What is it?
It’s a Land Rover Defender with a petrol V8 in it. Goody. Not from the factory, mind: it has been 20 years since a petrol V8 comprised part of Land Rover’s regular Defender line-up; 15 since one last officially appeared, in a 50th anniversary limited-edition. This, then, is Twisted Performance’s version of a V8 Defender, to be built in quantities of around a dozen a year.
Twisted, the fairly prolific modifier of Defenders (more than 100 new-builds a year, 150 upgrades through the workshop, and a lot more mail order besides) has found there’s natural demand from countries where they don’t much go for diesels. So here we are: at Twisted’s HQ in Thirsk, Yorskshire, about to sample a 520bhp V8 engine in what is – unmistakably – a Defender.
Our drive is of a development car. And Charlie Fawcett, Twisted’s MD, is preparing me for precisely that: there are squeaks and rattles, he says. The engine is highly tuned and might stall at idle, he says. It has a manual gearbox rather than the automatic it’ll later receive and its action isn’t particularly refined, he says. It’s a prototype, you see. But let’s have a drive, shall we? Yes, let’s.
What is it like?
It’s unmistakably a Defender, but the changes run deep. Body and chassis structures aside, in fact, not much has been left alone at all. There’s a GM LS-series V8 - more on which in a moment - mated to a five-speed manual for now, still driving all four wheels but without the low-ratio transfer box and with... well, a list is easier: new differentials, drive shafts, prop shafts, drive flanges and CV joints, bushes and fuel tank. There are new springs and adjustable dampers, different anti-roll bars and upgraded brakes.
Inside, you get what you see. Leather trimming everywhere, all completed in-house, including unique coverings for some truly exceptional Recaro seats. And sound proofing. Lots of sound proofing. This is luxurious like no Defender I’ve ever sat in. And that, coupled with the mechanical upgrades, is why Twisted will charge £140,000 for one.
Fawcett’s concerns about squeaks, rattles and refinement seem pretty unfounded too. Attempting to remove every squeak in a Defender must be like trying to manually tag every ant in a colony, but by gum, this is a proper job. There are still noises – wind, road, the odd interior niggle, but this is a Defender, after all.
It even rides: Twisted fits variable rate springs – softer in the very first part of travel, stiffer thereafter - which take the edge from high-frequency road inputs. Despite bigger wheels (18s rather than 16s), there’s compliance in the tyres, too: this car has road-biased Toyo Proxes S/Ts, but they still have 60 profile sidewalls on 285-section width.
That all goes to allowing this Defender to make better use of that engine. The “small block” has long been a default aftermarket choice, and it’s easy to see why. They come crated and made for applications like this: no complicated ECU lockdowns, just a compact and light (this is a 6162cc car, remember), revvy yet flexible motor. And Twisted’s customers have made no suggestion that they want a Jaguar Land Rover-sourced engine.
Despite this version being a 480bhp motor from the Chevrolet Performance range, whose manifolds lift it to 520bhp, it’s still refined when you want it to be, yet revs when you don’t. Here, second stretches to 70mph, yet it’ll pull at 30mph in fifth. That extensive range makes it great for overtakes without gearchanges, which is just as well. The shift is fine; just long.
So you choose a gear, use the exceptional visibility to line-up a pass or a stretch of road, and enjoy what this Twisted Defender offers: six seconds to 60mph kind of performance, fine body control (for a Defender), well weighted - if a little slow - steering (a faster rack is an option), and quite keen roadholding.
A softer front anti-roll bar and stiffer rear one allow the front to settle on an outside wheel, the Defender threatens to understeer a touch, and the stiffer rear might tighten the line on the way out of a corner, but you’ll have probably backed out of it by then. I know I had. After all, you can’t change, fundamentally, what this car is. It’s fast, it’s luxurious, it’s expensive and rare (a dozen or so V8s a year), but it’s still a Defender. But that’s exactly the point.
Should I buy one?
You might well, or you might look at the price and think otherwise. But when you study the component list, add up the numbers, then factor in somebody developing it and putting it all together by hand and imagine yourself being the person who does it, I reckon most of us would want well nigh on £150,000 to make it worth our while.
Even Mercedes AMG, whose economies of scale are rather larger, want over £120,000 for a G63 AMG, arguably this car’s closest rival.
Is either one better than the other? You could make arguments each way. Besides, at this end of the market, we’re not talking about exclusively rational, objective decisions. All we know is that, in our extensive dream garage, something like this Defender would be well up our shortlist.
Land Rover Defender Twisted Performance V8
Price £140,000; 0-60mph 6.0sec (est); Top speed 130mph (est); Economy 15mpg (est); CO2 na; Kerbweight 2200kg (est); Engine V8, 6162cc, petrol; Power 520bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 485lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual