Cars and Characters #3: TOPHAT, Land Rovers met CORVETTE-V8-techniek

People always think it is a Defender with a Corvette engine in it What we do only goes a lot further than that The engine in it is actually the least interesting, because that is the least complicated the real art is to keep it driving and handling normally We have Donkervoort in the Netherlands, where they build very cool sports cars and if it were up to a few ex-students, the production of Lightyear will start soon … a real solar car. And in Limburg, of course, we have the daily production at VDL of a whole lot of Mini’s and that is about it in terms of car production in the Netherlands There is one more … and I’m driving that right now The town of Loosdrecht is located between Amsterdam and Utrecht and it’s best known for it’s beautiful lakes, stately homes and countless water sports options, but it is also home to the Top Hat factory which can be best described as a combination of a man cave, a barbershop and a high-tech racing team Men with a mission work here It is mainly Land Rover and especially Landrovers that don’t fall over in a bend, and don’t drive like a tractor and that are comfortable as far as you can call a Defender comfortable We build these especially for customers Top Hat’s clients are prepared to pay brisk money for something special 500 hp, 700 hp … it’s all possible Rare leather, specially designed interiors and high-end audio air suspension, the men here don’t do any different Worldwide there are about 80 cars carrying the Top Hat label, but it all started with the export of old standard Landrovers We just knew there was a really big market for Defenders in America, because they were never introduced there So we started exporting those cars there, only when an American, who knows that car and knows what it looks like, he gets a 25 year old Defender in front of him and he drives it and thinks … what the hell is this !? – No, that is not ok No, because driving a 25-year-old American is as smooth as you can imagine Compared to driving a Defender, you literally bounce out In addition, together with my partner Alex who now lives in America, and runs the American branch, we always had the idea to keep the looks of the car only to make something out of it, we would like ourselves So something with more power, better handling and more comfort When we knew what we wanted and we saw the connection with the American market, it was quickly settled Then we started developing and building, and never really thought that the Netherlands would be a large market for it, until suddenly some exposure we got through internet went viral and then magazines wanted to write about us and then found out that there were also many Dutch customers The Landrover Defender has a large fan base It has been an iconic model for over 70 years It’s the car that won wars that took adventurers to the farthest corners of the world and what society could rely on in the most harsh circumstances But a Defender is anything but a good driving car It’s uncomfortable, it’s slow and if if you reach 120, you need three hands to keep it straight But not a Top Hat Completely different to what you would expect when you see it Listen to this It’s so fast … so fast Just plane old gear shifting, through the 6 gears, It rattles wonderfully, we have a bimini top which is flapping a bit I sitting on sublime Recaro seats Yes, this is … definitely the wet dream of every car enthusiast This is the combination of everything a car with an iconic look a car with heritage. You hardly find that with other cars. A car you could drive through a muddy puddle if you want to and of course a car you could take to any occasion. There is so much sympathy to this product and ultimately what I like the most happy, such a ridiculous amount of speed, so much speed It’s so great … Listen to this

