Why These Custom Land Rover Defenders Are The Ultimate British SUVs

We spoke to Arkonik’s Founder and CEO about the English brand’s highly-coveted restomod Rovers.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

Custom restomod Land Rover Defenders are all the rage right now. But one builder in particular has been doing it better for longer than anyone else: Arkonik, based in the UK with a US operations center in Charleston, SC. With over 500 builds to date, they’ve been exporting the quintessential British vehicle Stateside since 2011, and the company has spawned numerous imitators.

Arkonik scours Europe for the “most authentic, dependable, and correctly titled donor vehicles,” i.e. vintage Defenders, which then undergo “meticulous restoration and reimagining” at their state-of-the-art facility in rural Somerset, England. “With a focus on superior craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail, every Arkonik build emerges as a true masterpiece, embodying a ‘better than new’ vehicle tailored to meet exacting specifications,” they declare.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

“Exuding timeless elegance, robust performance, and unparalleled charisma, an Arkonik Defender transcends mere transportation — it embodies history, artistry, and the spirit of adventure and liberation.” Arkonik also offers pre-owned and stock vehicles available for prompt delivery from their North American headquarters in Charleston. Check out the full selection here; you can even get financing. we’re particularly fond of this Epsom Green beauty with a quilted saddle tan leather interior.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

We spoke to Andy Hayes, the company’s CEO and Founder, who started Arkonik from his driveway back in 2006:

What is Arkonik’s mission?

Arkonik is a bespoke business built around a bespoke product, each Defender is unique, as is each person involved in creating it. We put care into people, which is reflected in the product produced. We spend most of our lives working in some way or another, so Arkonik’s mission is to provide a space where people feel seen, understood, and part of something. Everyone pushing towards one end, to build the best Defenders in the world, efficiently, to the highest quality, and with dignity and love for ourselves.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

What inspired you to create the company? 

Before Arkonik I was involved with high-profile, high-risk, global projects in nuclear, chemical, tunneling and construction industries, but my shared responsibilities and goals were always to provide safe working environments, minimize negative environmental footprints and be an advocate for those affected by corporate lapses in these areas. I grew up in South London and was always fascinated by the opportunity provided by making something better than it used to be.

After a bad motorcycle accident, I was laid up, and needed something to focus my mind so began working on my first Defender in my driveway. Naturally, this led to a sale upon its completion, and I used the profit along with all my savings of £10,000 to buy another and continue the journey. This journey took me from being on my knees in the driveway to leading a team of 80 people across two continents.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

What is the appeal of a restomod Defender?

I’d say it’s the harmonic convergence of old and new, playing to each generation’s strengths to improve the drivetrain and electrics with modern technology, whilst retaining the character, style and ruggedness that the Defender is synonymous with.

What is the price range for Arkonik Defenders and what are the types of trucks on offer?

Our Heritage range starts at less than $200,000, and our restomod Corvette engine builds start at $250,000 rising to $500,000. The types of Arkonik Defenders we offer start with the wheelbase and chassis the D90 and D110 with a few D130’s. We offer them with the following Heritage engines: 200TDI, 300TDI, TD5 and the Buick 3.5L V8. In our Charleston facility, we can replace a Heritage engine with the LS3 and LT1 engines with manual or automatic transmission. 

(Courtesy Arkonik)

What sort of clientele does Arkonik attract? 

We attract all sorts of people from various backgrounds & life experiences. From enthusiasts who rely on us to keep their passion projects on the road, to high-end clientele looking to experience a level of customization that is almost impossible to find from OEMs. In the UK we regularly hold Defender-part jumble sales to keep our neighbors fed with components for their daily drivers.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

What sets Arkonik apart from from other restomod Defender builders?

I would say what sets us apart goes all the way back to my driveway. I stay involved with Arkonik daily, Arkonik is my passion. As much as I couldn’t do this without my team behind me, every Defender is delivered after my personal audit. With a determined singular voice, we focus on doing one thing right, which is building our Defenders to the best of our abilities, so that each one is delivered to our exacting standard.

In fact, the Defender we showcased at SEMA on our debut had been restored 2 years prior and enjoyed enthusiastically by her owner. And yet, the feedback we received was incredible, everyone thought she had just been built specifically for the show. The Arkonik team are all exceptional people, and we work seamlessly together to build the best Land Rover Defenders in the world. Every member is as passionate and invested in our goals as I am.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

Why did you decide to set up a U.S. base of operations? And why in Charleston? 

Delivering vehicles across borders is always a challenge, and we would rely on third parties to oversee our client’s first experience with their Arkonik Defender. Needless to say, during the shipping process the vehicles would be dirty at the very least. Our SVO facility was originally intended to focus on P.D.I. after shipment, but as the market shifted towards restomod, we began installing LS3 engines there, leading to growth in our team and premises.

We chose Charleston thanks to its deep-water port, fantastic weather, and vibrant culture. Originally, we would ship through Newark, but one of our friends and clients insisted that Charleston would be a better fit for our home… And he was right, when we have visitors not only do, they get to receive a fascinating tour and exhilarating test drive. They also have Charleston at their fingertips to enjoy Lowcountry living afterward.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

What are the benefits of bring partly-finished trucks over from the UK rather than starting from scratch here?

Defenders were designed and conceived in Britain, and the culture around them is still pervasive and enthusiastic. A large contingent of our team in the UK owns their Defenders and have often joined us through their love of their Defender ownership. This gives the team a huge affinity towards the vehicles which is evident in their attention to detail and pride in their work, no matter their role. We a proud to be able to say Arkonik’s are handbuilt in Britain. 

The partly finished aspect has more to do with the 25-year-old rule of importation into the USA. We install aftermarket components in Charleston once the vehicles have been correctly imported & cleared customs. Our Defenders are also mainly sourced in Europe as they are left-hand drive, and we can begin restoring them back in Somerset in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

Why did you choose Corvette engines for your builds? 

Corvette engines are synonymous with Americana, so that was a big reason, being able to combine American heart and power with British heritage and soul is a unique & attractive prospect. GM also fully supports its engines being used in unconventional projects, being one of the few OEMs that provide crate motors directly. Interestingly enough, the Land Rover heritage 3.5L V8 engine was licensed from Buick, and these engines were often used in the UK for project vehicles.

(Courtesy Arkonik)

Are there any limits to the custom designs that you can do?

We fully encourage our clients to express themselves as much as possible in their builds and guide them through a design process with our experts. We find the best builds enhance the Defender heritage rather than try to overshadow it. The featured build page on our website has an array of fantastic builds we’ve delivered, all of which were designed to order. I think my favorite request was included in our Anejo build, with a South American-style blanket design that was a real pleasure to produce and see the result of. It even followed through onto the headlining.