Top Cat

Originally Published: October 2018 Words: Richard Johnstone Pictures: Mike Trott
first featured in the landy, september 2017

When Richard Johnstone bought a one-owner 200Tdi Discovery to use as an everyday runabout and off- road toy, he had no idea that one day it would be reborn – literally – as a brand new vehicle. And it all started with a small rust hole...

I developed a passion for Land Rovers from the age of 14, although I guess some would argue it was even earlier than that. I still have my favourite toy car today that I used to push around the living room carpet, my trusty Defender – only now I have real ones too!

The first vehicle I owned was a 1991 Discovery 200Tdi. Not a bad starting point for my first full-scale Land Rover, especially as I was the second owner from new. It had just 35,000 miles on the clock and came with full Land Rover service history. Most would probably agree there was room for improvement, however – which is why it’s now been rebuilt into a 100” Tomcat.

I bought the five-door, seven-seat Discovery to get around for work (I was contracting on farms at the time) and for weekend outings on green lanes and at pay and play sites. The Discovery  had modifications even then, with five-bar tread plates on the door bottoms, rock sliders and heavy-duty bumpers. I also upgraded the LT77 gearbox for an R380.

Unfortunately, the wheel arch had a rot hole (shock) next to the rear seatbelt and, being too busy with work to fix it, the vehicle was parked up.The plan was to repair it and keep it for off- road days and competitions... and that’s when the Tomcat seed was sown.

I emailed Paul at Tomcat Motorsport, who gave me some options to think about. Then a meeting was set up and off to Lincoln I went. It wasn’t long after that meeting that the stripping of the old body began, removing everything in sight to leave the bare chassis and axles.

The rolling chassis was taken up to Tomcat for work to get underway on building the skeleton 

Meanwhile, the trusty 200Tdi unit was checked over and the timing belt and tensioners were changed, along with any wearing parts.The R380 gearbox was also given the once over.

The plan was to build the 100” Tomcat with the radiator in the rear and a full-size AlliSport intercooler in the front.We wanted to move the engine back behind the front axle, too, allowing us to fit a concealed winch in the chassis so
the approach angle remained unaffected. Extra lighting has been built into the lip on the roof air duct using an LED light bar, and the rear
of the Discovery chassis was chopped off and
a Defender crossmember added to give us a better departure angle.

Tree sliders protect the body and provide a step, while a long-travel suspension set-up has been built using Fox remote-reservoir shocks. SuperPro bushes are fitted all round to give a nice ride and great articulation.

The Detroit Truetrac limited-slip differentials were added when the axles still drove the Discovery, so they’ve been left in for the Tomcat, too. I did have them sent off for a once-over by Ashcrofts before being bolted back to the nicely stripped and recoated axles, however, which is never a bad idea.

Paul fabricated a removable tow hitch in case the Tomcat would need a tow at any point. I’d like to think it will always be me lending a hand 

to others, but you do have to be prepared for these matters!

AlliSport also fabricated a fuel tank to sit in the rear under the radiator.Also located in the back are twin Optima batteries controlled by a T-Max split charge system, with a hat-tip to JGS 4x4, while the spare wheel and high-lift jack are also tucked away in the rear.

Inside, two woven carbon-fibre adjustable bucket seats provide somewhere for the crew to dwell.The dials are from a Td5 Defender, with LED NAS-spec lights and indicators. In addition, a GPS speedo and compass have been installed in the centre of the dash. Handy if I’m fighting an OS map in my cabin at any point...

The steering column was taken from my donor vehicle and all wearing parts, from stub axles to bearings, have been changed thanks to James at JGS 4x4, who kindly supplied all the necessary bits. My Mach 5 rims were silver, so they were repainted and a new set of Cooper STT tyres slipped around them. Before I knew it, I had received the call for the first fitting. So I trundled up to Tomcat and sat in the vehicle for the first time while Paul measured me up for the driver’s seat. Once that was sorted, the next question was ‘where would you like the gearstick?’ I held my left arm out with my hand hovering somewhere faintly resembling the middle of the cabin and said ‘there please!’

Once the first fittings were done, the vehicle was stripped ready for painting. Having colour- co-ordinated it in black and orange, the final build could begin. Lots of careful planning was put into the build; as a lot of this project was 

new ground to the Tomcat team, we wanted to get it right.

Small flush-fit LED lights on the side of the vehicle were added to help when off-roading at night and for competing annually on the Mac 4x4 Challenge to see code boards. It’s the same with the extra high-level reverse lights connected to the reversing switch, as well as a push switch
on the dash.The reversing camera is definitely something I’ve added to the original 1991 truck
I used to drive – looking for code boards in the forest at night isn’t nearly as awkward now!

Trying to converse with your co-driver in a cab with no sound deadening is fine – at least

when using the rally communications unit which is hard-wired between the two passengers, as is the alarm system.

A Brantz trip computer is also wired into the dash in front of the co-driver, so tulip diagrams are easily calculated.There’s a first aid kit on
a push button fastening behind the navigator’s seat, with various storage nets running down the transmission tunnel and even a cup holder, too.

With the vehicle complete, there was just the red tape to contend with.The IVA test day came and the DVLA denied the use of the old chassis number and registration details as the car was made up of all new or reconditioned parts.

So, in a true turn up for the books, the old Discovery was declared scrapped and a new vehicle registration form was handed to me to fill out. I already had the personalised registration on retention, so the option of putting it on a brand new 15-reg plate was binned and my own was put on instead.

I’m sure a lot of people would find it pretty cool to be running about in a Tomcat on a brand new registration. But the best thing about all this has got to be that as the DVLA sees this as a totally new vehicle, I don’t have to worry about MOTs for the first three years! It’s quite amazing what a small rust hole can drive you to...


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