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Zulu dawn for iconic Defender

Zulu dawn for iconic Defender

Enda Mullen, 2017-03-13

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THE Land Rover Defender may have gone from mainstream production but the legend of the iconic go-anywhere vehicle is being kept alive.

While Land Rover is dropping broad hints that a new model is not so far away, JE Motorworks of Coventry is transforming the original in a way that may raise a few eyebrows.

The company will modify a Defender in a whole host of ways, with the ultimate makeover turning it into a lean mean machine to rival a supercar for performance and deliver a level of luxury more commonly found in a limousine.

It might be a world away from the Defender's intended use traversing muddy hill tracks and desert trails but the firm says there is plenty of demand for the highly specialist modification work it carries out.

The pinnacle of JE Motorworks Defender modifying is its Zulu conversion model, which costs an eye-watering £125,000.

Performance-wise it is a veritable world away from a basic Defender and will take you from 0-60mph in under five seconds and as a bonus offer a ride that's arguably as comfortable as a Mercedes S-Class executive saloon.

It has a 4.7-litre supercharged V8 engine, a completely new suspension system, an automatic gearbox figure-hugging leather seats and an opulent interior.

Modifying Defenders and other Land Rover vehicles is nothing new for JE Motorworks, the firm has built an enviable reputation in this field over many years, but it has seen interest soar since production ground to a halt just over a year ago.

And although the Zulu represents the ultimate upgrade the firm can offer lots of modifications to make rugged Defenders just a little more comfortable and less agricultural.

Managing director and chief engineer Jonathan Douglas said: "A lot of people bought them before the end of production because they wanted to own one but didn't realise how primitive they were compared to a modern car. We do a lot to make them less primitive.

"The Defender is quite exciting to drive but you want the right bits, not the irritating bits.

"We try to address the bits that are more unpleasant but leave the character of the things that aren't."

Among the most popular modifications are an automatic gearbox and an electric handbrake, meaning the driver has significantly more room for their left knee.

Other modifications that make a real difference include a rear wiper that can run intermittently as well as constantly.

"You have still got the feel of a Defender but don't have to worry about operating the handbrake or changing gear," Mr Douglas added.

"You are still retaining some of the character of it but making it a bit easier to drive and live with."

JE Motorworks' Zulu really has to be seen in the metal and experienced as a passenger to be fully appreciated.

Additions like a carbon fibre bonnet help to reduce weight, while a whole host of styling modifications enhance its presence in a subtle rather than an over the top way.

Everything from the specially made grille to the exhaust tailpipe is different or enhanced.

Sit inside and you're instantly struck by a level of luxury that's distinctly un Defender-like yet still fits with the character of this 69-year-old automotive icon.

An imposing looking automatic gear lever is more like something an extreme computer gamer might use but again it somehow works and doesn't look out of place.

Special sports-style leather upholstered seats make for a far more comfortable passenger experience - particularly at speed - and there's an abundance of leather throughout the cabin.

But go for a spin as a passenger and it's then you really understand what the Zulu is all about.

Its sportscar-like turn of pace feels somewhat at odds with a Defender but delights, while its handling and ride quality seem to defy the very laws of physics.

Somehow or other that 4.7-litre supercharged V8 delivering 480bhp feels curiously at home, no doubt helped by the fact it is an engine that also powers many Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.

The longer wheelbase 120 version we took a spin in can travel from 0-60mph in around 5.5 seconds but a shorter and lighter 90 model with a manual gearbox would complete the same sprint in less than five seconds.

Mr Douglas says the top speed is 120mph but that given the Defender's boxy styling travelling at high speed can be somewhat noisy.

"Once you get above 85mph the wind noise is terrible," he said.

And what of this ultimate modified Defender's off-road ability?

"Of course it can still go off-road and do pretty much anything any reasonable person would ask of it, even if it won't go up quite so steep a mountain as a regular Defender," he added.â

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