FIRST DRIVE: Land Rover Defender Works V8

Back in January, Land Rover kicked off a special year for its company with news that the much-loved Defender was alive and well. Sort of.

As part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, Land Rover decided it would be a good idea to ‘re-engineer’ a few Defenders by opening the bonnet, lobbing the Transit engine aside and squeezing the SVR’s thumping big heart under the hood instead – albeit without the supercharger.

That makes for a 400bhp Defender, effectively, with Land Rover branding it the fastest and most powerful iteration they’ve ever made. Given that it can do 0-60mph in just 5.6 seconds, we’ve no reason to suggest otherwise. And if you’re feeling especially ballsy, it tops out at 106mph.

I say ‘could’, because embarking on such an experience is likely to leave you with some form of scarring: physically, because your eardrums may disintegrate from the noise, and mentally, because it feels as safe as strapping a jet engine to a shopping trolley.

Alongside the newly-fitted V8 furnace, this re-worked Defender gains the popular eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and a raft of other enhancements, including better brakes and a handling kit of uprated dampers, springs and anti-roll bars.

You may think that with this revised road-biased setup, that the Works V8 now prefers to find the racing line through a series of apexes rather than ruts – but don’t be fooled. Sure, they’ve given the Works V8 a handling kit, but that’s like fitting a handling kit to a Boeing 747.

When you plant your foot into the throttle, there’s a significant pause while the Defender reluctantly calls the ZF ‘box into action. A gear is eventually selected and then your ears become victimised by an onslaught of thunder, whilst the cabin seems to tremble in a manner akin to that of a launching space shuttle.

And after you’ve hurtled down the road and you’ve become aware of the fast-approaching bend, your thoughts quickly turn to the shedding of speed and the fact the brakes aren’t doing as much of it as you’d like.

Then you’ve got the corner itself. It’s like trying to thread the Defender through the eye of needle, only you seem to have all the precision of a half-canned Jackson Pollock. It really is quite a spectacular mode of travel.

With the Works V8 Defender, even though it has all the subtlety of a burning hammer, it’s a machine that is capable of stirring the emotions. Any Defender, whether it be this £150,000 collector’s item or a knackered Tdi from the nineties with several hundred thousand miles on the clock, every one of them has that ability to get under your skin.

This one has a stubbornness that makes it endearing and while it has the road manners of a JCB in a tracksuit, you can’t avoid getting sucked into the theatre of it all, even if the performance isn’t what you were expecting.

Sadly, only 150 people will get the ticket to own one of these special Defenders. They are, chiefly, for collectors – a select few who have the funds to buy up toys, even if it means they will rarely ever come out of their boxes.

It’s a wonderful thing, the Works V8, and a fitting limited edition to mark a special year for Land Rover. It’s just a shame that so few eyes will ever get to see them in the flesh. And so few of these Defenders will ever have flesh grappling their steering wheels in anger.

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