Meet Australia’s Toughest Land Rover Defender

Defender 90 Orkney

With a huge following online, we learn the story behind @Defender90_Orkney – Australia’s toughest Defender – and the bloke who built it.

If you’ve been anywhere near Instagram or YouTube and have more than a passing interest in fourbys you’ll probably know all about Damian Lucev and his Defender 90. With more than 60,000 followers on the ‘Gram, @Defender90_Orkney could be called an Influencer…we just call it car porn.

Hard to imagine by looking at it now, but Damian reckons the plan when he bought the Defender was to leave it stock and simply roll around town in it. See, while Damian had spent plenty of time camping in the High Country he was into rotaries…anything rear-drive and, well, quick basically.

Defender 90 Orkney

Indeed, ask him for a list of the machines he’s owned and it reads more like the contents page from Fast Fours and Rotaries and Street Machine magazines. Yep, Damian learned to drive on a bright yellow Series I RX-7 which he says was his first love, and reckons he’s still got a soft spot for rotaries – don’t we all. He moved from the RX-7 to an MX-5, a VZ SS Ute and then onto a Pathfinder. What the… yep, the radical shift was because he was getting too much attention from the boys in blue and needed something a little, well, slower.

The Pathfinder, Damian told MotoFomo, was more for looks than getting dirty. It was a daily driver that he lifted and fitted bigger tyres to it. It never went off-road.

So, how did he go from V8 muscle to Pathfinder poser to this monster Defender 90? Simple. He wanted something with character and was tossing up between either an FJ Cruiser or Defender 90. After spotting a limited-edition 2013 Land Rover Defender 90 in Orkney Grey, Damian was smitten. He missed out on one in his hometown of Melbourne, finding the one you see here for sale in Newcastle. Sight unseen, Damian bought the thing over the phone, flew up to Newcastle and then drove his new Defender home.

And that was almost that. See, Damian didn’t have any plans to modify the Defender. He was just going to use it as his daily driver and leave it alone. “I bought the Defender because I fell in love with the look of it. Never had any plans whatsoever to take it off-road,” he told MotoFomo.

Indeed, for two years the Defender 90 was, with the exception of some soundproofing, some JW Speaker LED headlights, oh, and a new MOMO steering wheel, left stock as a rock. Like so many other things in life, that all changed when Damian met his now wife.

Defender 90 Orkney

Early on in the relationship, he said, they planned a Victorian High Country camping trip and that was the “second wind” he needed to start transforming the Defender. As a kid, Damian used to go camping with his old man and two brothers in the High Country and had caught the camping bug from him, but not his dad’s love of Nissans…Growing up, Damian’s dad owned an MQ, GQ and GU Patrols.

Defender 90 Orkney

Indeed, Damian said his plan for the Defender was organic. It evolved as he needed the truck to be able to do something but the idea was that it would be a tourer rather than a hardcore off-roader. That didn’t last long. “Originally I wanted to just go touring in it. So the first proper mods were a snorkel, Rovacraft tubular bull bar, winch, two-inch lift, shocks and UHF so that my wife and I could go solo to the High Country,” he said.

“It all just snowballed from there into then starting to do harder tracks and adding the gear needed to be able to conquer tougher tracks.”

Defender 90 Orkney

So, he needed something that was versatile enough to handle touring work but tough enough that it wouldn’t curl up into a ball as the tracks got harder. As anyone who’s modified a vehicle will tell you, those two things don’t always go hand in hand.

To make the thing more practical for him and his wife, Damian ripped out the back seats to give them more storage space. He’s got a Drifta kitchen box in there that can be removed from the car so that it’s as light as possible for when he’s driving harder tracks.

The Defender had been running 35s for a long time but Damian binned them in favour of 37s to get as much clearance under the diff as possible; he’s had the thing regeared to suit the bigger tyres. He wanted to get it back to stock gearing because “the car has one of the slowest crawl ratios out of the factory”.

Defender 90 Orkney

And Damian stuck with a two-inch lift to try and keep the centre of gravity down low, an important consideration for a shorty. “The whole driveline had been upgraded to handle, originally, 35s but has done super well with 37s,” Damain said. The axles were swapped out for Hi-Tough Engineering axles (which are claimed to be 50% stronger than the original axles), Ashcroft differentials were fitted inside the standard housings, and Ashcroft CV joints. The front and rear diff locks are air operated with an in-cabin compressor handling those duties.

