ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For Doug Turner, restoring a classic Land Rover Defender is something right up his wheelhouse.
His fledgling business, which is called Heritage Driven, takes 25-year-old Land Rover Defenders, strips them down to the frames and rebuilds them to modern and highly customized specifications.
Launched two years ago by Turner, who owns public affairs agency Agenda, the Heritage Driven team is small but the payoff potentially big after refurbishing the classic British off-roader for a well-heeled customer. After revving up everything under the hood with a high-compression engine, adding better braking and suspension, toughening them everywhere and adding as much luxury as the mostly high-net-worth client wants, several restored and modified Defenders are ready to hit the road.
Turner was almost predestined to become the owner of a company that rebuilds Defenders, thanks to his dad. “My father had a Series 2 Land Rover in Cyprus in 1962 when he was in the Peace Corps,” said Turner of the ride and its impeccable off-road credentials. “The car (in Cyprus) still is on the road.” Since then, Turner has enjoyed tooling around in newer Rovers.
When he found out that there were two companies back east buying well-preserved Rovers, making them new and selling them to eager buyers in the U.S., he figured there was a market out west for custom Defenders and imported three of them. Two more vintage vehicles are on a boat and will eventually make their way to Heritage Driven’s shop in the same complex as the I-25 studios on Pan American Freeway.
After meeting actor Mark Consuelos, who was filming in New Mexico, and telling him about his nascent business, Turner found a kindred spirit and a customer. Consuelos, he said, wanted a ride that could handle almost any terrain but still look sharp and be reliable for daily driving.
Turner took Consuelos’s wish list and turned it into reality – just in time for the holidays. The result: a dark green number with butterscotch leather interior and a seating capacity for nine. “It’s an insane Rover,” said Turner who is already back at it – building another similar and highly customized machine that is likely to retail for around $170,000.
Turner recruited Agenda COO Chris Taylor to oversee the day-to-day operations, which calls for five vehicles to get kitted out this year through the labors of lead mechanic Mark Terrien and fabricator George Hausner. They work using the body shells of first-generation Defenders, restoring or replacing each body panel and bolt so that the truck can perform like any modern car, as well as the steering wheel since the cars are geared for left-side U.K drivers . Then they add such amenities as air conditioning, a touchscreen infotainment system with GPS and a backup camera, wireless phone charging and built-in Wi-Fi. The leather seats are heated; the locks and windows are power-operated.
A more traditional version, not quite in the six-figure range, is headed to Jackson Hole, and two more are in production — one for a customer in Indianapolis and another for a customer in Texas — with all the latest bells and whistles.
Taylor said the enterprise has yet to recover its initial investment. “It’s capital heavy; we buy a lot of parts and modern automotive technology. But we’ll probably get to profitability by the second quarter” of 2018.
While Rover “restomods” will continue to be the centerpiece of the business, Heritage Driven also is looking at paying homage to the past by doing frame-up restorations of other classic vehicles, such as the four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser.