 it was going to be a big project.
So after months of working it out on paper my ultimate Defender 90 (ECR 4 from this point forward) began to take shape. The broad strokes were:
1995 NAS Defender 90, I have to have a stick shift again and like the small details of the 95 over the 94.
Galvanized frame, I've had a lot of Defenders and I've seen rust starting to take hold on them, so a galv. frame was a must if I was going to keep this project around for a long time.
300 Tdi, after building our first 300 Tdi Defender for a customer I was totally hooked. Performance, about 28 mpg, the off road torque you dream of, along with long range (even with the NAS fuel tank), the ability to go in deep water with no worries and great longevity meant the 300 Tdi was the only choice.
With the broad strokes of the project set you have to start somewhere. So phase 1 was getting all the parts I need collected and here at ECR ready for the build up. Obviously this meant container shipping of the engine, gearbox and numerous parts from the UK. Phase 2 was finding a Defender 90 that would fit the bill as a donor. I didn't want to spend $32,000. on a nice one, so it took some digging, but a high mileage D90 turned up at the right time and it became the "donor" for ECR 4.
The donor for ECR 4 had over 90,000 miles and some serious rust problems in the doors, hood and frame. The engine had head gasket leaks and the gearbox was toast, but in the scope of my project these were all good things, as I didn't want any of those parts anyway. Well... I would have liked a rust free body, but who are we kidding.
Soon after ECR 4 arrived it was torn down and the unwanted parts sold off. Items that were rusted such as the doors and hood were noted and new panels and parts as needed were ordered.
Now that a vehicle, if you can call a pile of parts from one end of the building to another a vehicle, had arrived the thoughts turned to more detail, such as gearing, suspension, axles, etc. As I do research everyday on axles and such for our customers these choices were easy. They went as follows:
Engine: Factory new 300 Tdi, no contest. This is the power plant for me. Upgraded with an Allard Phase 2 intercooler, and adjusted fuel regulator to get close to V8 power with no electronic engine controls. This is the best off road engine I have ever seen.
Gearbox: A new version 56A 300 Tdi R380 5 speed will do, and I set it up with the suffix K model to be as strong as possible.
Transfer Case: The LT-230 will do fine and this unit needed to be lower geared for the Tdi so the 1.4 was used and the stock 1.22 was sold off. Also added was an Ashcroft Underdrive to give the 90 all the highway speed I wanted, but then have ultra low range at the throw of a lever
Axles: Forget the Salisbury upgrade, they are too hard to field fix and are a ton of unsprung weight. The standard D90 axles will do fine, but upgraded with Ashcroft HD axles and 1 ton CV joints in the front and Safari Gard/ Sumner 30 splines out back, ARB Air Lockers in both ends of course.
Suspension: Again, this was easy. With all the suspensions we put in for customers I get to see what I do and do not like. The answer to my needs was a slightly modified Safari Gard Stage III with a 3 link system up front. The 3 link had to be modified to fit the Tdi set up, but it actually came out better as I was able to use a longer 3 link than the V8s do.
Tires: Super Swamper SSR radial 35x12.5s, no contest. Is there anything else but Swampers? Not in my opinion for New England off roading.
Nest step... Modify the living crap out of the frame and strip it so it can be galvanized. The mounts for the Tdi, its gearbox, exhaust, 3 link, etc. are all radically different from the NAS frame so a ton of time was spent getting it right. I also had Chris weld in guards and stronger parts in all the locations that we had seen D90s have problems. The radius arm mounts were made stronger, a special 3 link cross member was made along with a tough rear cross member and points for the upcoming 6 point roll cage to mount to. No, I will not be running the NAS style safari cage (I want easy hard top/ soft top remember.)
This is the frame in bare steel with some of the modifications done. After everything was done and made "heavy duty" it was trucked to Boston to be galvanized.
While the frame was at the galvanizers it was onto making the larger parts ready to bolt together once the frame came back. That means engine and gearbox. The Engine was easy, only a custom wiring harness needed to be made to run the engine. The basic parts of the 330 Tdi would all be used as it came from the factory. The gearbox was tweaked to be the best it could be, mated to the 1.4 transfer case and the crawler box fitted.
