The classic Defender was an authentic piece of heritage. As a heritage-style vehicle, the original interior was built for the most basic needs and minimal controls. The dashboard, sans a glove box and usually with a much much older radio, is surprisingly still a popular choice when a new Defender owner is looking to restore or buy a Defender. The TD5, while a slimmer option that offers a bit more legroom, is definitely lacking when it comes to more modern amenities.
The introduction of the Puma-style dashboard into the Defender came along with the switch from the TD5 engine to the Puma engine in the late 2000s. The newer engine, of course, needed newer, more modern controls and a much more modern dashboard to match.
Now, from companies like ECD, the Puma dashboard is the new standard for the custom Defender, and the preference has quickly changed to one for a Puma dash Defender. While this is the new standard, this upgrade isn’t a restoration for the faint of heart, meaning it isn’t as easy as pulling the original TD5 dashboard off and sticking the newer styled one on in its place. The process of upgrading and swapping out the dashboard is quite extensive.
As experts in Puma dash conversions, we follow quite a few steps to restore the original dash to the more modern Left Hand Drive Puma dash. The first step, tear-down, is, of course, always the easiest part. To demo the original dashboard, it is as simple as unbolting it from the frame of the original Defender. After unbolting the original dash from the frame, all the original wiring (a daunting amount of wiring and nicknamed “spaghetti” often by the techs in the shop) is still connected to the vehicle. This is where we get to start being a little more intentional with how we proceed. The original Defender wiring needs a major upgrade to be able to take on the challenge of being upgraded to the Puma dash. It’s best to organize and label wires as we go through and disconnect them from the original dash. Everything from wires, connectors, and inputs is labeled as it is all disconnected.
ECD has set out to develop brand new wiring harnesses and a blueprint to follow to make all connections easier to manage and follow for routine maintenance or repair. The schematics were created by our in-house engineer and allow for easy maintenance and simple wiring harness creation. If you follow us on Instagram or TikTok, you’ve probably seen a member of our team organizing and building out the wiring harnesses for builds on a large pegboard. When doing a full rebuild, we’ve found this to be the best and most efficient way for this step of the process.
Once we’re ready to rebuild, we’ve familiarized ourselves with every nick and the original setup of the Defender; this step is important when putting everything “back together.” Once our team has laid the groundwork for the new wiring harness to go back into place, they begin the painstaking process of relaying everything to its proper output. Once again, the Defender looks like when we first remove the TD5, wires sticking out everywhere. As a full ground-up rebuild, we’ve already done the process of repairing and doing any bulkhead adjustments as needed. We’ve also completed all of our insulation and any sealing that should go behind the new dash.
Putting the new Puma dash in place, our straightforward system allows us to connect a-to-b as we install other cosmetic details such as LED lights, our custom headliners, blind spot side mirrors, etc. As everything comes together, our upholstery team has wrapped the new dash in the client’s choice of material (we’ve seen everything from leather to sheepskin). Custom-ordered gauges, the new backup camera, and a custom painted din plate are installed and connected into the new dash.
Once it’s time for the new stereo to go in, our team is fully into testing that the wiring is connected properly and that all buttons are in order. It seems like an easy process to require everything, but to upgrade to completely new systems and setups that weren’t originally there is quite the process; just imagine everything that needs to be connected to function in a modern vehicle. All the rewiring is done in stages, from one side of the build to the other. Things like AC are a huge upgrade for the restored Defender, and it’s not something that comes with our vehicles when they are imported due to import laws.
With the new stereo in place, the classic Defender is starting to look more modern and wrapped in beautifully stitched leather to match the design of the door cards. The build truly starts to come together, and the change from non-function classic conveniently modern is complete.
If we have a client who prefers to keep their classic TD5 dashboard, ECD still has a way to make modern upgrades for the client’s convenience. As seen in our Project Alpine Yeti, we restored the NAS’s original TD5 dash by upgrading the old radio with a conversion kit for a more modern radio with Apple Carplay, Bluetooth, and USB charging. We also upgraded the buttons with a newer style and rewired the original outputs to handle the newest upgrades.
Check out our vehicle showcase to see how we restored the classic dash in all of our other builds.
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