I like to tell people that cars aren’t rational things. I tell them that’s why I like them so much, why I find them so fascinating, why I’ve made them the focus of my career. I tell them that if cars were rational things, there’d be like a handful of standardized types group by the jobs they were intended to accomplish and they’d be about as interesting and engaging as the heat pump unit behind your house or apartment building. But, again, they’re not rational. They never have been, they never will be. And this is all fun and exciting to say to people but sometimes you need to really, you know, live it, which is why I’m so delighted that Osprey Custom Cars loaned me this handsome, ridiculous thing: a very modified and customized Defender 90 with a Corvette engine and so much leather inside I have to remind myself of the Autopian’s strict policy against kink shaming. I’m delighted because this thing is, well, completely and unashamedly irrational, and proves the point I’m trying to make.
Anyone who has ever driven a Land Rover Defender on dry pavement would likely offer you a cold compress and a place to lie down if you told them that what you thought the Defender needed was lots, lots more power, because there’s clearly something very wrong with you. I’ve driven a stock, 120 hp Defender 110, the long wheelbase one, in Iceland, and while it was fantastic off-road and going through ice and snow, on pavement it was about as graceful and nimble as a rhino on roller skates with one of those vibrating pager things from restaurants like Chili’s shoved up its ass.
The last thing you’d want to add to that clunky equation is tons more power, but I have experienced just that, with the last Osprey machine I tested, back in 2020 when they loaned me a 600+ hp Defender 110. That thing was an exciting handful, and while I had fun with it, it was always a bit of an ordeal to drive. This latest Osprey is a bit different, though. It’s a Defender 90, meaning it’s the two-door, short wheelbase version, and instead of a 600 hp engine, this one has a slightly more civilized 6.2-liter LS3 V8 out of a Corvette, making about 435 hp and 445 pound-feet of torque.
It’s still plenty nuts, but thanks to the more compact dimensions of the Defender 90, I found this one a lot more fun and easy to drive around, especially in a city. In fact, I found the short wheelbase version to be preferable in almost every way, perhaps because I’m a selfish lout who doesn’t care if the rear seat passengers get their own doors or not.
What Is It? And What Does It Look Like?
This is a restomod of a 1991 Land Rover Defender 90 Station Wagon, and is now painted in the lovely Keswick Green color. It started life as a 1991 Defender 90, but Osprey has re-built the car from the ground up, starting with a brand new hot-dipped galvanized chassis, and there’s no question that it’s been put back together far better than when it was originally screwed together in the first Bush administration.
There’s a number of aesthetic changes made compared to the original Defender, the most dramatic of which may be Osprey’s choice of a much sleeker hardtop, with glass that hides the pillars and creates a much cleaner and sleeker silhouette.
Other significant changes to the Defender’s look can be seen up front, where the whole front end is body colored, from what Land Rover people call a SVX-style grille to the headlight bezels. The result, especially with modern LED lighting hardware, is something a lot more modern-looking than the Defender would seem to have any right to be.
There’s DRLs inset into the bumper, and most of the trim and detailing and badges are in anodized black. It’s a cleaner, purposeful look, and I think I generally like it.
There’s something about the proportions of a Defender 90 that I’ve always found appealing in an almost cartoonish way, or maybe it just feels like a puppy with huge paws it has yet to grow into, this cube and rectangle perched atop big tires.
Whatever it is, I like it, and I’m inclined to ascribe traits like pluckiness and eagerness to this vibrating lump of metals, because there’s something about the rugged and wide-eyed look of the thing that makes me feel so. Again we see the irrationality this thing inspires, just like it’s supposed to.
The big glossy black wheels, 18″ Sawtooth alloys, fit the look well, not too ornate or fancy so they detract. I think I’d prefer some steelies myself, but you know, I feel a little guilty when I drink from glass instead of plastic.
The overall effect of this thing is striking; it feels somehow out of the ordinary, something a bit special, and even if you’re not familiar with Land Rovers, it definitely has some presence. If you are familiar with Land Rovers, I think you’d really notice it. One Land Rover enthusiast knocked on the window to ask about it, because it caught her Land Rover-focused eye like a cat catches a wren, just with less feathers and blood.
The Inside Within
I think what I really liked most about Osprey’s modifications here are how they handled the interior. The interior volume of a Defender 90 is an interesting space, at least in how uninteresting the basic volume is: it’s a cube, pretty much. You’re in this cubical room that’s both small and roomy at the same time, and there’s a lot you can do in such a space. And Osprey very much did a lot. And most of that lot is quilted leather.
Yes, lots and lots of puffy diamond-pattern quilted leather, with white contrast stitching over some lovely and fragrant chocolate brown leather. Every surface is covered in this quilted leather, and the overall effect feels strangely familiar, bringing up images of the illustrations of the interior of the moon-projectile from Jules Verne:
…or, maybe even more so, it reminds me of the interior of the ornithopter flying machines in David Lynch’s 1984 movie of the sci-fi classic Dune:
Yes, that’s almost exactly what it felt like in there, a nearly cubical space covered in brown leather diamond quilting. And I mean this as a compliment! I always wanted to spend time in the cockpit of that ornithopter, and this Osprey restomod came the closest to delivering that experience to me in reality, or, at least the close-enough reality I call my life.
