RANGE ROVER FIRESTORM
6.2L supercharged V8, road-legal Rangie on 35s? Stop it…
It’s not often I look at a custom 4WD and just say “that’s perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing.” But that’s exactly what was written in my thought bubble as I opened an email from a bloke named Ben suggesting I might be interested in featuring his Range Rover Classic.
Ok, one look at this thing and I was “interested” but only because if I’d replied with “absolutely frothing” it would have been a bit unprofessional. Nevertheless, a date was quickly teed up and the shoot went ahead. You can probably already see why I was so keen, it’s a super-tidy Rangie Classic which are getting thin on the ground these days, but wait until you see the spec-sheet on this thing – even people who don’t like Landies would have to agree it’s the four-wheel driver’s equivalent to porn.
Top shelf suspension, proper off-road tyres, chassis strengthening, driveline upgrades, increased interior comfort, oh, and that blown V8… if they’d made them like this from the factory nobody would be driving anything else.
Come take a look at one of the nicest road-legal 4WDs you’re likely to ever lay eyes on.
Ben actually owned a couple of Rangies before this one. He started off with a Leyland P76-powered two-door which he actually bought off his dad before he could even drive – so standard Land Rover indoctrination really.
He then moved onto a very well sorted `89 model that got the works: 4.6L V8 conversion, lots of suspension, rubber and twin lockers. This served him well for his ten years of ownership, until the rigours of hardcore wheeling took its toll and as Ben says “she got a bit tired, so I started looking for a newer one to build up.”
It was around this same time that Ben heard about some mad bugger south of the border throwing a 6.3L LS3 into an old Rangie, and as somebody who likes high-powered engines combined with his favourite 4X4 he thought he’d better investigate.
If you’ve ever owned a Land Rover, you’ve almost certainly already heard of Les Richmond Automotive (LRA). They’re one of the go-to green oval workshops in the country and have been modifying British off-roaders for decades now. Over the past few years they’ve been working on swapping the GM-based LS range of V8s into early Discos and Rangies and given that it is a fairly major job that involves such things as laminating the chassis and beefing up the diffs to cope with the huge amount of torque being pumped out of 6.3 litres of angry engines, they thought they’d better offer up a full drive-in-drive-out service rather than a DIY kit (at least at this stage). And so the Storm Series of Land Rovers was born.
While LS engines are known for their high-power applications and easy tuneability, they’re a lot of motor to put into a Rangie so some pretty full-on mods are needed to stop the engines from destroying everything in sight. But when done right, the result is essentially a brand new vehicle that will do anything, go anywhere and retain immaculate on-road manners with plenty of poke available should it be needed… On that note, we can neither confirm nor deny that Ben has chopped an LS3-powered Commodore with his rig.
Ahem, right… moving on then.
After ditching his built Rangie, Ben “upgraded” to exactly the same car, just four years newer and with no mods on it. He had a plan though, and it was a little larger than just a body lift and a set of flares.
As mentioned, it was around this time that he had been in touch with LRA and Andrew Richmond, who runs the show, teed up a ride for Ben in the first LS3-swapped Rangie they had built. “Despite being the same model as my `89, it was a completely different car, “Ben says. “The suspension was way better, the ride was vastly improved and yeah, it was also three or four times faster – I was hooked.”
From there a couple of years passed as he started saving for the build and refining his plans, working with Andrew throughout the whole process.
Finally, the build began.
The car was stripped back to a body and a frame and things started happening. Long range tanks were added, barwork and underbody protection were bolted up, dual batteries and lights were wired in and everything that you’d find on a well-sorted fourby was thrown at it. But the majority of the time was spent on the LSA conversion.
The engine is actually fairly stock, but with 432kW and well over 700NM of torque it’s not really a big deal. The stock belt system has been swapped out for a Concept One pulley kit, which effectively narrows the engine and ancillaries to comfortably fit between the frame rails and clear the steering box, however the pulley bearings were designed for road cars rather than 4X4s, and as such needed upgrading to sealed units to cope with the regular mud dunkings.
The exhaust was originally a combination of 2.5in and 3in diameter pipe, but both Ben and Andrew felt it was too restrictive, so it’s been bumped up to a custom twin 3in system that travels through a big centre muffler before hitting a pair of Varex Bimodal mufflers. These have a solenoid in the muffler that is activated via a switch on the dash. In the muffled position the gasses are diverted through the sound-deadening material and the noise is kept to a dull roar. In the open position the exhaust is routed through a straight-through section of pipe and the force-fed eight is really allowed to sing.
Interestingly, the standard GM E67 ECU was retained, which was no small feat at the time of the build and this is one of the first LSA-converted vehicles in the country without an aftermarket computer. The trouble comes from not using the standard body control module from the donor vehicle… I’ll be honest, Ben went into a lot of details here and I barely understood one in every five words, but let’s just say that after a bit of auto-electrickery work from the team at Overline Technology the whole thing now works sweet and essentially has the same bells and whistles you’d find in an HSV.
Now, in all reality if you were to throw this much power at a stock Rangie driveline and chassis you’d probably grenade absolutely everything downstream of the motor and twist your frame into a pretzel before you’d got out of your driveway.
To prevent this from happening, strengthening braces were welded to the chassis and the standard transmission was turfed for a GM 6L90E six-speed auto that was grafted to a fully rebuilt LT230 transfer case with an Ashcroft helical centre diff conversion (which puts power to the ground awesomely according to Ben).
From there the rear diff was replaced with a Tru Hi 9 centre that utilises a Ford-style 9in high pinion diff and custom axles. This was replaced with a low pinion version of the same diff after one of the pinion bearings let go. Since then there have been no issues. The front diff copped an Ashcroft diff locker to go with the ARB unit out back and the same upgraded heavy-duty axles and some heavy-duty CVs for good measure.
Initially Ben opted to go with an Intelliride full airbag system for the suspension, which necessitated and upgrade for the standard alternator to a 220A unit, but after numerous bush trips and constant worries over the system’s longevity, he bit the bullet and decided to change them out for a more common coil arrangement, which he’s had no problems with and wishes he’d gone that way from the start. Things you learn on a build eh, mate? Cleverly, he kept the twin air compressors from the bags and uses one to run any air activation he needs and the other for tyre inflation duties. They are cross-linked too, so if one breaks down the other can still be used for everything.
Koni shocks at each corner were rebuilt to LRA’s specifications and apparently handle extremely well over every terrain, while a 2in body lift and Fat Boy wheel arch flares make room for the 35in BFG KM2s mounted to 16×8 Thunder alloys.
STOP IT… IT’S TOO MUCH
Look, I could bang on about this thing for about 100 more pages and still probably not get the entire story down. I haven’t even touched on the custom upholstered interior, the complete dash and firewall swap from a `94 soft-dash model, or the 2-pak respray this thing has copped, but just trust me, it would be a brave person to say they had a more modified, road-legal Range Rover in this country. Sure, it’s been a long road with plenty of hiccups, as any custom build is, and it has has taken a lot of money to get it to where it is, but given Ben has plans to keep this rig for at least the next ten years, the money and time invested start making a lot more sense.
I have to take my hat off to you and the LRA team mate – it’s perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing.