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in Overlanding / by Nick Jaynes

DefenderWe first stumbled upon David Rees’ white 1995 Land Rover Defender 130 at the Overland Skills Area at Overland Expo West 2022. Yes, the Falcon XL topping the bed cap is what initially caught our eye. But, really, it’s hard to ignore such a stunning British 4×4 like the 130.

For those unfamiliar with Defender 130, it’s the long-wheel-base (130 inches, get it?) first-gen Defender with a pickup bed. Although the Defender 90 and Defender 110 trims came to the U.S., albeit briefly in the 1990s, the 130 never crossed the pond to American shores. So to find one at all — let alone one in such good nick like Rees’ — is unusual.

Upon spying it, we poked around the rare 4×4 for a minute in Flagstaff. However, we never found the owner, Rees. We later tracked Rees down through mutual connections over email and were able to ask him a few questions about his enviable overland rig.

Rees was born in Birmingham, England — down the road from the Land Rover factory. However, he’s called Asheville, North Carolina home for the last 25 years. Rees is a driving instructor and off-road-course builder for some of the world’s finest automakers, including Land Rover, Toyota, Lexus, Honda, and Nissan. Not surprisingly, based upon where we first spotted his rig, Rees also works with Overland Expo as a trainer.

When Rees isn’t driving his 130 around the continent, he enjoys mountain biking, riding dirt bikes, skiing, camping, and generally exploring the backcountry.

Over the years, Rees has owned a handful of Land Rovers, including the aforementioned Defender 90s and 110s. But he always lusted after the 130 for its rarity and, presumably, utility. After all, it’s hard to argue with a pickup bed as the premium gear-hauling solution.

DefenderRees finally realized his dream of owning a Defender 130 about two years ago, after importing his prime example from New South Wales, Australia. After mounting a Falcon XL over the bed, Rees drove the 130 from Asheville to Copper Canyon in Mexico. From there, he took the ferry to Baja. That’s when the transmission lost 5th and reverse gears. This forced Rees to get creative with maneuvering for the remainder of the trip. As you might imagine, without reverse, traversing trails can become a logistics nightmare quite quickly.

Keeping speeds low, since fourth was now his top gear, Rees slowly weaved his way up the west coast up from Baja to Sacramento. There, he swapped out the rig’s original engine for a General Motors LS3 V8.

If you’re not aware of the LS3, it’s Chevy’s small-block V8 that produces 430 horsepower and 425 foot-pounds of torque. Not only is it far more powerful than the stock engine, it’s a lot more efficient and cleaner. Due to modern advancements in engine and emissions management, the LS3 returns more power while burning less fuel and emitting fewer pollutants than the stock power plant. What’s more, parts are more readily available for the Chevy engine than the nearly three-decades-old Land Rover engine. Essentially, the swap is a clear win-win.

The Falcon XL got some modifications, too — just not as numerous as the Defender. Rees reports he’s wired the Roofnest roof top tent for internal lighting. The Falcon XL makes a great pairing with the Defender 130; they’re both rugged and simple with heaps of utility.

Thanks to David Rees again for sharing his rig’s story. We wish you many more adventure-filled excursions with your incredible Defender.

We love to see members of the Roofnest Flock out there living the dream and having unforgettable adventures with their Roofnest rooftop tents. If you have a unique rig or a special adventure story, you can submit it to be included in the Rig of the Month series on the Roofnest website.

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