Les Richmond Land Rover – Range Rovers are divisive cars. Some swear by them, others won’t touch them with a barge pole. For our colleague Ben Sumbloke, there was no dilemma – buy a good ring, then make it 10 meters long and bulletproof.
“I’ve always loved Range Rovers,” Ben explains. “I had a 1976 short wheelbase as my first car and never looked back.”
Les Richmond Land Rover
He followed his P76-powered Shorty with an ’88 and an ’89 before moving to the long-wheelbase 1993 LSE. “Only 150 of these were sold in Australia, so they are hard to find and highly sought after.”
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Having said that, Ben didn’t pay for the drugs: “I made a low offer to the seller and he refused. Then I made another slightly less stupid offer and they let me in.
Although the Range Rover hadn’t endured much abuse or ill-conceived modifications when he bought it, he convinced Ben to send the car straight to Les Richmond Automotive (LRA) in Melbourne for his rugged ‘Firestorm’ build. did not stop.
“Some people take their cars to LRA for an engine change or suspension upgrade, but the Storm Series cars are completely rebuilt from the ground up,” says Ben. “Having said that, I’m a little crazy.”
The regular LRA Firestorm featured a surprising amount of kit, including an LS V8 conversion for serious off-road adventures, but Ben was among the first to go with the V8 loaded LSA.
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Usually reserved for the Camaro ZL-1, Cadillac CTS-V or late-model HSVs, the 6.2-liter Gen IV LSA is a Caddy-spec unit for 556 horses out of the box, nearly three times the horsepower. Stock colored V8.
The LRA has been developing and modifying Rangies for decades, so Ben’s desire for all these horses came as a welcome challenge. Andrew Richmond was the main contact on the build, liaising with Ben on every aspect, from the body to the suspension, paint, interior and the installation of that awesome blown engine.
“I was the most annoying customer I ever had,” admits Ben. “I was researching things, then changing things as I went along; some things worked and some didn’t, but the LRA always respected my vision.”
The changes Ben suggested along the way sought to raise the building rather than cut corners for cost or convenience. “I figured if I was going to do it, I’d better do it once and do it right!” A good philosophy and one that saw this classic Range Rover series go from mild to wild.
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A ‘regular’ LRA Firestorm upgrade involves removing the body for a complete chassis overhaul. The front end has been strengthened and the rear coil towers have been widened to allow for longer springs. The dude and body mount are caught as well, but Ben steps forward, going after Kamal.
“When you’re off-road, you don’t want rollovers; they prevent your axle from fully articulating,” he explains. “But on the road, you want them to turn or drive like a boat.”
For many Forby owners, this means getting out and lying in the mud to disconnect the bars, but Ben’s desire to combine civil on-road manners with brutally efficient off-road performance was a specific solution. “LRA built a pair of sway bars from scratch, just like the sway bars, and fitted a pair of Nissan freewheel hubs to the ends,” he says.
Powered by compressed air, they disconnect and reconnect at the push of a button. In fact, the on-board supercharger powers several systems, including front and rear differential lockers and a high/low range selector, which can be selected from a custom control panel in the center console. The panel also has a button to add an Ashcroft center differential, which replaces the original stick-on joint.
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Ashcraft has automatic torque bias. It does the same thing as the old joint, except it’s bulletproof. It locks when traction is lost, but you can also lock it manually,” says Ben. “With these LS builds, it’s really important to still have an automatic lock. You need it to deliver power to both axles when you lose control, which happens often.
As brutal as it sounds, Ben’s LSA Range Rover is also civilized. The original walnut and door inlays remain, and LRA has re-carpeted the floor and reupholstered the original seats in leather.
“They’re just nice seats in the first place; there was no need to change them,” Ben said. “You can’t describe a Range Rover until you’ve driven it. The ‘commander’ seating position with a view of the bonnet is perfect for a tall guy like me.
Of course, no good four-wheel drive would be complete without a rear end, and the Benz is no exception. “I emailed LRA with an outline of what I was looking for: drawers; refrigerator slides; 50 liter food grade water bladder; and space for an amp, sub and three different storage areas. The Ben guys went above and beyond expectations, making it shortening it and making good use of the available space.
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As you can see from the photos, this Range Rover is no pony. It’s built for off-roading and does just that.
“These are the places you can go to make the car as awesome as it is: the Victorian High Country, Fraser Island, things like that,” advises Ben. “That’s why I did it; so my wife and I can get there comfortably, do some tough four-wheeling and then come home.”
Thanks to the build quality, Ben can do this whenever he wants, but he also doesn’t look out of place on his way to a nice hotel.
“It’s a really nice car to drive and I drive it as much as I can. Custom cars never end, but I’m really happy with how it came together; the guys at LRA they did a lot of work. Good job. Ben lets out With a big sigh. It’s clear how he feels about the car. “And I like looking at it as much as I like driving it.”
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Rangi presents a familiar look. The ‘Classic’ series was finally in production from 1970 to 1996, but Ben’s LRA Firestorm has some significant deviations from the standard. Lift kit and bars aside, Fat Boy flares completely change the profile of the wheel arches and, along with custom Eagle links and BFGoodrich 315-section mid-terrain tires, give it a stance it lacks from the factory.
Not only does the mighty LSA heart need some serious cooling, so does everything else. The custom radiator has an integrated engine oil cooler on the left and a trans cooler on the right. There’s another trans cooler up front with a water-to-air intercooler, and another radiator underneath for the hydraulic system. Ben can stop the thermo fans with a button in the cockpit. This is important when you are crossing a river.
“A lot of four-wheel drivers lather up in the manual,” Ben tells us, “but after driving both, the car is much smoother.” After all, even the most hardened off-roader spends most of its time on the road! Featured in the Benz lineup is the world’s first one-touch shifter. He, LRA, and Overline Technology teamed up to make it work on the 6L90E automobile. It even beats the throttle on landing. It’s unreal,” says Ben!
“We had a lot of problems with the gauges. We bought a loom from a company in the US who promised it would hook up and work, but nothing happened,” says Ben. I finally got Melbourne. I found Overline Technology. They provided screen change and tap function for 6L90E. The display replaces the tacho and provides engine temp, trans temp, oil pressure and intake temp. Colors are given online. And it also customized the screen.”
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Along with installing some monster mechanics, Les Richmond Automotive handled the entire body rebuild and refinish. “The color was a big decision; I spent months stalking car parks and looking at carbon black BMWs and fell in love with them,” says Ben. “It’s one of the best automotive colors you can find. When the sun goes down, the blues pop right out.”
Ben had reservations but found a solution, “Maybe not the most practical color for a four-by, but it has a 3M clear wrap over it so it didn’t scratch too much!”