While everyone is talking about the Bronco, Wrangler 4xe, and slew of forthcoming electric pickups the new Land Rover Defender 110 is hitting dealer lots, customer garages, and the trail. Sure most Defender will be relegated to soccer practice drop off duty and mall crawling, but there will be a handful that are used off-road by true enthusiasts. Justin Monnin and his crew at Lucky8 Off Road in Buffalo, NY, are just such enthusiasts. The Lucky8 Proud Rhino Defender 2 proves that, and is the world’s first new Defender on 35-inch tires.
Land Rover Defender 2
With an early pre-order Lucky8 got one of the first production Defender’s to hit US shores. It chose a Defender 110 SE with the 3.0L inline-6 optioned with a rear locker and Terrain Response 2. This combo is the perfect starting point for a serious off-road-focused modern Defender build. It gives you a basic interior, more power, bigger brakes, and the right hardware and electronics to optimize off-road prowess from the factory.
The I6 engine option is the ‘big’ motor in the current Defender lineup. It is a mild-hybrid system that puts out 395 hp and 406 ft.-lb. of torque. With the big motor comes bigger brakes and larger wheels. While big brakes are great off-road, bigger wheels aren’t. A smaller wheel and bigger tire is always a better option off-road, so you have more sidewall for ride comfort and aired down traction.
Small Wheels Big Tires
Fitting 35-inch tires on small wheels under this fully independent air-suspension vehicle is no easy task, especially if you want the big motor and big brakes. In order to fit smaller 18-inch Tuff Ant wheels (stock on the big motor Defender is 19- or 20-inch) Lucky8 had to swap out the rear brake calipers for smaller units.
Through some serious research and trial-and-error, Lucky8 was able to make this happen without losing any braking performance and while retaining the stock pads and rotors.
New Defender on 35s
Now that the desired wheels fit and the brakes still work to full capacity it was time to make room for some big 35-inch mud-terrains (specifically 35×12.50×18 Atturo Trail Blade MT Tires) under this new Defender.
Lucky8 went into this whole lift and off-road upgrade program on the Defender 2 with the idea that everything could easily be put back to stock if desired. Nearly everything it did to make 35s fit under this truck is completely reversible.
First up are some Proud Rhino lift rods. These inexpensive small rods easily install on the air suspension system to provide about a 2.5-inch lift to the vehicle at all times, while still retaining all the functionality of the air suspension system.
Next up was a bit of lower bumper trimming (the irreversible part) and some custom fender brackets to provide a bit more room in the wheel wells. To finish off mission ‘fit 35s on a new Defender’ Lucky8 moved the front intercoolers, so that full articulation could be achieved with the meaty new tires.
Not Just Big Tires
The Lucky8 Proud Rhino Defender 2 is much more than just some big tires and small wheels. It is also fully sorted for serious off-road capability.
Lucky8 fitted this build with some top quality Land Rover factory parts, including a Fender Flare Kit, Snorkel, and Roof Rack. Fitted to the roof rack are TRED Pros, a Krazy Beaver shovel, a Hi-Lift, and two jerry cans.
Lucky8 isn’t a fan of the Land Rover side-mounted ladder, as it gets in the way in tight off-road environments, so they also built a new Proud Rhino rear ladder for easy access to the roof rack.
Next up were some custom Proud Rhino branded parts that really bring the build to completion. Custom rock sliders protect the body of this shiny new truck. A custom hidden winch tray holds a Warn Zeon 10-S winch for the ultimate in recovery capability. To light the way a custom Proud Rhino light bar bracket holds four massive Baja Design LP9 off-road driving lights.
To finish off the aggressive and clean looks of this purpose-built machine the ridiculous rear window floating plastic squares are replaced with the Lucky8 Defender Square Delete Kit. This kit has three tiny pieces of shiny black plastic and a Land Rover oval logo for each side of the truck that fills in the alignment holes in the side glass. Even Defenders that will never go off the pavement will want to snag one of these kits to clean up one of the big design ‘flaws’ on this new Land Rover.
Lucky8 Proud Rhino Defender 2
Although this Proud Rhino Defender build is very off-road focused, it also retains most of it’s on-road manners and usability. Sure it has a slightly higher center of gravity and the aggressive MT tires are going to make more noise than the OEM all-terrains, but otherwise this build drives like a new Land Rover Defender.
The big takeaway is that this build is arguably much better on and off-road than the original Defender ever was. It’s not even arguable for on-road capability, as the original Defender could never cruise in complete comfort at 80 mph on the freeway.
To order your own parts or have Lucky8 build you your own Proud Rhino Defender 2 check out Lucky8LLC.com.
(Photos by: Christopher Jeyes & Matt Block)