Charles Fawcett can’t get enough of Land Rover Defenders and his company, Twisted, gives them something extra. Bernard Ginns reports.
IN CHARLES Fawcett’s opinion, the Land Rover Defender is classless.
There are very few vehicles you can turn up anywhere in and be accepted, he says.
“You could park outside the Savoy, go to Tesco, go to the auction mart, go to a business meeting, go skiing or go surfing. If you are in a Defender, nobody has an opinion,” he adds. “Or they want to chat to you about it.”
Fawcett is the owner and managing director of Twisted Automotive, based in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.
He has grown up with Land Rovers, spends all day working with Land Rovers and probably dreams about Land Rovers. If he went on Mastermind, his specialist subject would be Land Rovers.
His company produces “tailored” Defenders, the iconic British-made 4X4 workhorses that date back to 1947 and, to some, drive like it.
Twisted Defenders are a “considered purchase” and for his customers a standard one won’t do. “We are not criticising the standard product because it does what it sets out to do,” he adds.
“Our customer wants that standard product, loves that standard product, but can’t put up with it in its standard form.”
Fawcett says after his company’s work, a vehicle is “quieter, smoother, quicker, more refined, but most importantly it is still a Defender.
“We are not trying to make it look like something it is not. We are not trying to make it be something it is not”.
He describes it as “that second glance thing”; people look first time and think it’s just a Defender.
“They look again and think, ‘that’s a bit different, but I’m not sure why. It’s not ostentatious, it’s cool’, he says.
“What we don’t want to be is bling. We don’t want to be the modifier. We don’t want to be the ‘Pimp My Ride’. We don’t want to be the custom shop,” he says.
Pimp My Ride is an MTV show hosted by shouty rap stars featuring the restoration and customisation of old cars.
Fawcett maintains that three of the four models he produces, the T40, T60 and T80, look the same at first glance. They range between £40,000 and £80,000.
He buys Defenders from retailers. His team of engineers then set to work carrying out a host of improvements, developed in-house over the last 15 years at considerable expense, all funded by profits. The business has no debt.
Twisted started out in 2000 as a tuning business, designed to make Defenders go faster, and evolved from there. By 2008, it was turning out £500,000 a year. Last year, it reached £4.2m. This year, the target is £5m.
It builds 80-100 Defenders a year.
Twisted employs 20 people, including a number of well-remunerated engineers. It hired Alex Duckett, a rising star in the Yorkshire commercial real estate world, to the role of commercial director at the end of last year.
Everyone at the company must be passionate about the product, says Fawcett, who is clearly the role model in this regard.
The son of a talented motor dealer, he grew up on a farm in North Yorkshire and learned to drive a Land Rover at the age of 11, in the surrounding fields.
Modestly perhaps, Fawcett says he is no mechanic or engineer, but conversation reveals a deep understanding of his raw materials.
“I’ve been around them a lot,” he says, “and I like the old methods.
“Stand back, consider and think about the fault or problem you are trying to overcome and look for the simple solution. Simple solutions are always the best ways.”
He left school at 17, a few months into his A-levels, and joined his father’s off-road driving business, instructing and competing.
At the turn of the century, he bought the assets of a tiny tuning company in Essex that formed the basis of Twisted.
The name has two origins. An early product was an intercooler featuring a whirlwind logo. But as the business got going, people would ask, “why are you giving Land Rovers more power? Isn’t that a bit twisted?”
Back then, Land Rovers were just workhorses; very few people bought them as hobby vehicles, says Fawcett, who shrewdly spotted a gap in the market.
“We recognised early on that every company and product out there was in some way, shape or form for off-roading and the people who bought these vehicles for off-roading were probably only going off-road once a month, if that.
“And so the 29 days a month they were on the road and all the different products made them worse on the road.
“I purposely went the other way and made them better on the road.”
Twisted worked closely with its customers to develop improvements, forming a natural ideas base for the business.
It also spent heavily on marketing and public relations to develop its distinctive brand, including sponsorship of the Gumball Rally in 2013 for which the company built a special version for the US skateboarding tycoon Tony Hawk.
It claims to have supplied foreign royalty and A-list celebrities.
Fawcett says Twisted endeavours to put its vehicles and products where people least expect to see them and avoids anything mud-related.
Looking to the future, he wants to increase exports from an already strong base of 20 per cent.
In the last three months, it has done business in Malaysia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Switzerland and New Zealand. Fawcett also plans to expand the business into restoration.
But he has no plans to open any glass-fronted showrooms and his approach to sales is worth repeating.
“We undersell ourselves and we are very guilty of that,” says Fawcett.
“We never try to sell anyone a car.”
Title: Managing director
Date of birth: January 11, 1978
First job: Working in a pub at 14
Favourite film: Crocodile Dundee
Holiday destination: Texas
Last book read: Something by James Patterson
Favourite song: Money for Nothing or Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits
Car driven: Twisted Defender 110 T80 LS3
Most proud of: Children