Anyone can swap a big engine into a car—making it work like it’s from the factory is the difficult bit. That’s what makes the new Defender Works V8 from Land Rover Classic truly special.
“All the traction aids work in conjunction with the powertrain, and as a conversion, no one other than JLR is capable of doing that,” Greg King tells me. King is an engineer at Land Rover Classic Works, and he’s the guy behind the truck you see here, the Defender Works V8.
Other than models sold in North America between 1994 and 1997, Defenders haven’t typically featured V8 power and automatic transmissions. People at Land Rover wanted to do this sort of car as a regular-production model to send off the old Defender as it left production in 2016, but it would’ve been prohibitively expensive.
Enter Land Rover Classic Works. King and the people there decided to create this car to celebrate Land Rover’s 70th anniversary this year. It’s not technically a new Defender, though. For the 100 it plans to make—all sold out, by the way—Classic Works sources a 2012-2016 Defender, then fits it with all sorts of upgrades.
The engine is the big one, and not just metaphorically. It’s a naturally aspirated version of Jaguar Land Rover’s typically supercharged 5.0-liter V8, cranking out 400 hp here. It’s mated to the same eight-speed automatic used in the Range Rover Sport, which then sends power to an automatic torque biasing center differential. There are also strengthened propshafts to help deal with all the horsepower
Credit that to the diff and the traction control, but Land Rover Classic beefed up everything else to handle the power too. The shocks, dampers, and anti-roll bars are all new, and there are big brakes with lovely vented rotors and Alcon calipers.
And it’s all been properly developed. King told me that his team drove two earlier prototypes from the UK to the Sahara with 5000-pound trailers attached. When they arrived, they unhitched the trailers, did a bunch of off-roading, came back, re-hitched the trailers and went home. All without issue.
With this car, Land Rover Classic Works has been given the budget, time, and OEM software code to make the ultimate Defender. It’s the ultimate evolution of an icon, one that can traces its origins back to the truck that got Land Rover started in 1948.