Sure, the layout of most everything is just as baffling as it is in any Defender, but when you slather everything in nice leather, you’re more forgiving of the deeply peculiar decisions made by those Brits way back in the 1980s when they designed this dash, once, and then stopped forever.
I still can’t ever pretend I understand the logic behind the Defender’s trademark confusing tray/cubby/oh shit handle assembly, but I definitely know it feels better when handled like this. And, of course all of the Defender’s charmingly weird control bullshit is still here, like the left-hand ignition and a light switch seemingly designed by someone who just learned what light switches do on the way to work that day.
Oh yeah, and a horn on a stalk, just because.
The wood-rimmed steering wheel is nice and old-school, and it’s fun to align the holes in the spokes so you can read the instruments through them.
The overall lean quality of the wheel is a pretty radical departure from the thicc, juicy wheels of modern cars, which also serves as a good reminder that there’s no airbag in there, so pay attention to the road, dummy.
Out back you have a pretty good amount of space, and it’s relatively flexible, too, since each back seat can be folded, admittedly pretty clunkily and bulkily, off to the side:
My kid really liked it in the back of this thing; he liked coming in the big back door (really, you can kind of think of this as a three-door, because the rear is absolutely usable for passenger entry and exit) and he liked all the headroom and the windows above, and the overall cabin-like feeling of the space.
Really, this may be one of my favorite car interiors of the entire year. It’s comfortable and roomy, and there’s a coherent visual theme going on, and I appreciate that. It’s not just slathered alcantar hides or opulent and overly complex gadget-luxury, it’s just nice materials and a specific style to use them with.
How Is It To Drive?
In a word? Bonkers. It’s bonkers, unashamedly, gleefully bonkers. As soon as you start this thing up, you can feel the whole car torque to the side from the engine turning over, and then you’re met with a gravelly, throaty roar, like you just interrupted a horny lion mid-gargle. It’s loud and raw and a little unhinged. You’re going to love it.
Here, I made a video, just because:
In case you can’t bear to look at me (I get it, it’s fine) here’s another option:
You probably want a little more. I understand:
As you can see, it’s also loud as hell, right from the moment you turn that key. If your goal is to do less sneaking in your life, this car will absolutely help you achieve that, as there is no way you’re going to sneak around or past or away from anything in this thing.
And, of course, there’s no need to sneak anyway when you can get away from whatever you want as fast as this thing will let you. Acceleration is a yank and shove by strong arms, flinging you at a wall or down some stairs. The short wheelbase can be pretty pitchy under hard acceleration, rearing back, then nosing forward under hard braking. You get a very full and rich sensory experience in this Defender 90, audio, visual, momentum and balance, smell, everything.
All that power goes to the wheels via a 6L80E 6-speed automatic transmission, which tends to have some pretty hard shifts, and then an LT230 transfer case. It’ll go like boxy hell in a straight line, and the brakes do seem plenty powerful, and it’s generally planted on the road, but you can’t fight physics after a certain point. It’s still a cube perched on tall tires, so handling feels like what you’re likely imagining it feels like. It’s a bit top heavy, and I wouldn’t pick this for my autocross car, no matter how much power it has.
That said, when you’re not trying to be an idiot, it’s not too bad to park or even parallel park, though getting used to the throttle so you don’t whiplash the hell out of everyone in the car at every stop sign does take a bit of practice.
It’s a little bit of a handful, but the short wheelbase does make a lot of driving easier and more nimble, even if a lot of the forces of driving are felt more viscerally. Which isn’t always bad.
Could you off road it? Oh, almost definitely. It’s still a Defender! Would you? Ehh, probably not. This thing isn’t cheap, and I bet most owners would rather spend a vacation in a coma than scratching up the lovely paintwork or caking mud on that quilted leather.
Given all of the architectural compromises the Defender makes to be a great off-roader, is this kind of ridiculous?
Yes, yes it is. But I bet you could have guessed that.
Electronic Whatevers And Fax Machines And HAM Radios Or Whatever
The basic Defender of this era’s infotainment system was a radio that hopefully got BBC Radio 4 and a copy of The Sun wadded up in that cubby in front of the passenger. Things have come a long way since then, so now Osprey includes a nice CarPlay/Android Auto-capable head unit, with a screen that’s big enough for almost anything you’ll likely need. It’s good enough, really.
There’s some USB plugs in that pretty deep center console cubby between the seats, and on the lower part of the console, under and in front of the shifter, is a wireless charging pad that is hilariously unsuited to this car. It works fine, in that you lay your phone on it to charge, but it’s just a flat panel and this car is so fast and potentially violent in how it can move that most of the time that charging pad is really more of a launching pad to fling your phone across the padded cab at significant speeds.
Price and Verdict
Remember what I said at the beginning? About cars not being rational? Keep that in mind and embrace it as I inform you that these sell for just under $180,000. That’s a lot of money. I couldn’t grow enough kidneys to raise that sort of cash, yet I know there are people out there who can drop $180 grand on a car. And, if you can do that, why not something like this?
It’s fun and striking and not the same thing that everyone else has, and sure, it takes some practice to drive it well, but doesn’t that just make it more satisfying? I think it does.
It’s not an expected choice, but I think Osprey builds some quality, interesting machines, and this is absolutely one of them. So, you know: be irrational.