LR’s Classic division has turned a rudimentary off-roader into a rare 399bhp luxury machine
If, in 1948, you’d told the designers and engineers of the original Land Rover that their creation would eventually go on sale as a luxurious performance car with a £150,000 price ticket, they would probably have spat out their pipes in shock and amusement.
But that’s exactly what’s just happened. Jaguar Land Rover’s Classic division has grabbed 150 of the last Defenders – both short and long-wheelbase – and put a 399bhp, normally-aspirated 5.0 V8 under the bonnet, along with a leather dashboard, door panels and headlining, plus Recaro sports seats and a cutting-edge infotainment system. And the market has snapped them up.
“The idea of a V8 Defender was discussed in 2014, when we were still building the Defender,” said Jaguar Land Rover Classic director Tim Hannig. “We knew demand was there for a powerful and fast Defender.”
Clearly they were right too, because the re-engineered Defender V8 model sold out a month after Land Rover announced it.
We wangled a quick drive in one of these beasties just before the 2018 Geneva motor show opened. There’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Defender. The driving position is still tight for the space and the doors are still loose and flappy but the new engine mated an eight-speed ZF auto ‘box has transformed the . The 0-60mph acceleration time has come down from something you’d normally measure with a calendar to a sportscar-humbling 5.6 seconds.
The slow-sounding 106mph top speed is a predictable consequence of the breeze-block aerodynamics, but the added sophistication that comes with the fettled springs, dampers and anti-roll bars means you can now actually hear your passengers speak at motorway speeds or along bumpy tracks. The new steering is a revelation, with no lost motion on straight roads and no kickback through the driveline. New brakes and 18-inch saw-tooth alloys with meaty 265/65 tyres greatly reduce the traditionally rude shock of negotiating ruts and potholes.
If you’d been in time to order one, you could have had one of eight colours with a contrasting black roof, wheel arches and grille. The door handles, fuel filler cap and bonnet lettering are made out of machined aluminium. The build is all done by hand – hence the price.
Is it worth £150k, though? The used market will probably tell you that it is.