This Is as Close as You Can Get to a Brand-New Land Rover Defender

How Arkonik restores—and improves upon—the classic Defender.

Since founding Arkonik a little more than a decade ago, CEO Andy Hayes has pursued a singular vision for his company: "Our mission has evolved over the last 12 years, but our founding principle has remained constant; to create the most authentic, restored Land Rover Defenders in the world." That's a business plan we can certainly get behind. This is about as close as you can get to ordering a factory-fresh, classic Defender off the assembly line, albeit with several upgraded touches typical of similar restomod-focused companies. I recently had the privilege of driving two Arkonik-ized Defenders, the 1992 D110 "Wessex" and the 1989 D110 "Yeti", and I got to see firsthand what sets them apart from everyone else.

EXTERIOR

Accessories: Arkonik adds the best money can buy with exterior add-ons such as Truck-Lite Twin-Cat LED lights and Warn Zeon 12-S winches, just to name a couple. The vehicles also come outfitted with a variety of wheels and tires depending on the suspension system. Restorations that hew more to a stock Defender suspension setup (like the Wessex) come with Kahn Defend 1948 16-inch wheels and BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires. Vehicles with beefier aftermarket suspensions like that underpinning the D110 Yeti come with beefier steel 16-inch wheels with beadlocks and BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 tires.

Body: Defender body panels are hard to replace exactly given their handbuilt genesis, so Arkonik has invested in its own tools in order to be able to perform custom fabrication. They painstakingly assemble new body pieces (save the roof and windscreen panels) for every Defender they re-create, making sure that they're laser straight for the painting process.

Paint: Arkonik has improved upon Land Rover's original corrosion protection, important for a vehicle that is expected to hold up while being exposed to so many elements. Each panel is primed up to five times before a paint color is even chosen, then individually painted in one of Arkonik's many available hues. This is more attention to cosmetics than any Land Rover ever got originally, as the paint was considered an afterthought. Special attention is also given to the undercoating to make sure the undercarriage stays rust-free and is protected from the elements during off-roading. All of the paint and bodywork is done in-house.

SUSPENSION

Arkonik is always there to steer customers in the right direction as far as the suspension needed for the intended use of the vehicle. The Yeti, an earlier build, features stiffer Terrafirma suspension with a two-inch lift kit, which is great for carrying a heavy, 400-pound load off-road but hinders the drivability in any other sort of situation. Personally I found it uncomfortable, but it's more of a hard-core setup. Later models such as the Wessex feature a completely refurbished stock system that utilizes Arkonik's standard upgrade called Cellular Dynamic suspension. This setup uses cellular dynamic dampers instead of the original oil-filled type. Using a cellular foam insert instead of nitrogen gas or air helps prevent the oil from boiling while offering more heat dispersion. I could tell how much of a difference it made while driving the Wessex, as it was smoother and more comfortable both off-road and on the highway. The D90 Zenith features a two-inch-lowered Extreme 4x4 suspension system with Twisted progressive suspension and Fox adjustable dampers in order to handle the power of the 430-hp 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 sourced from General Motors.

DRIVETRAIN AND BRAKES

Engine: Arkonik rebuilds its engines in-house, with every last component being refurbished. The two most popular engine choices are the original, Buick-designed 3.5-liter V-8 and the 200 Tdi (turbocharged direct injection) diesel engine. The V-8 comes equipped with an MSD electronic fuel-injection system and makes around 203 horsepower and 170 lb-ft torque. The 200 Tdi makes around 122 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. For LS engine conversions, Arkonik's Defenders are shipped directly to its customers in the United States (the main market, with Canada and the Britain following behind) where they are then registered and enjoyed for a few weeks as-is. Arkonik's partner, Scully Offroad in California, then arranges for the Defender to be shipped to its facility and scheduled to arrive at the same time as the customer's LS engine and other parts. The engines are then swapped and just like that, you now have an LS-powered Land Rover Defender. Earlier builds such as the Yeti utilized a smaller radiator with a mechanical clutch fan, leading to the engine running hotter than it needed to. Arkonik engineers later switched this stock cooling system for a larger, custom-made radiator with electric fans that is now standard equipment on all of the company's builds.

Transmission: The manual transmissions on each Defender are just as extensively overhauled as the engine, with the only thing saved being the casing. Every component is replaced with brand-new parts. Arkonik also offers automatic transmissions such as the six-speed 6L80E transmission used in the D90 Zenith.

Brakes: When it comes to the brakes, Arkonik replaces the Defender's front drums with discs, refurbishes the rear drums, and installs all-new brake lines. We found this system worked great when we had a chance to wheel the Wessex and Yeti off-road. But with other builds such as the 1989 Zenith, which includes an LS3 engine, Wilwood 14-inch discs with six-piston calipers in the front and four-piston calipers in the rear are installed.

INTERIOR

Seats: Customers have the options of choosing from several leather choices for their seats; black, Nut Brown with Ivory diamond stitching, and Burnt Plum are among the plethora of choices. The leather Arkonik uses is from Bridge of Weir in Scotland, who also produces leather for Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Arkonik goes through and puts together the interior all in-house instead of shipping its builds out to an interior shop.

Accessories: Arkonik makes its own custom wiring harness, allowing it to integrate many modern amenities into classic Defenders, such as an Alpine touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay. Air conditioning and even a backup camera are included conveniences.

Comfort: The designers at Arkonik pay careful attention to cohesiveness when laying out the interior. Another big feature is sound deadening, which is achieved by applying Dynamat throughout during restoration in an effort to deliver a quieter experience. When I first got to ride in Arkonik's Defenders it didn't feel like an off-road-focused rig, it felt like far more like vehicle tipped more toward the luxury end of the scales, which made its prodigious off-roading chops all the more impressive.

This approach to restoration and customization enables Hayes and his team to keep perfecting and building some of the most impressive new/old Defenders you'll find anywhere. If you have the means—the run from approximately $150,000 to $200,000—we highly recommend picking one up.