A classic Range Rover given much more than a simple restoration, this transformation gives this exclusive Land Rover a new lease of life
  • First Drive

    JIA Chieftain Range Rover 2017 review

    A classic Range Rover given much more than a simple restoration, this transformation gives this exclusive Land Rover a new lease of life

What is it?

We should have seen it coming. All those rivet-popping Defenders from the likes of Twisted, JE Motorworks and Kahn Design, made over then force-fed horsepower like corn-gorged Barbary ducks destined for the fois gras tin.

Well, now it has happened to Land Rover’s second landmark car, the Range Rover Classic. Meet the Chieftain, from Banbury-based JIA: a 1993 Range Rover transposed onto a Discovery 3 chassis, restyled inside and out, and endowed with General Motors’ 6.2-litre LSA supercharged V8. That’s 556bhp, 551lb ft and 0-60mph in around 4.5sec, which is more power, more torque and more get-up-and-go than any current Range Rover, all housed in a body that’s largely as Charles Spencer King intended with his 1970 original.

Of course, that’s a huge simplification. Jensen International Automotive, to give the company its full name, has spent the past few years restoring, re-engineering and modernising 28 (and counting) Interceptors and FFs such as the Interceptor R Supercharged we sampled back in 2014.

This time, it took a 2004 Discovery 3 chassis and shortened its wheelbase by 345mm to accommodate a four-door Range Rover Classic’s body frame and panels, which are affixed via custom adaptors.

GRP bumpers and side skirts embolden the exterior styling, as do chunky wheel arches to swallow the Discovery’s wider tracks, and there are bespoke, period-style 20in alloys, too. A deeply gentrified cabin – drafted by a designer of luxury yacht interiors – adds mod cons, improved ergonomics and the hides of 22 cattle. Endless wiring has been fused to integrate systems from both the donor vehicles, the engine and the six-speed GM torque converter.

What's it like?

It's imposing, for one thing – especially when seen parked alongside an untouched contemporary. And while it’s much smaller than a current Range Rover, the Chieftain absolutely drips with attitude.

Inside, only the rear-view mirror and column stalks are of factory spec. The original seats, passenger grab-handle and distinctive steering wheel have been upholstered in fresh, soft Bridge of Weir leather and there’s Wilton carpet underfoot, Alcantara headlining and a completely redesigned dashboard that’s also sealed with rarefied cow. An Apple CarPlay-enabled Alpine touchscreen has been tidily integrated, while there are billet aluminium and carbonfibre panels and lovely satchel-style leather pockets dotted about, too. Lest we forget how spartan early Range Rovers were, these are all momentous upgrades. The mix of materials and shades is quite eclectic, but buyers can customise at will.

Ergonomics are also much improved, with most of the switchgear now concentrated on the centre console and of respectable quality. The electric seat buttons seem a bit austere but easily trump the rudimentary, tacked-on originals and allow me to find comfort around the fixed tiller. Settled into the lofty, squashy but supportive driver’s seat, I’m only short of a contrast-collar shirt, garish tie and scarlet braces for the full mogul experience.

My put-upon PA, three quivering note-takers and I would all fit in here quite comfortably, with enough glass around us to shame the observation car of the Rocky Mountaineer. And, thanks to the new chassis, the spare wheel vacates the boot in favour of the underside, so the splitting tailgate now reveals an even more cavernous space than before.

Igniting the LSA brings a subdued, throbbing idle. In fact, apart from the occasional jarring gearshift at low speeds (further transmission mapping is one of a few snagging items on this car, which is effectively a late prototype), the Chieftain is very easy going about town: plenty of lock and assistance to the steering, an easily modulated throttle, visible front corners and a ride that’s gentle enough (bar the occasional sharp-edged shock) all do their bit.

Indeed, the Chieftain is a road-focused Range Rover. It will tackle some rough stuff – especially since the Disco’s adjustable air suspension is retained – but JIA reckons owners won’t try it. For this reason, the centre differential no longer locks and there’s no low range, while the new chassis’ all-round double wishbones are far more tarmac-friendly than the original’s pair of coil-sprung live axles.