The 37s are Maxxis Trepadors for harder stuff, Damian said, which he swaps out for Maxxis Razrs for daily driving and touring trips. To ensure the wheels don’t poke out beyond the guards, the Defender is running two-inch wide flared arches from Terra Firma. The 90 is currently running a set of Koni 88 Series long-travel shocks but Damian reckons he’ll soon be swapping them out for Radflo remote reservoir shocks (14-inch at the front and 12-inch at the rear).

Defender 90 Orkney

“Everything I’ve done has a purpose and gets used. I regret nothing I’ve done to the Defender. It is all very useful. The winch (Runva 11,000lb) is super fast for a low mount with 80:1 gearing, and 70mm2 cabling run to two batteries helps on the hard stuff.

The driveline is super tough now but the Defender was never been what you’d call quick. With all the extra weight added to it, Damian wanted to put some spring into the thing’s step and so he grabbed an ECU performance upgrade from Bell Auto Service in the UK. The 190hp add-on tune (it was previously running the 170hp kit) has seen the Defender’s power and torque rise to 141kW and around 500Nm of torque. A larger intercooler from Bell was also added to keep temperatures in check.

Defender 90 Orkney

One of the things that Damian loves about his Defender is the fact it can take on tough terrain, slowly and with precision control and that it’s lightweight. What he’s not so keen on are the ergonomics although the Recaro seats he’s fitted help with that, he reckons.

So, where does Damian like to drive his monster Defender? Anywhere and everywhere, of course. Most weekends, well, non-lockdown weekends, Damian can be found seeking out forest tracks in Victoria, or out in the High Country – his favourite camping is along either the Caledonia or MacAlister rivers.

Defender 90 Orkney

So, what’s next for Damian’s Defender? He’s looking at fitting some long arms and he’s even toying with the idea of a mid-wheelbase conversion, and maybe “an external roll cage,” he laughs. Follow Damian’s Defender by clicking on these Blue Words.

Here’s a full list of modifications:

  • Rovacraft bullbar 
  • Mulgo rock sliders 
  • Custom corner protectors
  • Front runner rear ladder
  • Mantec wheel carrier
  • Tradesmen roof rack when touring
  • APT fuel guard
  • Runva EWX9500 evo-q winch
  • Superior engineering superflex radius arms
  • Gwyn Lewis cranked trailing arms 
  • In cabin winch control and winch isolator 
  • Chromoly drag link and tie rod
  • Koni 88 series long travel shocks (Soon to be Radflo remote res 14″ front 12″ rear)
  • Les Richmond coils 2″
  • 37-inch Maxxis Trepador bias on steel bead locks  16×8 -25
  • 37-inch Maxxis Razr on steel beadlocks 17×9 -30 offset
  • Wider flare arches
  • JW Speaker headlights
  • Lightforce 40-inch twin row LED light
  • Lightforce ROK9 rock lights 
  • Redarc dual battery 
  • Alpine DAB head unit 
  • Sound deadening
  • Viair 485c dual compressor and 2.5 gallon air tank
  • Ashcroft front and rear lockers
  • Ashcroft CVs
  • Ashcroft centre ATB diff
  • Ashcroft output shaft
  • Ashcroft 4.37 CW&P
  • Hi-Tough axles 
  • Oil lubed bearings
  • Heavy duty flanges 
  • Heavy duty drag link and tie rod
  • 170hp Bell Auto Service ECU remap
  • Bell Auto Service intercooler
  • Silicone hoses
  • Allisport straight pipe stainless exhaust 
  • Glind shower hot water system
  • Front runner glass gullwing window x2
  • Custom Recaro specialist M seats
  • Nugget stuff rear recovery point
  • Nugget stuff sealed airbox
  • Nugget stuff snorkel sealing kit
  • Nugget stuff breather kit
  • Rough parts rear window insert and air kit
  • Rough parts wingtop protection

While you’re here subscribe to the MotoFomo Newsletter

Sign Up for the latest news, reviews, advice, buying guides and more delivered to your inbox every week


* indicates required

Previous articleARB releases GVM upgrade for new Toyota HiLux
Next articleToyota reveals HiLux Rogue and Rugged X…
Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.