This image shows the gearbox assembly ready for the frame.
Once the frame arrived back at ECR it was time for the fun to begin. For almost 2 years I have been collecting parts and trying to find the time to build this vehicle, and when I sold my 97 D90 SW this spring something inside me snapped and I had to build it... now. I have been building Rovers for customers for almost 10 years now, and nothing was going to put my project on the back burner this time.
The frame came back in perfect shape and now that it was galvanized one of my main concerns was put aside. That concern was rust. With all the Defenders I see starting to rot away I wanted to build it once and do it right. The frame looked almost chrome when we unloaded it as it had only been out of the galv. tank for about 4 hours. The chrome look faded by the next day, but it was interesting to see something that fresh out of the galv. process. Next step, install the suspension.
The basic Safari Gard Stage III fits very easily, especially when the body is not of the Rover. In this image you can also see that the front and rear axles were already pre-built and painted ready for the frame. The 30 spline ARB locker in the back and the 24 spline ARB locker in the front. The rear stud shafts were sent to the machine shop to be machined to house the huge 30 spline axles and all the brake calipers were rebuilt at this time as well. The image shows the Stage III springs and the Fox adjustable shocks.
Here you can see the 300 Tdi. A new motor was used off the assembly line because I wanted trouble free long term use from this Rover. This is the same 300 Tdi engine that ECR installs. It comes with everything from clutch to water pump and is almost ready to start out of the box. If you are thinking about a Tdi for your project this is the way to go.
With the engine and gearbox assembly bolted together it was an easy fit to the new galv. frame as all the mounts for everything had already been worked out before it was galvanized. So for a few evenings everything went together really fast and ECR suddenly began to look like a D90 again. Remember, it had been about a year since I had taken apart the donor truck. The newly painted AA Yellow panels have been sitting in our paint shop ready to go for a long time. Ask Beckner, our painter. He often hassled me about when he would stop tripping over my parts.
I had pre-built everything I could while the frame was at the galvanizers. The bulkhead was done and painted, already wired up, heater installed, steering gear installed everything had even been tested even at this early stage as you can see from the image above. I already knew I had no problems with wipers, heater, glow plug timer, etc.
For the sake of longevity everything I have ever seen go wrong with a Defender was addressed. Here you can see the epoxy painted bulkhead, seam sealed and fully painted. No rust here any time soon. If you look closely you can also see the stainless steel brake and clutch lines, even the flex lines are braided stainless.
With the drive train, bulkhead and most of the suspension in place, it is starting to come together.
This images gives a great view of the Allard Turbosport intercooler. The stock Tdi intercooler is about one third this size and when you step on the throttle of this Tdi... you better hang on. ECR offers all Allard Turbospsort products for your own Tdi conversion.
All it needs now is the body parts.
Bolt all these large pieces together and poof... your project looks like a D90 again.
Wonder how many long nights I spent on this project?? Just take a look at my dog. Well past midnight in the shop and he's worn out, but the good thing is that ECR 4 is starting to come together.
With the main body going together it was time to concentrate on the details again. The Underdrive had already been installed, but the linkage needed to be sorted before the floors could go in. Chris designed a great simple linkage system for me that you can see above and then we installed the floors and tunnel cover.
The engine had some modifications that needed to be set up as well. I installed an Allard Phase 2 inetrcooler to give me the performance I wanted. I'm used to driving 4.6 and 5.2 liter V8s in customers cars, so I squeaked everything I could from the Tdi by custom setting up the fuel regulator, installing the larger intercooler. My background in the marine industry means I'm even more at home with the Tdi than I am with the Rover V8s. I also installed a fueling by-pass solenoid in case I ever want to switch back to "economy" mode for long range expeditions. The image above shows the Allard Phase 2 intercooler installed. It is tight, but it fits.
