Julian Simcock loves to be in the wilderness.... with just his amazing fully-equipped Defender 90 for company
Take Bear Grylls, Ray Mears and Sir Ranulph Fiennes, squeeze them into a Defender without any extras, gear, fuel, water or food. Then place it in the remotest and most inhospitable part of the planet earth. While they are respected for their endurance and survival skills they probably wouldn’t last much longer than a week. Without any water, things go wrong very quickly in the blazingly-hot desert. Not a pleasant thought, but the harsh reality of remote travel if you get the preparation and gear wrong. Yet do the same experiment with Julian Simcock and his well-prepared 1997 300Tdi Defender, and he will more than survive – he will thrive.
Once a week he calls his mum on the sat-phone and when lonely he watches satellite TV. Thanks to his onboard water supply, fridge and food rations in his neatly-packed drawers mean he can easily sustain himself for a couple of months. If there happens to be fish-filled water nearby, Julian will use his fishing rod to catch some dinner. Bear Grylls style. This man is happiest when as far away as possible from civilisation and his Defender has been set-up to ensure his comfort and safety while doing so. In 2012, Julian’s Defender won the Best Vehicle in Show award at Billing. It has also picked up a host of other awards such as Best Modified and Best Overland. Obviously it did not always look this impressive. In fact when Julian purchased it from a farmer in 2008, this G-reg 90 was bog-standard apart from the snorkel.
This former Mitsubishi Warrior owner was now a part of the Land Rover family and he would never look back. Julian grew up in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and the nearby Peak District remains one of his favourite places to explore and enjoy. He fondly remembers a childhood of hiking, climbing and camping trips with Dad, so it was the most natural thing in the world that his new Defender would become his tool of exploration. “Initially I just chucked a sleeping bag, stove, little gas lamp and a few other bits into the back and headed off. I instantly fell in love with my Defender,” explains Julian. While on safari in Africa, Julian noted how vehicles there were prepared for overland and adventure travel. He wanted to do something similar to his Defender. This inspired the direction he would now take. Robert Denniff, who owns a small Land Rover specialist garage in the village of Thrybergh, joined Julian on those first few trips. His vehicle was set up for expeditions and Julian wanted the same. “I wanted a fully-prepared expedition Defender that I could just get into and drive away into the wilderness. It had to have all my toys in,” says Julian. He asked Rob to help him and so began a total nut-and-bolt rebuild. They totally stripped it down until all that remained was the chassis, which they then replaced with a galvanised one. Julian’s plan was to start with a clean slate as he knew what he wanted and how to go about it, with the help of Rob of course. Mister Gearbox in Sheffield reconditioned the engine, gearbox and transfer box. It was then time for a full custom respray.
Everything had to match, even the Maggiolina Extreme Roof Tent. The tent can be accessed from all sides, so custom-made ladders were installed on both sides of the Defender. The bonnet was strengthened with a steel plate so you can walk on it to get to the tent without denting the bonnet. The old suspension system was replaced with Terrafirma expedition-rated shocks and springs with a two-inch lift. This meant that the rear trailing arms had to be cranked up and the radius arms strengthened. For tyres, Julian chose LT305/170 R16 Kumho Road Ventures. This was only the start of a project that would cost him around £14,000 and take two years to complete. When planning a recent trip to Europe the RAC refused to give his Defender breakdown cover because it is older than 12 years and so Julian went with Land Rover insurance specialists Adrian Flux instead. They appreciated what the Defender was worth and how well it has been looked after. Once behind the Momo steering wheel you start to appreciate the level of thought that has gone into producing this vehicle. When the Defender is standing, it can be hooked up to 240v mains for the onboard Oxford 240v battery charging and conditioning system.
Obviously the luxury of mains 'leccy is not always around, so then the T-Max Split Charge system on the dash tells Julian what his battery levels are. He will be able to stand parked up for a few days before the need to go for a recharging drive or find 240v power arises. Behind the driver's seat is a Numax 800 w inverter just in case you need to charge something while driving or standing still. With so much time, trouble and money devoted to producing this Defender, Julian installed a Clifford alarm system. It means that if, during a future African adventure, Somali bandits are approaching, he will be warned when they are 50 feet away. This should give him enough time to brew a cup of coffee, grab the Gerber machete and call the SAS.
