Land Rover’s works-engineered 400bhp Defender is every bit as nuts as it sounds
There are few better ways of illustrating the relativity of speed than a couple of hours behind the wheel of a 70th Anniversary Land Rover Defender. If, for instance, you are used to your acceleration being served by a 5-series BMW with a 3-litre diesel engine, you will find reaching 60mph in 5.6sec of minimal drama. Do the same in a 400bhp Defender powered by a 5-litre V8 motor and it’ll still be the first thing on your mind when you wake up the following morning. You’ll hear the noise, remember having to steer the car despite the road being straight and the protestations of four BF Goodrich tyres being asked for more than they were able to give. And you’ll probably start laughing all over again.
Of course, these cars are not strictly new. Defender production came to an end over two years ago and the company has not reneged on its promise to those who bought the very last special-edition cars not to build any more. What it has done, or is doing right now, is sourcing 150 late, low-mileage Defenders, binning their 122bhp diesel motors and installing the V8 more usually seen in top-end Range Rovers and Jaguars.
Land Rover first installed a 3.5-litre V8 almost 40 years ago. Most recently it did a 3.9-litre V8 Defender to celebrate the Defender’s half-century back in 1998. But that produced 190bhp. How would one with more than twice the power feel?
Hair-raising at first. Customers can choose between short- and long-wheelbase donor cars and I’d highly recommend the latter, because it’ll sit seven not four, is far more stable and comfortable yet still feels stupidly fast. The SWB car feels like a toy whose novelty might wear off rather quickly. But once you’ve dialled your brain into the highly unorthodox way either car goes down the road, there is fun aplenty to have here.
That’s largely because this is far more than a Defender with an enormous engine. Keeping it under control is an eight-speed automatic box, special springs, dampers and roll bars, an effective stability system and, praise be, a proper braking system. So, yes, it still wanders about a bit and steers inexactly despite the old worm and roller steering being replaced by a recirculating ball system and, no, grip isn’t special, but drive it like an early 911 in the wet by adopting a doggedly slow in, fast out approach and despite all its manifest drawbacks, a hoot will be had.
Some have criticised the price, and when you realise the same £150,000 (£160,000 for a LWB car) will buy you a brand-new McLaren it’s not hard to see why. Land Rover protests that once all the testing and development has been taken into account it’s a perfectly reasonable amount given that those costs can only be amortised across 150 units.
Actually, the price needs no defending. Fact is, all 150 are already sold and, though I’d never think of having one myself, it’s not to say I can’t see why someone might. It’s a works-engineered 400bhp Defender for heaven’s sake; that’s probably all the explanation required.
Land Rover Defender Works V8 – 70th Edition
Price £150,000 Engine 5.0 litres, 8 cylinders Power [email protected] Torque [email protected] 5000rpm Weight 1900kg Power to weight 210bhp per tonne Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive 0-62mph 5.6sec Top speed 106mph Economy n/a CO2 n/a