Don’t expect scythe-like cornering, though. Roll is pronounced enough to be the limiting factor in cornering speed, closely followed by the steering’s relaxed demeanour. Rather, corners are only a means to finding the next straight, where, from almost any speed, a suggestive flex of the right ankle swiftly kicks down one gear (if you’re feeling timid) or two (if you’re certified free of heart murmurs), and a massive and sustained thump of torque skelps you down the road as that brooding engine note becomes an unbridled scream. The LSA will pull strongly from 2750rpm, but keep it between 3500rpm and 6000rpm and this plush wagon becomes a raging hot rod.

Even on bumpy roads, though, it never feels unstable or unsettled. The air suspension hunkers down above 70mph to tighten the car’s otherwise loping gait and you can confidently clip along with your right hand on the ’wheel and your left elbow on the executive armrest. There’s little road noise, and wind noise is manageable; it can’t match a modern alternative for refinement, but I’d happily stick on some Gary Numan and beat a fast path to Deutsche Bank’s Frankfurt AGM in this thing.

We felt neither the traction control nor the ABS chime in - the Disco front and rear differentials and huge AP Racing brakes all being assuredly up to their tasks despite the significant roll, dive and squat angles at play in this softly sprung, 2386kg brute.

Should I buy one?

The Chieftain isn’t the first hot Range Rover Classic, but even Overfinch never breached the 328bhp mark and JIA’s new machine is more a transformation than a modification. Which means it takes about a year to build, and this in turn means the price to order a car in the same spec as this one is around £250,000: more than the average house price in England.

And yet there’s nothing quite like it. Land Rover’s ‘Reborn’ Range Rover Classics start at £135,000, but being restored to factory spec means they’re sparsely equipped, dynamically rudimentary and take 13.9sec to reach 60mph – ideal if you’re a stickler for originality but not great for real-world use.

And would there be anything more satisfying than a Chieftain in which to challenge a £162,700 Bentley Bentayga away from the lights? Few shall find out, but I’ll envy those who do.

2017 JIA Chieftain Supercharged 6.2 V8 

Location Banbury, UK; On sale Now; Price £250,000 (approx); Engine V8, 6162cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 556bhp at 6100rpm; Torque 551lb ft at 3800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd auto; Kerb weight 2386kg; 0-60mph 4.5sec (est); Top speed 150+mph (est); Fuel economy na; CO2 rating na; Rivals Land Rover Range Rover Reborn, Bentley Bentayga W12, Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic

Join the debate


25 August 2017

Shame, I think those big wheels caricaturize it.

Where has all Japanese design went to?

25 August 2017

Another resto-mod offering for the utterly over-inflated classic car market. When the bubble bursts it will register on the Richter Scale - and all those idiot speculators and driveway pimps will finally be replaced by the genuine enthusiasts. 

25 August 2017

Suspect Bill Lyon's is correct, I'm wondering whar people will thing of those amazingly expensive Singer Porsche's in a few year time ? Best leave these things standard or with in-period modifications in my view .

25 August 2017

Singer Porsches a totally different proposition, in my view. I'd love one if I had the money - a classic 911 but optimised in an obsessive way. This, on the other hand, is a very, very expensive lash up. Sorry but no.

25 August 2017

Get rid of the comedy rapper wheels, the original Range Rover had an elegance to it, I do like most of these updates of classic cars - run a classic with modern brakes and creature comforts.

25 August 2017

Looks good, its very well done, not over the top at all, seems stupid to disable the diff lock and low range  though

25 August 2017

Ruined by those comical wheels

25 August 2017

Hmm, wheel slook silly to me, as in REALLY silly, completely ruin the look of the car. What puzzles me, is that the chassis is a shortened Disco 3 unit, with RRC body grafted on. Surely that would fall foul of the SVA /kit car regulations as it has had the chassis wheelbase altered? Surely it should have a Q plate and not the plate off the original Disco?

25 August 2017

Damn that looks good. That bonnet / wheel shot is very SAAB: 3 spoke alloys and clam-shell bonnet. I agree the wheels could be 2" smaller so it looks less like a shoe, but all in all this is a desirable beast. 250K though? wow.

25 August 2017

I'm not against modifying classic cars at all but these modifications are more chav than class.  The wheels are tacky and the interior looks too modded.  And couldn't they have fitted it with a more appropriate, fettled Rover V8 instead?  A tuned 5.0-litre derivative would have given the owner all the performance they could ever use and kept it period-correct. 


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