As Twisted arrives at the ‘home of the brave’ this year, Peter J Robinson sits down with Tom Maxwell, CEO of Twisted North America to talk about the NA-V8 line-up and what it means to be bringing an icon to ‘Murica.
Everyone remembers their ‘first’. What was your first experience with Defender?
Too many occurrences to count. Growing up in the north of England, everyone had one, or knew someone who had one. I distinctively remember a brown D90 that used to rattle around the village where I went to school. Its paint was actually white, but it was always rim to roof in muck – used like a Defender was originally intended.
The first time I drove a Defender, it was a 200TDi LT77 D110. I was still young and hadn’t driven many cars, but I remember thinking the gearbox was unlike anything I’d used before. The way you feed the gears rather than force them – an active driving experience. Nothing quite like it.
What does your ultimate Defender spec look like?
110 Station Wagon in Willow Green or Nara Bronze. Cream or ivory leather interior up front, for a touch of comfort. Empty load area – high level storage for throwing my climbing gear in, and an integrated sleeping solution so I have somewhere to pitch up for the night.
Drivetrain-wise, if you had asked me a year ago, I would have said a big V8 – nothing quite like passing stuff in a vehicle that people associate with being slow and bulky. However, now that we have our electric solution, I like the idea of being a little more under the radar. Same performance capabilities but a little less shouty. Also, people’s faces are a picture when you pull up to a charging point in a Defender.
What is it about the Defender that has kept it going since its inception in the 40s?
Undoubtedly, its personality.
Look, there are lots of reasons: style, capability, more recently iconic status, but simply put, it is the personality of the thing. If you love Defender, you get it. Others get it. You are part of the club, the little Defender wave you get when one comes the other way, that’s what it’s all about. I’ve been lucky enough to drive all sorts of vehicles – but nothing makes me feel the way I do when I’m driving a Defender, and I know I’m not the only one. That’s why Defender fans are so passionate and why the vehicle has been so successful.
Twisted are arguably the leading authority on the modern Defender. What do you think galvanised that?
Focusing on function over form – a Twisted is not a collection of bolt-on bits, but a precision, completely reengineered vehicle. Nothing is added for the sake of superficial value, everything is added for a purpose and with a specific vision. Couple that with an uncompromising attention to detail, and you are on to a winner. When you sit in a Twisted you know that every interaction the user has with the vehicle has been considered. Everywhere you touch, soft and forgiving. Everywhere you brush, kick, use; hard-wearing. Every angle, every option, every element; diligently contemplated. We’ve taken a true British legend and added new elements of everyday drivability, reliability and usability – while retaining and celebrating the soul of the original. You cannot argue with that ethos.
How and when did the conversation about bringing the Twisted brand to the US as a separate entity occur?
I met Charles at Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2017. We stayed in contact whilst I was working on other projects. In early 2019, both our schedules aligned, and we finally managed to catch up. I was looking for the right brand to work with, and Charles was looking for someone with the right level of experience in the market. He invited me up to the Thirsk HQ and we ended up talking an afternoon away, recounting Defender tales, thinking up ideas, building the vision. It is easy to work with someone when you are both deeply passionate about brand integrity and user experience. It just made sense to do it.
Will Twisted NA be offering restoration, upgrades, and general fettling to the US consumer over a pint?
Of course. We love Defender – it is that simple. Whilst we are excited to be building ground-up Twisted vehicles, we also know there is a plethora of owners in the US and Canada who want to restore, rework, modify – ‘twist’ – their own vehicles. We would be foolish to miss an opportunity to work with them.
The retail space we have in Austin, Texas will be a showroom by day and an event space by night. It features a bar which will serve coffee and Yorkshire tea in the AM and alcohol in the PM. I am hoping we will be able to offer John Smiths on tap, but that may be wishful thinking!
How long are clients going to have to wait roughly for a NA-V8?
6 months from initial order – and it will stay that way. I am the worst when it comes to buying something and having to wait for it, like a kid at Christmas. I would not want to wait longer than 6 months and I do not expect our clients to. Whilst the nature of a custom vehicle means there is always a lead time, nobody should have to wait 12 to 24 months for their Twisted. When you scale a business and its production correctly, lead times should not grow. Our COO, Bruce Riggs, has a proven track record of delivering productions on much larger scales than ours, so I am completely confident that as a team, we will always get it done right.
The 130 double cab is, for argument’s sake, the largest in the range. I’m a huge fan of the capability the vehicle gives, having used it on alpine shoots wherever possible. Do you see the 90 or the 110 taking a larger stake of the interest?
I think I can answer this question best by outlining the allocations I have made for the NA-V8. Of the 200 we are building over the next 5 years; 25 are D90 Soft Tops, 25 are D90 Station Wagons. 70 are Defender 110 Station Wagons, 10 are Defender 110 Double Cabs and 10 are Defender 130 High Caps.
That makes 160 – with the remaining 40 allocated to special projects. We are building an EV Defender to do a NORRA electric run, a truck on the MOAD platform to tackle BAJA and some vehicles for the Gumball Rally. Then we have some brand partnerships in the works, with some vehicles for our ambassadors. We are also building lots of demonstrator vehicles for various locations across the US. I am passionate about showing rather than telling. The best way to understand our vehicles is to experience them.
Why Virginia as a base on the East Coast?
It made sense as a good starting point. Good port access, varied terrains as you head west, availability of land and facility. Where we are in South Boston, we have the space to do what we want and an incredible pool of local engineering and racing talent to hire from.
As we grow, we will be expanding, as you would expect. We have secured further production facilities close to the showroom in Austin, and are in discussion phases for our California, New York, and Miami retail spaces.
Bringing a new marque, let alone an old one, with an incredible pedigree to market is not for the faint-hearted. What have you done so far in your career that’s prepared you to tackle the US?
Whilst the Defender is clearly steeped in British heritage, I believe that, for the US, the Twisted is better seen as a new disruptive offering as an alternative to the often-soulless choice of performance 4x4s in the market. I have started and run disruptive companies in the past, and so am reasonably accustomed to finding a gap and quickly growing a brand.
On the vehicle specifically, I previously managed another business in the same niche; more restoration than reengineering, but I got to know the Defender very well across this time. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I would say so far, I have been involved with more than 200 custom Defender builds into the US and Canada.
What sort of unit sales are you expecting in the first three years, once you are at full output?
I’d hope that by the end of year 3 we’ll have sold the entire run of 200 NA-V8s, and will be considering what we’re going to do next in the ICE space. We are on target to achieve this.
Then we have our NAS-E electric vehicles, which have been hugely popular. By year 3, we will have shipped the first run – the California D90 series – and will be building the next NAS-E series. Probably in 110 wheelbases with some inspiration from the Midwest.
What engineering and aesthetic changes are likely to take place with the NA-V8 to slot the Defender icon neatly into the US consumers’ purchase list?
Clients can expect the usual Twisted features: our signature grille and headlight finish, rims, top-quality interiors. Other aesthetic changes are reasonably limited: we don’t do any whacky body kits or aftermarket gimmicks. Again, it is about function over unreasonable form.
From an engineering standpoint, it is easier to describe what we have not changed, which is the body panels. These are all new, type-approved, OEM e-coated. Literally everything else on the vehicle has been reengineered by us. It’s not really a Land Rover anymore; it’s a Twisted. The two are quite different.
Where can US buyers see Twisted in the US during September and October?
Our first NA-V8 demonstrator, a Defender 90, is available to see and test drive in Austin. Come October, the grand opening of the showroom will take place, featuring two more demo vehicles, an NA-V8 D110 and the first NAS-E California Series.