Switching to the rear of the Rover the wiring harness was hooked up and the custom fuel system installed. The Tdi doesn't use the in tank EFI pump, but we needed the tank and the fuel lever sending unit, so a few quick changes to the pump system and we had an easily installed fuel pick up and return. We also made a HD edge all the way around the fuel tank and had it galv. in and then topped it off the a Safari Gard fuel tank skid plate and a HD recovery point with a large backing plate for heavy pulling. This makes for a great departure angle and a very clean look.
With the body almost done the tasks turned to interior. All the trim had to be installed, new floor mats, tunnel cover, door trims, door seals, etc. Even in this bare state the Rover almost looks complete.
The new Tdi was now at home and fully connected to the rest of the Rover. The fuel system, air cleaner, wiring and everything has now been set up and is waiting to be fired for the first time. Keep in mind you don't have to go as wild as I did. We can install a 300 Tdi in any Defender 90 or 110, the benefits you get will be the same as mine.
We have even found a way to mount the Tdi head pipe to the full stainless NRP free flow exhaust. Here you can see the NRP tail section on ECR 4, another great addition for the longevity I was looking for. We now supply NRP stainless exhaust for all our Tdi conversions, for 90s and 110s. We needed to modify the NRP mounts, as in off road situations they have a tendancy to slip free of their rubber mounts easily, even with the locking washer in place. We can modify all NRP systems in this way and we highly suggest it for off road use.
The Stage III Fox shocks have a remote reservoir and rather then mount them to the shock towers we came up with this arrangement that allows for easy access to the adjustment on the shocks.
The custom 3 link set up combined with the Stage III and the 35" Swampers works like a dream. I have to say that with the shocks adjusted correctly, that this lifted 3 link D90 handles about the same as my 97 D90 SW did. That may change when the roof goes on, but for now it can be pushed into corners as hard as you like. In this image you can also see the extra tough outriggers that were made not to bend as I grind across rocks.
This image shows all the details starting to come together. The seats are in with the new Badger Coachworks seat covers, fender flares installed, windscreen, seat belt mount and more. All we need now is tires and a few more late nights and ECR 4 will be ready for the road.
One of the goals of ECR 4 was to get it road ready for the Tea Pond 2000 event in July. It came down to the wire, but the 90 was actually road ready a few days before, or should I say a few nights before. One last push late in the week put ECR 4 over the top. Ian and Chris stayed late with me and we got all the small jobs done and got ECR 4 almost road ready. In this image you can see the vehicle ready for its first road test. The road tests went well and since almost everything had gone smoothly, and the fact that I had been working like a dog for the past 3 weeks, and had help from some of the best Rover mechanics in the business this meant that ECR 4 was built on weekends and after hours in only 3 weeks. I guess 2 years of "getting ready" paid off.
So here it is. The almost complete version ready for the Tea Pond 2000 Event. The ARB bumper is temporary until I make my own winch mount unit for the Warn HS 9500, and the full soft top is still on the way from the UK. The hard top images will come later this fall when I build it into a Station Wagon for the winter. For right now it is bikini top fun in the sun. The 6 point roll cage will come later as well, along with 10,000 other details.
After the Tea Pond 2000 event test run I knew that everything was 100% with the mechaincal side of ECR 4, so it was time to move on to finishing up the paint work.
Here you can see the 90 tub has been stripped back down, and then fully primed. I had Beckner (our painter) fully prime behind all the cappings and tub edges so that no rust bleeds will come through the steel parts, then we set up the lines for the custom 3 color paint work.
Here it is, the almost complete 1995 300 Tdi NAS D90 with all the upgrades I wanted.
So the list to date is:
1995 NAS D90 Soft Top or Hard Top (Modified by ECR)
AA Yellow inside and out epoxy paint by PPG
Galv. frame highly modified by ECR
Allard Phase 2 intercooler and upgraded fueling
R380 5 speed gearbox/ LT230 1.4 transfer case/ Ashcroft Underdrive
ARB Air Lockers front and rear with 4.11 ring and pinions
30 spline axles rear, HD 24 spline axles front with 1 ton CV joints
Defender 130 steel wheels with 35x12.5 SSR Radials
Safari Gard Stage III suspension with custom 3 link in the front
ECR ROX sliders with Hi-Lift points
SG fuel tank skid plate and rear bumperettes
NRP full stainless exhaust
Twin Optima batteries
Warn HS95000 winch
Highly modified ARB winch bumper
4-100w driving lights
4 point interior Roll Cage
Check out these continuing updates of the ECR 4 Project Defender
as it gets refined into the ultimate Defender 90!