To come to such a wild car, you have to go back to basics first – This is the first stage of process So here you see a car coming in, the new project, which is disassembled here This is the dirty workshop, here we do all disassembly, all welding, all grinding work – Who owns this car…? This is a customer’s car, so he brings in his own car and what we start on depends on what the customer wants This is being rebuilt from scratch, so everything will be taken apart here Every part goes off until we have bare chassis So you can bring your own car, but imagine I don’t feel like that, or I can’t find one, or I don’t know how …? – We can of course always assist with finding the right car. Basically, more than enough were made and for the Dutch market you could come up with anything It is only useful to know that what you use as a base, hasn’t rotted all the way through Some customers arrive with something and think to get their work done for a certain price, but then the base is so bad that it will take a lot more work, it will work out in a different way So, how long does it take you? – To take it all apart? A 90 like this ….? I think three days To take it all apart to a bare chassis – Have you done it often? Yes, I have done that quite often Once you know how everything is produced Where which bolt is, then this takes a few days, three days Look at this, a Defender completely being taken apart and chairs … bin back of the car, foot plates, belts, tunnels …., neatly sorted Nice work! So, you are working on this now, does that means that you are always the man taking all the incoming cars apart? Or does that change? No, that depends a bit on who is doing what at that moment Now I happen to disassemble this car, but it might as well be that I am building up a chassis upfront and that a colleague of mine is dismantling another car – Yes … you have nice job Yes, I am very proud And depending on what you want three to six months later a car like this drives out of the workshop This is just a big modern SUV, but with the looks of back then Right. That’s the nice thing, because people say, you can compare it to a Range Rover … in terms of driving? I’d say in terms of driving characteristics, in principle yes in terms of power and handling and comfort in the suspension, it is really comparable It is only by the shape of the car that it always remains a Defender The driver position is different and you have the sound because the thing has the shape of a brick As a result, it will never be a Range Rover But you don’t want that either We have also had people who had a Range Rover or a Cayenne or something they built this next to that and then they tell us, that after a year they have sold the Cayenne because they basically drove this all the time You can’t compare it either, but this just puts that smile on your face you’re always happy when you’re driving this thing And that is also because a lot is done to make the car luxurious and comfortable – This is sound isolation? Yes, insulation material Normally a Defender is of course … it has no isolation, it is a moving sound box and We completely isolate the cars from the inside, also because of the extra heat coming from that engine, and that exhaust and those catalysts underneath because 6.2 liters becomes quite warm – Sounds so good when you say that, 6.2 liters it puts a smile on my face, thinking… all right! And this thing is normally a moving sound box, so you want it to be quieter, so that whole roof too that is now muffled and silent inside I think it’s so brilliant, it’s still a Defender but completely different inside Technically just completely … Really cool! Only everything you see should remain the same so the dashboard everything is also still original, even the gear stick comes out in the original position. I also believe that it has to be a manual gearbox – Yes? Is that what you prefer? Many customers want a automatic gearbox, but I am really a very big supporter of the manual gearbox – Nice gear shifting That’s part of Defender and it just drives better Do you have many customers who use it as their daily driver? Yes, well this one has driven 30,000 kilometers this year so you could say it has been used quite reasonably But most customers just have it as a spare toy and they drive approximately 5,000 kilometers a year. That’s it

But for most customers it’s their fourth, fifth or even sixth car To me, the people who use it every day The first few we built I just wanted people to use it daily so that all growing pains would surface That’s why we built that yellow version We have already driven 100,000 kilometers with that just to find out what worked and what didn’t So we really gave that thing a beating The longer you look at the car and the more the more often you speak to the guys, the more you find out this is no hobby project is, but a car factory taking its work very seriously What is this …? – A 1971 Range Rover Classic which we have completely restored, back to its original state only under the skin it is actually the same as the one next to it – Really? But you only did Defenders? No, we certainly don’t only do Defenders We do everything …! – This is cool! After all, this also comes from Landrover but under the skin it is actually the same as the one next to it, so also the same 6.2 liter V8 with 500 hp and the same steering geometry, same air suspension everything included – But completely original? From the outside In terms of looks, we tried to keep it as original as possible the only thing you could spot it from are the rims These are its original steel rims We have adapted them to 18 inch instead of 16 inches, so they fit over the brakes and we did the interior in nappa leather, but in the same style as the original – Insane …! – And so the 3-door version, so the very first Range Rover …? Yes, this is from ’71 so we tried to keep the original looks as much as possible with those beautiful mirrors that have no function, but they look nice – Is it ready? It’s ready – Yes? Can I take it for a drive …? Of course People always think it is a Defender with a Corvette engine in it What we do only goes a lot further than that The engine in it is actually the least interesting, because that is the least complicated the real art is to keep it driving and handling normally That is Top Hat, a car factory from Loosdrecht where brilliant men transform iconic Land Rovers into extremely luxurious super fast, perfect steering machines and they don’t just do that with the iconic Defender The good old Range Rover, the Classic, the Range Rover that got it started for the Range Rover brand, which of course belongs to Landrover We all know Range Rover as one very big car, with often a slightly modified blond lady behind the wheel. It’s a car for name and fame it’s luxurious and drives well and also quite expensive, but it started in the ’70’s with this model for Range Rover and back then it was also luxurious It had an eight-cylinder, it had three doors and there was a little bit of luxury on board, but it was a genuine off-road car which you could end up using on the normal road as well The eight-cylinder came from Buick back then, American origin Very high consumption, little power, just fine but no more than that And this here has a Top Hat modified LT1 Corvette engine This is great …! Switching gears yourself This is cool! And how well built! This just really feels like a factory car, like a car that had hundreds of engineers working on for a long time to make it pitch perfect And this is how perfection feels This is just a classic car, which looks like a classic car and then you go and take it for a spin and then it turns out to be a Corvette in classic Range Rover packaging! The people responsible for these creations are petrolheads to the max,

