Unleash the beast
I’ve never been a fan of the Land Rover Defender and cannot understand the dewyeyed sentimentality of beardy men who shed beery tears when it went out of production in 2016. It may have been very clever when Land Rover copied the war-era Willys Jeep, but even the army gave up on the Defender. Still, at real ale festivals and murderer conventions in the heathery bits of Britain, people with muddy fingernails wailed and gnashed their teeth when the life support was finally turned off.
It was, to me, the red phone box of cars. It worked only because it had always been around. But the truth is that it’s better to make a call from an iPhone than from inside a draughty red box that smells of a tramp’s underpants. And it’s better, if you work in the countryside, to drive a pick-up than a badly made, slow, evil-handling Defender.
Anyway, I came to work last week and outside the office was exactly the sort of thing that would cause a member of the Campaign for Real Ale to walk into a door. It was, or it had once been, a Defender 110, but someone had fitted fat tyres, massive wheels, flared arches, a light bar with It’s a DefenDer on steroIDs the power of a collapsing sun and, to judge by the twin exhausts, some kind of weird million-horsepower engine as well. Further investigation revealed this to be so as, under the bonnet, instead of a wheezing boiler that ran on an unholy mixture of cider and coal, there was the unmistakeable bulk of an LS3 V8 from a Chevrolet Corvette. Not a bad engine, actually. It was even called a Twisted, only with the “s” written backwards.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be my car for the week. And to make matters worse, the brochure from the UK refit company Twisted was accompanied by a letter from the daughter of the man who owns it. “Dear Jeremy,” it said. “This is my favourite Twisted Defender. I hope you like it too. Please look after it for my Daddy. Love from Molly, age seven and three-quarters.”
“Harrumph,” I said. “I shall not be swayed by this emotional blackmail.” Especially as I’d noticed the price of this top-spec version: more than £150,000. “This may have been made in North Yorkshire,” I thought, “but I can’t imagine they’ll sell many there.”
The next day, as I set off for my cottage in the country, there was no sign of what lay on the other side of the Chilterns. We all occasionally say “I’ve never seen rain like it” but I really had not. It was like driving under a fire plane. And there’s no other way of saying this: I could not imagine a better car in those conditions than the Twisted. It punched through the lakes in every dip and rivers on every slope. Yes, its roof-mounted lights caused a whiteout every time we went through really deep water, and the spray plumed as if a nuclear sub had exploded beneath the surface, but the tyres and the way this thing was set up made even the Mercedes G-Wagen look like a market-stall toy.
There’s more. Apart from the lack of shoulder room, it was a beautiful place to sit. Even the sat nav and control system were sensible and not full of features no one needs.
The next day the rain had gone and I had a closer look at the beast. In the boot was a big, nicely made chest for sloe gin, King’s Ginger liqueur and all the aiming juice the nation’s pheasant-slayers need. There were even slots for your guns, although those aren’t included in the price. What is included is a turn of speed that beggars belief. The soundtrack tells you there’s a bit of poke under your right foot but your head is saying it’d need to be a lot to move such a cumbersome old tank around at anything more than a trot. Your head is wrong, because when you mash the throttle into the firewall, the automatic gearbox drops a cog or two, the engine bellows and it takes off with acceleration that makes you burst out laughing.
And you don’t have to slow down much for the bends. Obviously, with those knobbly Cooper tyres, it doesn’t have the grip levels of, say, Bambi, but thanks to its reworked suspension and Recaro seats you can make serious progress. The only annoying thing was the way people in Defenders gave me a little wave as I tore by. “We have nothing in common,” I wanted to shout.
Except now we do. I shoot, and I’m aware it’s important to have the right car. A simple Range Rover is not enough. So I’d love to turn up in this monstrous Twisted, knowing it would get deeper into the woods and home faster than anything anyone else had. So, Molly, all is well. Even though it started out as a Land Rover, I did like your dad’s car. And if I hadn’t just bought one of the aforementioned Range Rovers, I’d be sorely tempted by it. Especially the drinks cabinet.