Who’d have thought a humble industrial estate on the outskirts of Thirsk would grow to be the driving force for distinctive Defender? From local farms down the road to families living the high life in Dubai, it’s safe to say these wheels are taking on the world.
A Yorkshire boy brought up into the wonderful world of the Land Rover, Charles Fawcett’s earliest memories involve 4×4 off-roading. At just 11-years-old, in his own Series 3 pick-up, he soon discovered that when you’re up to your knees in mud puddles in a field, with a machine that won’t move, the only option is to work out how to fix it.
And that’s exactly what he did. Before he knew it, he was working for his father’s sales and repairs business and in 2000, he saw a gap in the market for a bit of Defender development.
“Twisted began in 2000, albeit it wasn’t a full-time operation until 2008. It was a hobby, or a second business – a bit of a passion. It took up parts of my desk, but was in no way a full operation.
“We had an opportunity to start selling products for somebody based in Essex.
They wanted someone in the north to sell these products – a tiny little range of performance upgrades for Land Rover.
“So I said, ‘yes I’ll do that’, and we started selling them.
“My dad was mad – he said, ‘you can’t be wasting money like that’. I did it anyway – he wasn’t happy, but I saw an opportunity with it, taking the Land Rover to a place it has never been before.”
At a time when everybody else was raising suspension, taking tyres to the next level, and using the Defender as an off-roader, Charles saw an opportunity to take the vehicle from the field and put it out on
“People loved the Defender, but they were just no good on the roads,” says Charles. “So we created some new products and very quickly, people started buying them. We’d be fitting an exhaust, and customers would say ‘oh, can you do that with the brakes?’ or ‘can you do this with my seat?’ We were just trying new things and people really enjoyed it.
“We had some cool customers and it all just grew nice and steadily.
“In 2002 it had half of my desk; in 2003 it had the Wendy house in my back garden; in 2004 I was running the business from my lounge; in 2005 we moved house and it went into the double garage; in 2006 and 2007 it was in my garage; and in 2008 we moved into a little industrial unit around the corner from where we are now. We used to be able to fit seven Defenders in it – it was like Tetris!
“So it was then when it became a full-time operation. I left my dad’s business and started doing the Defender thing full time.”
And as most businesses do, it took the first of many memorable customers to spring the Twisted journey to life…
“Two brothers came to us one day and said, ‘look, we want two really cool Defenders – will you build them for us?’
“So we built two Defenders for these two brothers, and it was a great journey. It took us ages, we probably lost money, the guys probably didn’t get what they wanted – but it was a huge project at the time.
“They would come along and see what we’d done, then we’d all go to the pub. It was a bit more than just building a couple of cars for a couple of lads. They gave us some really cool ideas.
“They finished up with two epic vehicles. And we had at that time, perhaps one mechanic, maybe somebody in accounts, and me.
“It was a wonderful time because it was like a little family of people that genuinely loved what we did. We weren’t getting home until daft o’clock at night, and I wanted to be in work at 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Soon, Twisted was taking on new business and getting a good name for itself, so a second plot was purchased.
“We’ve now got six units on site – we’ve got a body shop, a recycling business that takes all the parts from here, reworks them and sells them again, we’ve got the workshop, we’ve got LR Motors, a business based solely on used Defender sales.
“Twisted has got a stock of brand new vehicles that it bought when they stopped production, so we’ve got a load of those – and we just touch on Classics now. We also have a little operation in the US.”
But the bread and butter of the whole Twisted operation is based around the Defender – a vehicle with a huge following, for a number of reasons.
“In 2009 we decided that we were not going to work with anything other than the Defender, which enabled us to be a specialist in our work,” says Charles.
“In 2008/2009 the recession came along. People were slashing prices, selling stuff cheap. It was a dire time, and the only thing I felt I could do was focus on one thing and put the prices up. So I did the opposite to what I saw people doing. We put our prices up quite dramatically, and we went from being busy with five or six staff, to being busy with nine or ten staff – and attracting a different kind of customer. Those customers, it’s fair to say, were recession-proof. And so through that time, we actually grew and became the company to go to for anything Defender – of a particular style.
“There are lots of other people that do Defender stuff,” he adds.
“But there’s not many that have a style where the customer can take control. People just want the best Defender that they can have. It’s got to have a certain look and feel, and that look is traditional, with a twist!
“Ours might be £80k, they might be £200k – depending on what we’ve done to them – but it still looks just like a Defender.
“Twisted vehicles have a look, and that look is what makes us unique. So we work really hard to keep that in place, but the last thing we want to do is ruin what we love about the Defender – because they are a mega vehicle and there’s a lot of love for them. People adore them for all sorts of reasons.”
The Defender is a car – it’s got an engine, four wheels, propels you forward and takes you places. But it’s a car with a twist – it’s something of an experience.
“People don’t buy a Defender to replace a car,” explains Charles.
“They don’t buy it instead of something, it isn’t their next car, it isn’t their last car. Our customers just want to own one. They’ve all got a car that takes them places, and it’s probably quite a boring car – boring in the sense that it probably does everything for them.
