While we've become accustomed to the prospect of classic cars being parted with their petrol engines for something silent and emission-free, the thought of a Defender - easily among the most rudimentary devices still regularly seen on British roads - stripped of its humble oil burner is surely among the starkest examples of 20th century meeting 21st. Twisted has forged its reputation on retaining an air of tradition in upgrading humble Land Rovers, and with business booming and a new Virginia base opening to tend to US demand, you wonder why it needs to even think about EVs. Why not instead keep it simple and create another V8 model, as Jeep has just done with its Rubicon 392 concept, and leave the battery-powered stuff to the OEMs?
"We're aiming to make a vehicle that's fresh for 2050," chief operations officer for Twisted's EV work, Bruce Riggs, tells PH. "I've always been passionate about advancing the electronic technology in EVs and with the car we have here, I believe we're showing how far the Defender can go. All while retaining the Twisted philosophy that stays true to the original vehicle with Twisted-levels of on and off-road performance."
True to form it may be, but it's fair to say that Twisted's EV, which builds on the electric Defender produced by project partner Plower, transforms the package quite substantially. Gone are the oily bits under the bonnet, in their place a BorgWarner motor - a Remy HVH250, to be exact - configured to 400V. Riggs says Twisted could have gone with a higher voltage but settled on a balance of performance and range. The motor mated to Land Rover's tough two-speed LT230 transfer case and four-wheel drive hardware, so off-road capability remains high.
"The 60kg electric motor sits low, where you would normally locate the transmission, with the space above in the engine bay used for the batteries and the controller," explains Riggs, who is also COO for Twisted's North American and the Middle Eastern operations. "There are also batteries in the back where the petrol tank would normally go, and also under the rockers on left- and right-hand side [aka the sills], so there's a good balance of weight along with a lowered centre gravity."
Performance is said to be comparable to combustion engine Defenders (albeit ones seen to by Twisted), with the 0-60mph dash taking "under 10 seconds" and a beyond-200-mile-range between charges. The batteries themselves vary depending on the size of the Defender to be converted; a 90 gets 60kWh cells, while 110s and 130s get 84kWh cells to account for their extra mass. But the body on frame construction around them is largely unchanged; Riggs says only a few mounting points have had to be welded in.
"We've kept the same suspension geometries, spring rates are set to match Twisted's usual settings and there's a decent amount of suspension travel," he continues. "It's intended it to be equally as good on- and off-road as our combustion engine models, but with 400Nm [295lb ft of torque] available from zero to almost 4,000rpm, so you've really good launch performance and more torque when off-roading."
Riggs says that the electric conversion gives the Defender's all-wheel drive system even greater traction in tricky climbing and slippery conditions. With the LT230's high and low gearing, the zero-emission Twisted keeps Land Rover's locked setting for off-roading, "so we've maintained the full transfer case and the locking diff, meaning you can lock the rotational speed for the front and rear axles", he adds. Twisted has kept high-speed gearing for on road driving, too, with the electric powertrain ultimately capable of 320hp and 339lb ft, delivered "very progressively". Twisted is clearly not attempting to create its most potent or aggressive model here.
"We've uprated the driveline hardware as per Twisted tradition, so there are parts capable of handling the higher torque loads," explains Riggs. "Twisted horsepower ratings can go over 400hp, so in this particular case we've plenty of experience. The universal joints, the diffs, drive shafts and so on have all been uprated with our parts, while our electronic stability system has been adapted to the electric powertrain."
Riggs says the Defender's transformation is finalised with new cooling hardware, including an oil cooler that focusses its efforts on the motor, but it's still possible to reverse the work and go back to combustion power. Not that he's expecting anyone to do that; as an American electronics expert that's headed up operations at several large IT and digital firms, starting with Dell, no less, he openly believes electric power is the future worth sticking with. Riggs professes he's "really excited".
Has working on one of the world's most traditional vehicles presented him with unforeseen challenges? "No", he says, "because from a space efficiency point of view, it's actually not too hard to package the electric hardware into the Defender". That being said, nobody should underestimate the technical effort and expertise required to successfully convert one of the world's most capable, and mechanically robust off-roaders. For Twisted to claim at least equal on- and off-road performance is obviously significant.
This EV Defender project goes further than the powertrain, too. Riggs says Twisted does "anticipate [driver assist systems such as] lane keep assist, and many other modern electronics, which [the car's] controller is already capable of handling." The firm has already upgraded its car cameras to keep up with OEMs, so, for example, you can see an illustration of the whole vehicle and its surrounding space. When it comes to the electronics, Twisted "will do everything; we've handled the power cut-off, and all the batteries are certified".
Interestingly, Riggs doesn't expect Defender EVs to be commissioned as bespoke one-off vehicles; instead Twisted has set its sights on making this a "production capable vehicle with Tier 1 [automotive supplier] components. He intends for the company "to stay on the electronic vehicle Tier 1 rank, as [he wants] to make it a fully usable personal vehicle". And yes, he means fully usable; Riggs sees EV Defenders as fit for working life.
Orders are already being taken, with Twisted's North American CEO, Tom Maxwell, telling PH in a separate conversation that a £83,940 conversion cost (which includes VAT but excludes the donor car) should halve once economies of scale improve. It's expensive, clearly - but this is very much the start and Twisted reports serious interest from customers willing to spend more in order to be among the earliest adopters. Maxwell said one customer wanted to put an order down "no matter the cost". Which is great news for the car's developer and for anyone taken by the idea of coaxing the Defender well into its second century.
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