LRâ€™s Classic division has turned a rudimentary off-roader into a rare 399bhp luxury machine
If, in 1948, youâ€™d told the designers and engineers of the originalÂ Land Rover that their creation would eventually go on sale as a luxurious performance car with a Â£150,000 price ticket, they would probably have spat out their pipes in shock and amusement.
But thatâ€™s exactly whatâ€™s just happened. Jaguar Land Roverâ€™s Classic division has grabbed 150 of the last Defenders â€“ both short and long-wheelbase â€“ 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.
â€œThe idea of a V8 Defender was discussed in 2014, when we were still building the Defender,â€ said JaguarÂ Land Rover Classic director Tim Hannig. â€œWe knew demand was there for a powerful and fast Defender.â€
Clearly they were right too, because the re-engineeredÂ DefenderÂ 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. Thereâ€™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 youâ€™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-toothÂ alloys with meaty 265/65 tyres greatly reduce the traditionally rude shock of negotiating ruts and potholes.
If youâ€™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 â€“ hence the price.
Is it worth Â£150k, though? The used market will probably tell you that it is.