“But the Defender is a little bit like a manual Porsche, or an old Mini. It’s got a gear lever, your indicators go ‘click’ when you put them on and they snap off when you go round a corner. You can actually hear the wipers making noises. It’s really communicative. It tells you what it’s doing. You go into a corner and you can actually feel where the grip is, you can feel potholes and pebbles. It’s this incredibly heightened awareness of what is going on around you. “It’s an experience. It’s not a car – but it is a car. It’s a weird and wonderful thing. You just get in one and you smile – they’re a wonderful thing to run around in.”
So with that in mind, it’s difficult to pin down the typical Twisted customer. The vehicle owners are a vast, vibrant mix of people, and it’s their fond following that is taking this mega motor on a journey across the world.
“This is a tiny little business in Thirsk, in North Yorkshire, in the hills – we’re not this great big anything; but it’s amazing how our vehicles get to where they need to be.
“We will sell a vehicle from farmers to Middle Eastern royalty… we’re talking to someone new everyday. But they all have one thing in common – a desire for Defender.
“I went to somebody’s house one day to do something on a Defender, met with the gardener, tinkered away with the Land Rover, and I thought to myself, ‘whose house is this, it’s amazing?’ I drove away, Googled it – Rod Stewart’s house.
“I’ve dropped them off for Brad Pitt to test drive, Angelina Jolie to test drive.
“All of these people, and everyone in between.
“They all just have this love for Defender, and it actually doesn’t matter who they are… they all end up in this space where actually, everyone’s the same.”
Earlier this year, Twisted took to TV screens as a key part of Jamie Oliver’s Channel 4 show, ‘Jamie Cooks Italy’.
The Twisted Retro Edition was the perfect fit to help the TV chef navigate his way around Italy in the hunt to get right into the heart of the Italian kitchen.
Jamie Oliver has been a fan of the Twisted brand for a number of years. He said: “I needed a vehicle that wouldn’t let me down. Last time, I headed out in an old camper van and I spent half my time shipping parts out to save it. So, the guys gave me something that would work!
From remote tracks and quaint villages, to mountain peaks and big open beaches, it’s safe to say the Twisted tyres ticked all the boxes for Jamie and his foodie friend, Gennaro Contaldo.
“Our clients and the people we work with is what makes Twisted tick,” says Charles.
“There’s a story with every sale, and no matter who they are or where they’re from, we’ve all got something in common in that we love the Defender,” he adds.
“We sold one to a guy whose family were in Jersey. While we were building his, he brought his friends to come and have a look at what we were doing. So we built one for this chap, and then his friend had one, and then while we were building his, his wife ordered one. And then another guy got in touch and said ‘I hear such and such is getting a vehicle, can you do me one?’ – so he had one. Then his wife had one. Then the first guy’s dad had one, then his mum had one. And then the second guy’s son had one, then his friend. We literally made nine vehicles as a result of this one guy.
“They’ve all got a lot of money – but they’re all the same – they all just love the Defender. And that’s a passion we share.”
For Charles, it’s important that his Yorkshire-based business doesn’t get ahead of itself.
“The risk is, the business becomes too big and we forget why we’re all here.”
For Twisted, it all comes back to the original business plan – to devote time and development to this iconic British vehicle.
“We’ve been through the cycle of business plans, growth and money – and don’t get me wrong, there always has to be a bit of that for any business to boom, but for us, it’s important to ensure we get back to what we’re really about.
“It’s all pretty real – it’s simple, it’s not sugar-coated. We make good products, the customer likes them, we make money – it’s just how it is.
“The business has grown entirely on its own merits,” Charles adds.
“We develop products in a certain way. We don’t cut corners. We take our time. And I think that’s what makes us stand out as the go-to Defender people.
“Everything is made as local as we possibly can. A lot of stuff is made 200 yards away – it’s really nice for us to use local people and really champion the region.”
A day in the life of the Twisted team is “absolute carnage,” laughs Charles.
“There was a time when it was all office, meetings, corporate conversations, management, accounts – and all this sort of stuff, which you kind of need, but it took over.
“And while I often think I should set an example and do these things like a proper business owner would, I’m not that person. I just like to be in and amongst everything. I get a lot of ideas, I try to hand them over and get people to run with them.
“There’s a lot of product development time, a lot of communication with suppliers, marketing activity. It’s a myriad of things, but sometimes it’s just about going for a drive, having an idea and then coming back and putting it into action.”
Twisted is a way of life. It’s not an everyday dealership where you’ll pick a new car and go with it. It’s an experience, it’s a hobby, and to put it simply, it’s about a shared love for an iconic vehicle.
“You’ve just got to live it,” says Charles.
“Everyone in the Twisted team has a genuine love of all things Defender – and I think our customers can see that.
“We’re not about getting every man and his dog through the doors. We’re about teaming up with the right Twisted customer – those people who are just as Defender mad as we are.”