I realize that “run over your nightmares” may seem overwrought, but I have an excuse: I didn’t write it. Those were the words my nine-year old kid Otto, when he clambered up into this brute and I stomped the throttle. “This car can run over your nightmares!” he yelled, and, really, he nailed it. That’s the whole, fundamental point of this wonderful, ridiculous thing.
Don’t get me wrong: This is an absolutely absurd machine. I have plenty of good things to say about it, but I feel like it should all come with a disclaimer that consists of just the basic description of what this is: A 1993 Land Rover Defender with a supercharged 6.2L LSA V8 with around 600 horsepower and 580 pound-feet of torque that will cost you a dizzying $224,950.
If you’ve ever driven an old-school Defender, just reading that sentence should have made you eject a small but significant quantity of urine into your pants. Objectively, this is a terrible idea. The basic Defender 110s came with engines that made around 120 HP, and unless you were actually off-roading, sometimes even that felt like too much for the car.
Defenders, with their always-on four-wheel drive, tall, narrow proportions, top-heavy feel, and a turning circle familiar to container ship captains have never been great at basic street driving. They’re off-road machines at their core, and that’s where they thrive.
For those that have felt that the basic street driving of the Defender could be improved, absolutely nobody has ever said: “You know how we could make this better? Give it six times the power!” because that doesn’t really help it, at all.
But it does change it, and I think, for some people, that change is enough. It makes the madness feel a bit more intentional, and, of course, it’s pretty thrilling when you really stomp on the gas.
When I was handed the keys to this beast by the good people at Osprey, I was told specifically to not stomp on the gas, at least not all the way to the floor, because, I suspect, doing so would open up some sort of jagged rift in spacetime and the demons that have been bound to animate this thing would be freed, which would be bad.
Since we’re talking about Osprey itself, I should take a moment to say that it’s running a very impressive operation down in Wilmington, North Carolina.
I got to poke around its workshop a bit, and what I saw was great. While the company’s worked with other kinds of vehicles, it’s focused on classic Land Rover Defenders. Restorations and modifications, as much as possible, are being done from scratch.
Osprey has a stack of completely refurbished and renewed bare chassis to build cars on, which are comprehensively re-worked in remarkable detail, with time taken to correct design flaws and issues that Land Rover baked into so many of these things for decades.
You don’t have to get a Defender as insane as the one I was in, not by a long shot. There’s a lot of options available, and buyers can pretty much spec out exactly what they want.
For example, that lovely blue machine up there is a soft-top Defender 90 with an uprated but less bonkers engine and a really meticulously-done interior. It looks like it’s going to be a charming car when it’s done, and comparing that to the one I tested shows the surprisingly wide range of character and performance these cars can be given.
Let’s get back to the one I had, though, this 1993 Land Rover Defender Autobiography, which borrows Range Rover’s silly naming scheme. Autobiography! Yes, this machine completely reminds me of a book written about one’s self. I kept driving it and thinking, huh, this sure feels like a memoir, but, you know, not quite.
I’ll break it down by categories, starting with...
Osprey did a good job updating the look of the classic Defender while retaining the design cues that make it iconic. It did such a good job of modernizing that neighbors of mine who are in the market for a new Land Rover came asking questions about it, thinking it was the new Defender. Ha ha, sorry! This is the new one, and it has a useless plastic square.
The front end has what’s known as the “SVX-style” grille, and I actually like the look, as it retains the iconic round lighting units but modernizes them with a sort of sleek Empire-from-Star Wars sort of aesthetic.
The biggest visual update, and the one that really does the most to change the Defender’s look, though, can be seen best from the side:
All the body panels are essentially the same, but Osprey has used a large panel of tinted glass for the rear quarter/cargo area windows, and that glass covers the C and D pillars, which ends up doing a lot of work to update the design and make it seem much more sleek—well, as sleek as a Defender is likely to be.
I think it’s a smart choice and works well; combined with the contrasting gunmetal gray roof and hood, it helps break up the large, flat areas of metal on the body, and the choice to use contrasting colors for details like the rivets and the door hinges helps to convey the unashamed utilitarian/machine qualities of the purposeful original design.
I’m told those wheels are the only examples of their kind in America now, and while I think they generally fit the look of the car, I have to be honest and say I’d still prefer those simple steelies of the original LRs. But, you know, nobody is likely to listen to me on that one, least of all the people in the target market for this thing.
I was told that all of the added vents, intakes, heat extractors, and so on are actually functional, and help keep that big-ass 6.2-liter LSA happy and comfortable, and, for the most part, I think they add to the design and convey that there’s something other than a rattly diesel living under the hood.
I wouldn’t say this thing is subtle by any stretch, but I somehow didn’t find the look of it garish, either, which, I’ll be honest, surprised me a bit.
I think it’s a cool-looking update to the classic Defender form, and has plenty of engaging details, like the quad foglamps neatly integrated into the bumper and really high-quality hinges and door handles that stand up well to closer scrutiny.
The biggest issues with this Defender, regarding daily drivability, are all about the interior. This has less to do with how Osprey re-worked and outfitted the interior and more about the basic design of the Defender.
Osprey has pretty much re-covered every part you’re likely to see and touch inside the car with much better materials, leathers and Alcantara-type stuff, and metals and high-quality plastics, but the base geometry is still awkward in many ways.
Getting in and out, for example, is incredibly cumbersome and difficult. For starters, the vehicle is high off the ground, requiring an initial step of what I suspect is over two feet, and then once you get an anchor foot planted on the carpet, there’s nothing for you to grab to pull the rest of your body up, so, as a driver, you have to either awkwardly grab the steering wheel or just flail around and struggle until you’re in.
I can’t figure out why they didn’t put in some sort of grab handles, which would have made getting in and out so much easier.
