From £147,5008
Latest Range Rover-based off-roader takes a different approach to the restomod

What is it?

It’s the latest addition to the ever increasing ranks of restomod machines, but in this case, it’s one with an off-roading twist. Designed and developed by Jensen International Automotive (JIA), the small Oxfordshire firm better known for its exquisite updates of the Interceptor and FF, this is the classic Range Rover-based Chieftain.

In truth, this isn’t the company’s first crack at a reimagined Range Rover. A few years ago, it created the original Chieftain, which was essentially a classic body grafted onto a Land Rover Discovery 3 chassis. While it looked the part and went well, the whole transformation proved too complicated and eye-wateringly expensive (think £250,000 before you’ve started to get carried away with extras) to make it viable.

So after a bit of head scratching, JIA came up with an all-new version. Essentially, it retains the same raw ingredients - a classic Rangie donor car, the adoption of a muscular General Motors V8 (in this case, a 430bhp 6.2-litre LS3 mated to six-speed auto and the existing all-wheel drive complete with dual-range transfer case and limited-slip diffs) and some subtle enhancements inside and out that aim to make it as easy to live with and reliable as a modern. 

Unlike before, the latest car retains the ladder-frame chassis (albeit a new one), but now with its own fully independent, double-wishbone suspension that gives a fractionally wider track. This has been achieved by cutting the ends off the original live axles, but retaining the differentials, to which are attached new driveshafts, while the coil-sprung suspension (with adjustable Spax dampers) then hangs off bespoke and beautifully fabricated pick-ups that are mounted to the existing chassis.

Currently, JIA is basing its conversions on the later, early-1990s ‘Soft Dash’ cars, as these deliver the best mix of modernity and retro appeal, plus they tend to come with all the ‘latest’ luxuries and safety aids, such as air conditioning and airbags. As with any restomod, the sky can be the limit when it comes to specification and our long-wheelbase LSE-based example is testament to that, featuring unique GRP front and rear bumpers, LED headlights and Compomotive wheels that give it a more menacing look than the original.

Climb aboard and the interior is a nicely balanced mix of old and new, that soft-touch dashboard delivering ergonomics that aren’t anywhere near as much of a disaster as the earlier cars, while the driving position benefits from the inclusion of a rake-adjustable column on this later car - although the sunroof eats into head room. Fresh hand-stitched leather covers the seats and steering wheel, there are new thick pile carpets and a refreshed headlining, and the wood trim is revived. There’s also plenty of space to lounge around in this LSE, while the trademark split tailgate opens to reveal a sizable boot. This is a practical indulgence.

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What's it like?

Twist the key and that big-chested V8 woofles into life. With so much power and torque, the performance has an effortless elasticity, the Chieftain gathering speed like a Wile E Coyote-dropped anvil plummeting off a cliff edge. It’s helped by the automatic gearbox, which delivers quick, clean shifts when you’re in the mood, yet slurs them nicely when you’re not. There’s the odd shunt through the transmission as you tip into the throttle at low speed, but otherwise it’s smooth and neatly integrated.

Although the performance might not come as a surprise, the impressive accuracy of the steering does (that’ll be the addition of a rack and pinion set-up from a Discovery 3, which also provides the powerful and progressive brakes), as does the controlled suppleness of the ride. Whereas an original would be hopping and occasionally shuddering its way down the road on its live axles, the Chieftain deals deftly with most imperfections. There’s a dash of underlying firmness, but the Rangie is largely unruffled by scarred Tarmac.

Cornering with conviction still results in some roll, but it never gets alarming and the Chieftain will cling tenaciously to your chosen line. In fact, you can cover ground at a startling rate when harrying this Spen King classic across give-and-take secondaries, scaring the odd modern high-performance motor in the process. It’s still a fast-in-slow-out sort of car and the steering rarely reveals any secrets, but it’s impressively composed while that elevated view gives you earlier warning than most as to which way the road is unfurling. 

Of course, there are quirks: it’s still essentially a 25-year-old Rangie that’s based on a design that dates back half a century. It’s comfortable and quick on long runs, but there are vintage levels of wind noise, plus you’ll have to get used to some squeaks and rattles, the alloy body retaining the original’s built-in flex, which was required for serious off-roading. Yet such is the car’s character, capability, quality and its towering sense of occasion that you quickly forgive it these foibles. 

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Should I buy one?

With prices starting at £147,500, the Chieftain is pricier than Land Rover’s own Classic Works restored cars, but unlike those machines, the JIA car has performance and ability that are pretty much bang up to date.

The wind noise and the chatter from the bodywork are there to remind you that this is essentially an old car, but such are the feel-good vibes you get from this quick and capable machine that you soon put them to the back of your mind.

Perhaps the clincher is that, unlike many restomods that get squirrelled away for high days and holidays, this is a car you could genuinely use day to day. However, if it was us, we’d go forgo the bodykit and stick with a standard shell in period colours. Not only does it look great just as Spen King intended, but it also makes it brilliantly surprising Q-car.

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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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Faustcar 11 May 2021
Really not sure why you would want to buy this even if you would have all the money in the world. Even bigger mystery why this car would deserve four stars.
Faustcar 11 May 2021
Really not sure why you would want to buy this even if you would have all the money in the world. Even bigger mystery why this car would deserve four stars.
Landie 11 May 2021

I like the concept, but would prefer it with a supercharged 5.0 AJ8 lump kicking out over 500 healthy ponies...