Some of the more impressive additions to the cabin not already mentioned include: Recaro seats, CB radio, iPad, mounted camera, Timex Expedition W4S watch, storage nets, soundproofing, surround sound and Navsure GPS. To me, the driver of a simple Defender set-up with only a dodgy radio for company, Julian’s Defender feels like an alien spaceship. All the lights are LED except the 100 w WIPAC 4x4 spotlights that run off a Lightforce converter. The front bumper has been custom-made and so too the rocksliders. A Terrain awning, to protect Julian from the sun or rain, hangs off the side of the roofrack. Even the little exhaust outlet has been modified to ensure that it does not rip during extreme off-roading. The engine is a standard 300Tdi and its bay is so clean you could eat your dinner off it. The only changes to it are the K&N filter, upgraded alternator from 65 to 100 amps and a couple of new hoses. Open the rear door of the 90 and it is like walking into a outdoors store. On the back of the door is a neat little gas stove. Then there is a table, ammo boxes and a drawer system that dominate the rest of the rear. These are all filled with enough cleverly packed-away gear to equip, or invade, a small nation.
Some of it, such as the headlight, is within arm's length when you open the back in the dark. Julian has something for every occasion. There is a saw and two types of axes for when a tree is blocking his progress. One of my favourite accessories was the Frontier log burner, which has a 12-foot chimney and two hot plates so you can cook on it while at the same time enjoying the heat that it gives off. Julian normally carries his own logs along and if you see him in action with an axe you will definitely not challenge him to a wood-chopping competition. This is one of the tidiest and well-constructed expedition vehicles I have ever seen. It does help that Julian is a bit of a perfectionist. He is also amphibious, having tackled several paddling courses, so his kayak is normally one of the first things packed onto the Defender. It is his ambition to become a professional river guide. If going on a long trip he normally heads to Oak Valley in Derbyshire for two days to test his equipment and to make sure all is working as it should. Then it is back home to fetch some clean clothes and stock up on food before heading off into the wilderness.
On one of these trips he managed to put the Defender on its side, but rock sliders did their job and there was no damage at all. He does not have a winch, but for emergency recoveries he has waffle boards that bolt onto the back of the spare tyre. “I normally take too many clothes with me, though I use everything I carry, plus I am comfortable. I have spent lots of time developing this vehicle to tackle both the terrain and take care of my comfort,” says Julian. The only thing that he still plans to add to his Defender is a 60-litre Td5 fuel tank, which will increase his fuel-carrying capacity to 105 litres. This will prove useful when he's exploring his favourite part of the world – the remote northern reaches of Scotland, where filling stations are few and far between. “The remoteness, scenery and lochs of Scotland are what makes me go back time and time again. All I do there is wild camp, as a campsite is luxury up there,” says Julian. To get to his favourite camping spot on Lonely Island you have to cross the beach at low tide to get there and once the tide comes in you are cut off, making it even more remote.
During a trip to Scotland last winter he encountered some heavy snowfall in the Kirkconnel area. After making his way along a logging track to see the chap who manages the nearby 5000-acre forest, he was warned that it might be impossible to get to where he wanted to go. But he went anyway and had to dig his way through several feet of snow. The snow provided great insulation and he was actually very warm inside the 90. The best part was that he had the place to himself, was very cosy in his rooftop tent and snuggled in his Karrimor Demon sleeping bag, rated to -13°C. This winter he plans to go to Scotland again to explore and perfect his snow driving techniques. After that, he will be going on the trip of a lifetime from his home in Derby to Durban in South Africa – driving overland all the way. And he will have total confidence in his vehicle, despite facing some of the most hostile and inhospitable parts of Africa along the journey. After all, that's what a vehicle like Julian's 90 is for.
Photographs: Alisdair Cusick