No Smoke No Poke

Nene Overland : The Smoking Camel

2nd March 2012 | BY NSNP

On the journey up to Manor Farm in Peterborough, we has no idea what to expect from the day ahead. None of the staff here at NSNP have owned a 4×4, let alone driven one off road. The thought of taking your freshly washed, road going daily across a ploughed field would send shivers up the spine of even the most care free owner. That is of course until we met Andy Chaplin from Nene Overland.

Nene have been in the game for 23 years, building and selling expedition vehicles that you wouldn’t think twice about just filling up and driving to the other side of the world in. It’s only recently they’ve turned their attention to more road biased development, building 4x4s capable of defying the laws of physics and everything we’ve learned about how a two and a half tonne car should handle on tarmac. The emphasis on the new Defender ICON range is definitely one of having fun; however they’ve not forgotten their roots and with a change of tyres you could be back to scaling mountains in far flung lands.

The company was born in the mid-eighties out of a need to diversify a farming business under pressure from cheap imports. By focusing on farm machinery sales, and specifically Land Rovers, the owner, Andrew Harrison-Smith, was able to build a company separate from the economically vulnerable farm. We suspect the ability to shift with the times was born in his youth travelling. We were regaled with various adventures abroad in specially prepared Defenders, from jungle challenges to Camel Trophies. In situations like that, you either adapt to the environment, or you don’t make it to the finish line. This trait still permeates the business today, by offering customers a practically limitless list of optional extras, this is a business that isn’t afraid to keep up with increasingly demanding expectations.

We met first met Andy Chaplin at Autosport earlier this year, he has been heading the Defender Icon division of Nene for 18 months now. With a background of successful competition Land Rovers and diesel tuning, he was the perfect man to take Nene’s new Defender ICON brand forwards. Andy has helped develop the range with a watchful eye on performance and his enthusiasm for the green oval shows in all of his work. We’re told about his specially designed handling packages that combines softer progressive springs and bigger anti roll bars with massively uprated shocks. An unusual combination that works well on road and off. “The springs are about 30% lighter than stock, but we make up for it with double the damping capacity in our shocks. The standard items are rated at about 400lbs, ours are rated at 800lbs!!” Custom uprated valving inside the Fox V2 Shocks means the system is tuned specifically to the Defender, and remote reservoirs mean that even flat out across the rough, there’s no chance of shock fade.

Things really start to get interesting when we talk to Andy about his experience competing in his Land Rovers. In 2005 he was offered a free space in a container bound for the Malaysian Rainforest Challenge for 10 days of intense off roading in one the the most beautiful places in the world.

With such a generous offer most people would have been happy to just tag along and spectate, but not Andy. In just 8 weeks he had built himself a full blown competition machine ready for the jungle. Power came from a tuned 2.8litre TGV Diesel with a steel crank, VNT Turbo, 9” ITG airfilter and a custom fuel injector pump taken from an 11 tonne Maan lorry. Just to give you a comparison, the standard engine made 135Bhp and 277 FtLbs of torque at 1400rpm, Andy’s engine made over 170bhp and 500 lbft of torque…all at 1100rpm. With a few revs and a side step of the clutch, it could spin all four of the 35” mud tyres on tarmac - no small feat when they weigh a colossal 6 stones each. Considering this was the vehicles first time out, the fact that it not only finished, but won it’s class, was a real testament to the quality of the build.

These days, modern diesel tuning requires modern techniques, and with the help of Bell Auto Services and Allisport Intercoolers, Nene have developed a comprehensive package to coax more power from Jaguar Land Rover’s growing stable of dervs. All offered with fitting included, you can go from the mild to the mad, depending only on how deep your pockets are. And the best thing about the tuning services they sell? It’s that every component has been tested, tuned, driven and data logged. In the age of never ending statistics, when you can produce solid real world data that will back up your claims like Nene can, we’d be shouting it from the roof tops.

Whilst being shown around the workshops we were given a sneak peak in to just how far it’s possible to push these diesels, let’s just say one turbo wasn’t enough and there was more smoke than burning tyre factory. But it’s not all about power figures. Realy. No really. Ok Ok. Just hear us out!

The Defender Sport Wagon we were lent for the day was one of their highest specced models sporting the 2.4 TDci four pot. Before we got in we knew it wasn’t going to set land speed records, but to get caught up in the numbers would be to miss the point entirely. These are cars you get in and actually have to drive. The steering is heavier than modern standards, but is deliberately so because it involves you more in the experience. Every apex kissed comes with a moment of pride and each gear change is accompanied by a satisfying push as the turbo spools. Believe it or not this thing actually handles too, to the point where it would rather lift a wheel than let go of the tarmac The Sport Wagon is not something you drive because you want to get somewhere faster than the next guy, but because you’ve found a new B road to work. And this is what’s so refreshing about these Land Rovers, even though you could happily go mud plugging, you’d have a hard time persuading yourself you’d have more fun. To say we were sad to hand the keys back would have been an understatement.

We genuinely like what the guys at Nene are doing right now. By taking the road less traveled and building performance cars using an unlikely base vehicle, they’ve created something new that’s exciting to drive. It’s an alternative interpretation of a model that has been around for years. And the fact that they are doing it so successfully begs the question, “Why hasn’t it been done before?”

The simple answer is; because nobody else could.

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