Defender Auto Transmission Conversion

Early last week,  I’d tapped Anton as to whether he could give a revised guestimate on completion (essentially for the purposes of our own planning). The gist of the reply was, “The auto box has just been completed… hoorah

It took Martin 15 days… however that said it is very good… rest assured.  At the end of the process we sent Mr Ashcroft [David of Ashcroft Transmissions] a list of things to consider for the future! Paul is working on your Azalai [pod] at the same time.  We have made some cute improvements for which I hope you don’t mind… For example including an outside light for underneath the awning, a new console / electronics system. Redesigned water and waste tanks with all copper hose tails, aluminium finish on the roof etc etc… little details I hope improves the Azalai no end. To be honest it would take a wee while to wander around and show you all the improvements and extras. Admittedly I haven’t decided on the rear tail lift system… Justin compiled a complete list for me and to be honest we haven’t decided…..

Timescales… I shall consult the boys … at the moment I have someone working full time on yours when ever possible….”

So clearly a lot to take in – so last Friday we popped in again unannounced (over lunchtime) to see progress for ourselves and grab a few pictures. Paul was at lunch but still came in to talk us through the work and challenges to date (sorry Paul for disturbing your lunch but thanks for the in-depth breakdown – it was appreciated and insightful).

The Gear Selector Lever evidences the auto gear-box conversion, the cowling is still removed. The ‘mode’ button is a legacy from the Range Rover donor vehicle and is redundant in the Defender.

As Anton had advised the auto-box conversion was now in and ‘plumbed’. But no one expected it to take fifteen days! (Even accounting for the first one having been written off by the courier putting a fork-lift through the pallet.) OEC explained that the kit arrived with no instruction, and that several connections and junctures did not mate with the Puma engined Defender out of the box (nor with some post out of the box mods either!) Notably:

  • the connections to the transmission oil cooler had been completely re-engineered by OEC,
  • Ashcroft subsequently sent a modified connector fork for the Gear Selector lever as that wouldn’t fit (too wide)
  • and some work was needed to re-jig the hi-low selector mechanism to stop that lever being impeded by the dash console.
  • A neat reversing camera has been fitted to the pod
  • The oil cooler connectors sounded the most spectacular, as on ‘take one’, when the engine was fired up, oil was sprayed all over the garage! (The evidence of that could still be seen in the immediate vicinity, despite the clear-up.)

All said and done though, the unit looks the part, and as Paul said, “It’s like it is meant to be there” – which is a tribute to Ashcroft Tramsmission’s work in developing this mod – which of course is essential for me, with regards to adapting the vehicle so I can actually drive it. Now it’s in we can look at sorting the hand-controls’ fitting – we think via GM Coachworks in conjunction and cooperation with OEC.

It seems (with my reading between the lines) that the kit might not have been fitted to many Puma engined Defenders to date, outside of Ashcroft’s own workshops. I think OEC enjoyed the learning, and were certainlty  pleased with the finished job, but they did indeed have some feedback for Ashcroft Transmissions that might yet improve the experience for future fitters! All that’s left (and again testament to the diligence and attention to detail of OEC) is to fit a light to the gear selector array, as this was omitted from the kit.

We also found out that Anton worked, “….In Hluhluwe Umfolozi [park in KwaZuluNatal], Kruger National Park and all over… another tale for another day”. We didn’t get a chance to catch-up on that yet – but we would be interested in hearing of what he was doing whilst at Hluhluwe Umfolozi – it really is a special place and worth spending some time getting to know if you are ever in KZN. We have certainly accrued a fair few weeks there over the years – and we intend it to be the official start-line of the Indlovu Trans-Africa Drive.

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