“Later, after I joined the team, came our 4.7-litre supercharged Range Rover ‘P38A’. It was as close a car as you’ll find to an unofficial prototype for the modern Range Rover Sport, I suppose.”
Douglas is explaining how the firm he ended up owning and running went from making its reputation with go-faster Range Rovers to now offering perhaps the most complete set of mechanical modification and upgrade programmes available anywhere for the SUV that the car collecting world has suddenly gone mad for: the Land Rover Defender.
Douglas is a fascinating bloke and a proper autophile. A mechanical engineer by trade, his early career was spent building racing engines for Jaguars and Morgans, the latter acquainting him with the Rover V8 that would figure so prominently throughout the rest of his working life. He became involved with JE’s sister company ITG in 1987, then with JE in the early 1990s, just as Land Rover legend Charles ‘Spen’ King become a JE director.
“I ended up owning both ITG and JE by the end of the 1990s, as my predecessors retired, sold up or gave up their interests,” Douglas, plainly a reluctant manager, explains. “It was always my intention to have an interesting but laid-back life engineering for someone, but I found I had to be a businessman anyway. These days, I delegate as many of the organisational tasks as I can, to try to keep free for the engineering.”
It was during the 2000s, having also got into diesel ECU tuning for the Discovery, that JE’s business became dominated by the Defender. “The L322 BMW-engineered Range Rover became such a good basic product that tuning it was difficult,” Douglas says. “But the Defender was a constant for us. There was a call for ECU tuning on TD5s, but now we start with suspension and braking upgrades and move up through automatic gearbox conversions and V8 engine conversions. Finally, there’s the fully converted Zulu.”
What he’s is referring to is a £150,000 fully converted Defender, powered by a 475bhp supercharged 4.7-litre V8 and able to hit 60mph from rest in less than five seconds.
So what does Douglas make of what’s currently happening to the Defender market? “When production finished, our business went flat for two months – as if every Defender owner in the country held their breath for a moment and wondered what might happens next,” he says. “But then the demand exploded.
“We deal with four kinds of owner. There are those who run working cars, use them off-road and for heavy stuff, and want to continue doing so. There are enthusiasts who do a bit of off-roading but also want to make their cars more usable. There are collectors who love their cars and just want the perfect example. And there are the super-rich who have to have one right now and want it to make the biggest statement possible.”