ECR 4: Hardtop addition: Fall 2000
ECR 4: Winch, Bumper and more: Fall 2000
ECR 4: 4 point Interior Roll Cage: Winter 2000
ECR 4: Electronics and Gear Storage: Spring 2001
ECR 4.1: Powerstroke 2.8 Winter 2003
ECR 4 at "RoverFest 2000"
ECR 4 attacks the RTI ramp at Rover Fest August 19th in Vermont. The suspension works great, 70 mph plus on the highway all the way to and from the event, and it scored a 909 on our 23 degree RTI ramp!!
That would have won the Mini-Twist off we held at the event, but we didn't feel it was right to compete in our own event, so the "Top Dog" prize went to Stacy Murphy in another modified AA Yellow Defender 90. The winning score was an 885.
ECR 4: Real World testing:
So everyone and their brother is talking about Tdis, but very few people in the USA have ever lived with, or even seen the Tdi up close. I live with ECR 4 everyday, it is my primary transportation, so I thought I'd clear up some bad info. that we often here about 300 Tdis.
A 300 Tdi need not be computer controlled. There are a number of versions, but in the simple Defender version like I have, you can literally run the engine with one wire and 12 volts. No computers. If it had computers I would not have installed it as it wouldn't be any more capable of going in the mud and water than the stock 3.9 EFI V8 was. The Td5 Storm engine is computer controlled.
Currently after the engine break in I am getting 24 mpg with the fueling boost valve on, and the upgrades that I did for power. If I switch to economy mode then it goes to about 26 mpg. Keep in mind that I run 35" tires and 4.11 gears, so a stock Defender would get much better. Our customers with stock Defenders are getting about 28 mpg with their 300 Tdis.
The 300 Tdi has tons of torque and is by far the best off road engine I have ever used in any off road product. It is about 500% better than any V8 off road. I've owned and driven all of them from the 3.9 to the 5.2 and the Tdi outshines them all off road. On the street the Tdi is very capable. Around town you have lots of low end grunt and in traffic it feels as powerful as the V8s. If you want to cruise at 95 mph it isn't the engine for you, but if you want the best balance of on road and off road ability, with the emphasis on off road and long range ability with the stock NAS fuel tank, the Tdi is for you. If 0-60 times are important then you should stick with the V8. ECR 4 has 0-60 times in the 15 second range, but it will cruise at 80 mph and get great mileage doing it.
Some people have sent emails about this page saying they want to do the same type of project, and they have wanted to know the costs involved in ECR 4. As this was my dream truck, I did not worry about the budget. It was something I always wanted and nothing was going to stand in my way... but how much money did it take to build it?? Lets put it this way... "All of it". :-)
As this project has been on going for so long, and since it is the only time that a non company project has ever been posted to this site, I have to take some time to say some things:
-To our customers: This project was built after hours and on weekends, so no time was lost on your projects.
-I have to give a very special thank you to Ian Cooke and Chris Komar for their time on weekends and after hours that they put in (and continue to put in) on ECR 4 with me. Thanks guys, I couldn't have done it without your support.
-Also a thank you to my dog, I know sitting around the shop for hours is boring.
-To my wife... yes, I do live at home, but you were asleep when I came home at 1 a.m. and when I left at 6 a.m. Now that the truck is done I'll probably be off roading all the time so I still won't see you. (only kidding).
Mike Smith, ECR
ECR 4 at the Tea Pond 2000 Event
Let ECR know if we can custom build a Rover for you. Our staff drives and owns Rovers, we build Rovers for customers, we build Rovers in our spare time, we basically live and breath Rovers. What other shop is going to help you the way ECR can? The choice is simple, demand the best... ECR.
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