Very few Land Rover Defenders left the factory as native automatic transmissions. This was mostly due to supply and demand. America loves us some gas guzzling automatics that we don’t have to think about driving, while the rest of the world has been penny-pinching their way through on diesel and manual gearboxes since the beginning of time.
While most of the NAS Defenders were fitted with automatic transmissions, the ROW Defenders are largely manual. To legally import a Defender into the United States it must match the specifications it left the factory with – meaning that most imports are going to be manual (this goes for both RHD and LHD Defenders). So what is the solution for those who want or need an autobox on their Defender?
Converting a Manual Land Rover Defender to an Automatic Defender
With the right tools, supplies, adapters, and a bit of luck, anyone could technically convert their Land Rover Defender from a manual gearbox to an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, there are few kits readily available in the US and few workshops equipped to take on the task. Furthermore, the 300Tdi and Rover V8 engines have a few options for swapping, while the 200Tdi becomes a much more complicated process.
Skipping over some of the technical details, I’ll simply say that we’re equipped to manage the conversion from a manual gearbox to an automatic transmission with relative ease. We’ve done it quite a few times on our shop trucks and our customer builds. We were hesitant at first to do the conversion – mostly out of our desire to remain purists to the Defender experience. But once we started driving one with an automatic transmission we realized how much more civilized and enjoyable the ride can be. One of our favorite shop trucks, Rocky, is a wonderful automatic conversion behind a 300Tdi. Not only is it fun to drive, but can cruise down the highway at 80+ MPH while getting great fuel economy.
The Easiest Way To Convert a Defender to an Automatic
In the United Kingdom, a lot of the 300Tdi Discovery’s came with automatic gearboxes. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they also came with a proclivity for rusting out and failing manual inspections. The motors and gearboxes are quite reliable and can be easily rebuilt, so we often buy up old Discos that have failed MOT, but have low miles on them and are in good mechanical shape. We’re then able to rebuild the motor and transmission together and create a complete kit. There are a few different things we have to do to modify the Disco 300Tdi to the Defender, but they’re essentially the same motor. For us, swapping the package out as one is the best and most economical solution.
With the mechanical elements in place, we can simply wire up the motor to the current loom – or install a new 300Tdi bulkhead loom and engine harness. For the most part, that’s it. Ok, perhaps overly simplified. Perhaps we’ll make a video the next time we do a conversion to see some of the things you have to deal with, such as new motor mounts, different gearbox mounts, and the most important part: what style of automatic shifter to install?
Automatic Shifter Options for the Land Rover Defender
The automatic transmission that comes out of a Disco will fit in the right spot for the Defender’s transfer case selector, but the actual gear selector placement will be determined by which direction you want to go. The gear selector is managed by a mechanical cable, giving us a couple of options:
- Standard T-Handle Disco Selector similar to the NAS Defenders
- A push-button Lokar or similar rod or cable operated shifter
With the first option you will have to fabricate up a place to locate the shifter. You can create a mounting bracket yourself or buy a NAS console and use that as your cubby and mounting location. For the Lokar shifter – which we like the best – we’ve been able to fabricate a mounting bracket and cable placement that allows the push button shifter to look and feel like the original manual stick. For those not paying attention, they will look nearly identical. We like to think it’s the ultimate in theft deterrent in the US, as few young car thieves even know how to drive a stick.
Hopefully that answers your question about converting a Land Rover Defender to an automatic and some of the process involved. We can convert any of our builds and also offer the service to some of our restoration customers when we have free time in the workshop. Drop us a note if you have further questions and we will update this guide.