I know I’m short, but taller friends had difficulties as well, and while my kid was able to gamely scramble in like some kind of large raccoon, there’s no way I could have, say, used this car to take my small, 80-plus-year-old mom on a trip anywhere unless she was willing to be hefted into the seat like a 4'11" bag of peat moss.
While the dash materials themselves are improved, there are still some reminders of the Defender’s more humble origins and quirks, like the stalk-mounted horn, left-side ignition switch, fairly basic instrumentation, and, yes, no airbag.
That’s just a big chewy rubber block in the center of that steering wheel there, not hiding any airbags, which is fine, but something you should likely be aware of.
Osprey has taken the time to update most of the electronics to meet modern fancy-ass driver demands, with an aftermarket center-stack screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, GPS navigation, rear-view camera system multiple USB plugs, and all that.
It’s also added power rear windows (something not usually found in these vehicles), a wireless phone charging pad, and made a sort of strange choice regarding the shifter for the Chevrolet Performance 6L80E 6-speed auto transmission:
Sure, the push-button shifter does add a sort of high-tech element to the interior, but I never really got used to the setup and often found my hand groping for a phantom shifter, or not being able to start the car because I didn’t realize I didn’t have it in Park.
You get used to it, but I never really got to like the shifter setup. The good news is that I believe Osprey has a number of other options, so I don’t see why you’d have to have a button-shifter if you didn’t want one.
Like all Defenders, the interior is a non-Euclidian space that’s simultaneously both roomy and cramped. The uprated seats and materials certainly help, and while you can fit three in the back seat easily, legroom is not really as good as you’d hope, but it’s certainly not bad.
The cargo area is generous, but a lot of the space is eaten up by the pair of forward-facing jump seats, which make this a true seven-seater, but those seats don’t exactly hide out of the way seamlessly.
With the jump seats up and the middle row folded flat, though, you can get an interesting and roomy space for a road trip that has a sort of table/ottoman-like surface for those in the Way Back.
There’s another issue when it comes to cargo loading and unloading: The door, with its full-size spare tire mounted on it, is quite heavy and awkward and does not seem to want to stay open on its own, preferring to smack against your ass, comically, as you’re trying to pull something out of the back.
At least it’s padded much more opulently than the normal Defender’s rear door.
One nice thing about the interior is that the back seats are high enough that the upper-corner-roof windows end up being right in your sight-line, which is very pleasant. Also note that, for some reason, the back seats get grab handles to help get in and out, even if the front doesn’t.
OK, now for the fun part: this thing fucking moves. It’s hardly surprising, really, since Osprey has jammed the supercharged 6.2-liter LSA engine from the Cadillac CTS-V and the Camaro ZL1 in there, and while it’s officially listed at about 600 horsepower, it was hinted that it may actually be making more.
It also makes 580 pound-feet of torque and a really intoxicating supercharger whine when you step on the gas, hard.
It’s fast. Given the overall bulk and shape and height of the whole thing, it’s alarmingly, anus-clenchingly fast. When you step on it to pass someone or just pick up speed, the feeling of all that mass moving so fast is exciting and thrilling and terrifying and unsettling all at once.
The suspension feels well-equipped to handle it, and in straight runs it’s fine, but it’s just such a top-heavy and tall machine that I never felt fully comfortable driving it at even seven or even “six-tenths.” Driving this car at half of what it’s capable of is plenty. If there’s another car you want to pass, you’ll be able to pass it, no problem.
The brakes always felt like they were working hard to stop the mass of the truck, which I think was easily pushing 5,000 pounds or so. Perhaps they could stand to be beefed up a bit, but the rest of the suspension setup was very impressive, and overall this Defender, which has had its drivetrain completely re-engineered, seemed extremely competent and capable.
I even had our race mechanic pal Bozi give a look at how everything was put together underneath, and he was impressed with the quality of the parts and the workmanship.
While I didn’t get the chance to really take this thing seriously off-road, it absolutely looks capable of handling whatever terrain you choose to drag it over, and all of the underbody and suspension work shows careful craftsmanship and attention to detail. It’s not some slapped-together surface restomod; this has been re-built and re-engineered from the bottom up.
It’s still funny to see just two pedals in a Defender, though Osprey did a tidy job here, with, I think, the brake light switch and other electronics in that box above the pedal.
The aggressive look of the Osprey isn’t all show and no go; there’s plenty of go here, arguably more go than any rational person would have need of going, but go there is, aplenty. Of go.
There’s no way around the fact that, by any metric, this is an absolutely absurd vehicle. It’s an insane mix of raw power and off-road chops in a package and price that makes it unlikely to see it pushed to its limits anywhere.
The speed is alarming for a vehicle of its shape and size, it’s huge but not exactly practical, and I can see that it could be kind of exhausting to drive on a daily basis.
That said, cars aren’t rational things. They never were, and they never should be. This is not a vehicle for anyone—hell, it’s not a vehicle for most people. But there is a certain niche for whom this brute checks every single box with an exuberant swipe of a bloody claw, and those people will likely adore this thing.
It’s got a great look, it makes fantastic noises, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It makes every trip into a roller coaster ride, complete with all the clumsy entry and exit rituals that just add to the drama of it all.
It’s clearly built by people who know exactly what they’re doing and love the work that they do, and if I ever find a sack of Krugerrands in an abandoned public toilet and I also find myself wanting a vehicle that had a real powerful, slightly unhinged, menacing presence, I can’t think of a better option than something like this.
It’s a ridiculous thing, yes, but in the right context, it’s also a wonderful thing, and if you’re determined to blow $225,000 on a very fast, luxury SUV, this seems a much more interesting and fun option than a Bentley Bentayga or some similar dorky, pampered rich-guy luxo-yak.
It still needs some handles to get in the damn thing, though.