with not only golden hands, but also an extremely good set of brains and a sense of detail that is almost unimaginable Something you will recognize in the private cars that they work on in the evenings This has always been my passion. This is, when I was five years old I knew that my first car would be a Mini and my last one too After I restored my second Mini, I knew … this is what I want, so I plunged into that I started collecting parts for it That is now almost 15 years ago – You have collected parts for 15 years? Correct From all over the world, but it had to definitely be New Old Stock, so still in factory packaging – So, this is Lucas? Yes, they were suppliers for all car electronics in England at the time and I even focused on getting all parts to be used for the car, to have a correct date code on them As you can see here; February ’63 – So the parts have to have been produced somewhere nearby wherever the car came from? – That’s right You don’t make it easy on yourself No, I don’t make it easy for myself, but that is how I wanted it done and how I am still working on it – 15 years of collecting up to the moment that you have everything and then ..? And then … Yes, then I think it will be just very exciting and weird because then it all comes together and then, when the carriage is finished I can start screwing everything together So that’s where I am now and it’s very special This is not just a Mini, but a …? This is a Cooper S, this is the first year of production They only produced this model for about a year About 4.000 cars of this type have been built The first came to market in May ’63 and this is August ’63 – I have been told, there is no one in the Netherlands who knows more about these cars than you do? Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but on this model I can write a book, yes that’s true – Do all these guys have that here? That crazy passion for cars, or for one specific car? Well that’s the fun part. Everyone here has its own specialism I have that with Mini’s another colleague has that with Volkswagen Golfs and someone else can dream Volvo’s And so everyone has their specialty – And that all comes together at Top Hat? Correct You do everything, right? A new engine in it, but also the suspension, the initial suspension disappears. Air suspension underneath, the steering system, you name it and then you close the hood and then you actually don’t see much more than a very cool Defender? No, that is also the intention Look, you can make it as exuberant as a customer wants, but I actually think it’s most beautiful if you can’t really see it You can see it, but you don’t have to If you don’t want it, you can’t see it from the outside, except behind the rims you can see very big brakes – Right, so it’s partly a character change of the car? Yes, but again I try to keep the car’s DNA in tact And even that can be extreme, like this We built one in collaboration with Waterdream It had to be the same as the boat in many ways, but have completely re-built all aspects of the car We implemented a wide body kit, made a completely different interior, a different dashboard, custom made rims for the car The supercharge version of the engine has 700 hp So yes, basically everything is different about it And what’s funny, the customers in America who order such a ferocious Top Hat vehicle initially get something that is anything but fast So, completely adjusted by you, but still with the old heart in it? Yes, this is a bit contradictory this is off to America and in order to import it into America the original engine still has to be in it So, when it’s imported it’s an American vehicle and then you can change anything you want It is a little weird, because we will then install the American engine in it, which we could’ve done here, but that is not allowed The fact is that worldwide there is a lot of interest for cars like this, from Loosdrecht It’s always nice. It’s just nice that you are driving a car, that in incredibly fast and nobody knows about it It’s just a fun car and you’d least expect it from a like this you know, any modern supercar can drive very fast on a Nardo test track but in everyday traffic you can’t do anything with it

But with these cars you can drive fast everywhere You can cross a speed bump full throttle, you can take the dirt tracks, and you can drive 250 kp/h on the highway if you want So you can do anything What do they think about it? In England, at Landrover, that you are doing this? I’m not sure. They come over to us at some motorshows, the people from Landrover which is always the case and they look interested, But, the fact that Landrover itself has released a Works V8 version of their Defender basically says enough. That they also see that there is ultimately a market for that thing But that version is still based on the spartan primal Landrover and the comfort and handling characteristics that go with it And the all-new Defender which Landrover is now also building, looks slightly different from the original In addition, in several countries old Landrovers with a diesel engine cannot enter city centers anymore, but with the new 500 hp V8 you can So plenty of opportunities for Top Hat – Where is this going? I have enough dreams You can never dream enough when it comes to cars I like to build anything, as long as it’s not standard So yes, dreams … I’m building an Alfa for myself – What are you going to do with the Alfa? Install an engine in it out of a Honda s2000, with a sequential gearbox I have a rear sub-frame underneath from a Mazda MX-5, completely different suspension, direct steering – Nice! So not just any restoration, but a total hair transplant Yes, you know … in principle we can build everything, a car is a car As long as you do it the Top Hat way Yes, as long as you do it the Top Hat way For Carel and his men it is exactly clear what they mean, and for me it’s also quite clear It is a building and thinking method that makes the cars feel like they were developed, built and tested by large manufacturers with hundreds of engineers But that’s not the case. A small group of passionate technical wizards are responsible, coming from a very nice small factory in Loosdrecht, where they have changed manual labor into true art