In the corner of a photograph of his highly modified 1997 Land Rover Defender 90, Tyler Wirken writes the word “grateful.” The photo hangs in his dad’s office.
Tyler appreciates the love of cars that his dad instilled in him while he was growing up. His dad’s home in Kansas City in the Waldo neighborhood is where they worked on the Land Rover for five years, transforming the two-door Defender 90 into a roomier four-door Defender 110.
The main reason Tyler, now 40, went through the process to make it four doors was to create an off-road vehicle that his sons, Alex, 10, and Zach, 8, can enjoy with him now and one day, drive.
“Honestly, the dream, when they are old enough to drive it, is to take it to Alaska,” Tyler said.
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To see Tyler say those words as he looked at his two sons, it becomes clear why his dad’s input in making his first dream vehicle functional for his sons to ride in meant so much to him.
And that gratitude nearly leaves Dave speechless.
“It sort of says it all,” Dave said as he showed the photo. “I can’t imagine any more joy. Meeting my wife and getting married was the first, and then there is working with my kids.”
The day the Land Rover Defender was running again meant just as much to Dave as it did to Tyler.
“It was as exciting as the day I restored my first Healey,” Dave said. “It was a great accomplishment.”
Tyler has been driving his transformed Land Rover Defender for the last three years.
“I drive it every day,” Tyler said. “When I get in it, it makes me happy. It is my favorite part of the day, driving to work and back for 15 minutes. I never get tired of looking at it.”
Tyler’s love for his 1997 Land Rover started well before he bought it in 1999. His first car when he was 16 was a Land Rover.
In 1997, after he was finished with college, Tyler went to Columbus, Ohio, to do a photography internship with the Columbus Dispatch.
Bored one day, Tyler decided to drive around the city and went to a Land Rover dealership.
“I saw this truck sitting on the lot that day,” he said. “It was like a beam of light hit it. There is my dream vehicle. I looked at the sticker and said, ‘That is never going to happen.’”
After his internship, Tyler returned home and worked for his dad as an electrician. A friend of Tyler’s was also working for his dad.
“He wanted a Land Rover because he saw my old one,” Tyler said
The conversation sparked Tyler’s interest, and he went to Barnes and Noble to look through the classified ads in Hemmings Motor News. He saw ad for a willow green 1997 Land Rover in Columbus, Ohio.
Tyler figured it was the same one he saw at the Land Rover dealership two years earlier.
The one difference was it had been damaged in an accident. The owner bought it at a salvage yard, restored it and put it up for sale for $14,500.
“I called the guy, and he said he has tons of people looking at it,” Tyler said. “I went to a Land Rover event in Lawrence, and my mom called and said some guy looking to sell a Land Rover had called. I said, ‘Have dad call him back.’
“We had a two-week conversation about the truck. He was a retired engineer who liked to buy totaled vehicles and restore them.”
Tyler learned the vehicle had only 8,000 miles on it when it was in an off-road accident.
“Columbus only got one of these trucks,” Tyler said. “It was the exact one I saw on the lot that day. This is my truck. My dad and I flew out there and we drove by my old apartment to get it. It was like destiny hit me for the first time in my life.”
Still, Tyler had some reservations. He saw pictures of the Land Rover after the accident.
“I’m thinking, ‘No way is it going to be OK,’” Tyler said. “When we turned the corner, and it was sitting on this farm land, it was amazing. We bought it and drove it back home. I remember that feeling.”
Tyler also remembers the feeling three years ago when he pulled the transformed Land Rover out of his dad’s driveway and drove it around the neighborhood. So does Alex, who was 5 at the time.
“All I can remember is you being really happy,” Alex said to his dad.
There was a brief moment of something being wrong. After taking it apart and putting it back together, it didn’t start when Tyler was ready to drive it again.
“I figured out the fuel pump was wired backwards,” Tyler said. “And then it fired up. My family and my parents were there. To be able to drive it again was the biggest thrill, more than when it was done because I knew it was never going to be done.”
Tyler will always tinker with it, making modification to fit his and his family’s needs. He has already spent plenty of time finding parts to merge two different Defenders into his version of the Defender he wanted.
He said he could have easily bought a four-door Defender 110, but he didn’t want to part with the one that he felt he was destined to own.
“It still has the soul of my truck; it is just longer,” Tyler said. “I decided to make my own.
“It was a huge feeling of accomplishment because so many people told me I was crazy to do it. ‘Why would you take it apart? It is going to lose value.’ It was never that for me. I bought it as a salvage title. I bought it for me.”
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured in Make It Yours? If you do, email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com