The Land Rover Defender, the boxy off-roader, post-war British thing that has been around for 70 years, just got a celebratory pat on the back thanks to the tried and true (American) gearhead answer of “just stuff a big V8 in it, it’ll be fine.” I’ve got to say that’s a rationale I agree with.
Indeed, the Land Rover Defender has been around for 70 years. A milestone worth observing. They are, in a number of ways, a very good British take on the American original. Yes, I know, there are Landy guys that will argue this production date or that bit of tech minutiae, but really, Jeep is the original, and Land Rover is a rather nice British copy, but a copy nonetheless.
The death of the Land Rover Defender has been hovering around on black bat wings for decades now, longer than the thing has been called the Defender, back to when they were all simply called “Land Rovers.” The gas crunch of the early 70s was going to kill it. Changing tastes in the mid-80s meant its days were numbered. Growing emissions regs preordained new Land Rovers weren’t going to be seen on the roads after 1991. Stuff like that.
But here we are, all these years later, and it’s still around. And Land Rover says this new engine is “all about celebrating the 70th anniversary,” but it really boils down to the fact someone within the company thought it sounded like a great way to pump more life into a War-era vintage carcass. At least that’s what I think. In most cases, I feel stuffing V8 engines where they don’t belong is usually a great idea. Then again, as a kid, I lived in a household where at one point there were three Sunbeam Tigers in the family’s possession.
Sadly, the new V8-equipped Defender will not just be a choice on an option box. The upcoming Land Rover Defender with a big V8 will be a limited-edition deal with only “up to” 150 examples being made to celebrate the marque’s 70th anniversary in 2018. Sad, but I understand where they’re coming from.
The Defender Works V8 (its official name) pays tribute to the early high-powered versions of the 1979 Series III Stage 1 V8 and the 50th Anniversary Edition in 1998. Which, if I’m remembering this right, were powered by the same small block alloy V8 that Rover actually bought from Buick (of all people) back in the 1960s. “Why would anyone want a small, light, fuel efficient V8,” Buick asked, and promptly sold the thing to the Brits. Next thing you know, that same engine was in Rover police cars and Triumph TR8s and not in Buicks when that aforementioned gas crunch hit in the early 70s. Oops.
Power & Performance
Anyway, let us not dwell on the mistakes of our Detroit-based forefathers. Landy says the Defender Works V8 is the most powerful and fastest Defender ever manufactured. The 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 cranks out 400 horsepower and 380 lb-ft. of torque versus the standard Defender’s 120 ponies and 265 lb-ft. of torque. All of those numbers are good enough for the Defender Works V8 to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, topping out at 106 mph. Which is frighteningly quick for something as tippy as a Land Rover, as well as comically slow on that top end. But given the thing has the aerodynamic grace of the crate it’s shipped in, it kinda follows, y’know?
The 150, specially-selected and re-engineered 70th Edition Defenders will have an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with a sport mode. The brakes are updated (thankfully); the handling kit consists of springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars, plus exclusive 18-inch diamond-turned Sawtooth alloy wheels, with 265/65 R18 all-terrain tires. And all of that is good stuff, but you know these things are still going to handle like milk trucks, and it’s only a matter of time before a rich footballer from West Ipswichingham/ford-knoll-towne-on-Tyne barrel rolls one into a ditch.
The 70th Edition Defenders will come in eight unnamed body colors including two satin finishes. All of which will contrast nicely with the Santorini Black roof, wheel arches, and front grille. The door handles, fuel filler cap, and Defender bonnet lettering will be finished with machined aluminum (nice!). The comprehensive lighting upgrade includes bi-LED headlamps. Of course, full Windsor Leather covers the dashboard, door panels, headlining, and Recaro sports seats my dear fellow, and a Land Rover Classic Infotainment System is also fitted.
Pricing & Availability
Both 90 and 110 wheelbase Defender Works V8 versions will be available with prices starting from £150,000 for a 90 in the UK, which is around $210,000. The Defender Works V8 is available in the United Kingdom, and MENA markets on a personal import basis. European market availability is also on an individual import basis, subjected to rules on importation of vehicle conversions.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format.