Land Rover De­fender Works V8

Old-fash­ioned work­horse meets lux­ury cruiser cour­tesy of JLR Clas­sic

Evo - - DRIVEN TOO - Henry Catch­pole (@Hen­rycatch­pole)

‘A 0-60mph time of 5.6sec might seem pretty tame, but the re­al­ity is any­thing but’

I NTRIGUED? SURELY JUST A LIT­TLE bit? Like a very hot chilli there are some things that you feel in­ex­orably drawn to, no mat­ter how much you’re pretty sure you won’t like the re­sult. They seem like a crazy no­tion, but none­the­less there is a Siren­like lure to them. And so it is with the De­fender Works V8. How­ever much you dis­like 4x4s or think £150,000 is ridicu­lous for some­thing based on a farm runaround, there is prob­a­bly a nag­ging de­sire to sam­ple it. Just once.

It’s worth point­ing out that this is not a new ve­hi­cle. Not just con­cep­tu­ally, but phys­i­cally. Land Rover has been buy­ing up good, lowmileage, late ex­am­ples of De­fend­ers in or­der to con­vert them into the 150 Works V8s that it in­tends to sell. You can choose be­tween a 90 or a 110 and it will then be stripped and re­built in the JLR Clas­sic work­shop.

The heart of the thing is Jaguar’s nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 5-litre V8, put­ting out 399bhp and 380lb ft of torque through a ZF eight-speed auto. The springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, brakes have all been up­rated to give the chas­sis a fight­ing chance. You can spot a Works V8 by its 18-inch wheels (a first for a De­fender) and, if you look a lit­tle closer, the door han­dles ma­chined from alu­minium. In­side, things are pos­i­tively lux­u­ri­ous, with lots of leather, bucket seats and Land Rover Clas­sic’s new DAB Clas­sic Ra­dio, which even has a lit­tle screen for sat­nav.

If you ever find your­self be­hind the wheel of a Works V8 then I rec­om­mend sam­pling a full-bore stand­ing start. It’s not a course of ac­tion I would pro­mote in a lot of cars, but I think it’s the best way to get straight to the nub of this ve­hi­cle’s char­ac­ter. A 0-60mph time of 5.6sec might seem pretty tame, but the alarm­ing re­al­ity is any­thing but. I think the big­gest rea­son for this is that, even more than in a Dis­cov­ery or Range Rover, you re­ally feel like you’re sit­ting up high, on top of a chas­sis rather than in it, so the speed feels pre­car­i­ous. Think old-fash­ioned, wooden to­bog­gan (with a short-fuse rocket at­tached) as op­posed to mod­ern, plas­tic tea-tray sledge.

It is also im­por­tant to note that while it will keep up with quick hot hatches in a dash away from the lights, a Works V8 will drop back sig­nif­i­cantly when cor­ners are in­volved. The slow rack and knob­bly tyres mean the steer­ing has the vague­ness of a politi­cian an­swer­ing ques­tions about his or her univer­sity days. Al­though dis­con­cert­ing, the only way to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion and get a bet­ter idea as to how hard you’re push­ing the tyres is to turn in with more com­mit­ment. This means you go through all the De­fender’s in­nate roll and lean more pos­i­tively on the tyres. How­ever, hav­ing ral­lied a De­fender, I wouldn’t rec­om­mend get­ting one out of shape to any great de­gree.

Cu­ri­ously, the mighty Works V8 is ac­tu­ally at its best when pot­ter­ing or cruis­ing. It’s dur­ing this sort of ev­ery­day travel that the in­creased re­fine­ment is ap­pre­ci­ated. The fact that the V8 doesn’t sound quite as rau­cous as you might ex­pect also makes more sense, and you re­alise that the main ben­e­fit of the larger en­gine is sim­ply the greater ease with which you can keep up with other traf­fic and main­tain a de­cent speed on the mo­tor­way.

Yes, a su­per­charged Range Rover Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy or AMG G63 is cheaper. And, hav­ing driven the Works V8, I think it re­mains in­trigu­ing rather than in­spired. But it’s cer­tainly not in­sipid, and for that rea­son alone I’m rather glad it ex­ists.

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