Land Rovers get heart transplants from Chevy V-8s

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

Carroll Shelby became famous for stuffing a Ford V-8 into the engine bay of a small British sports car, turning the Sunbeam Alpine into a true Tiger. Back in that era, Chevrolet and Buick engines were used to make Italian sports cars more reliable.

Now, a company in Kissimmee, Florida, is doing the same thing with off-road vehicles, inserting Chevrolet powertrains into the British-built Land Rover Defender.

One example is the Honey Badger, by East Coast Defender, a company founded by brothers Tom and Elliot Humble and since joined by their friend Scott Wallace.

The Humbles grew up in England near the Land Rover assembly plant. They opened their U.S. operation to modify those vehicles in 2013, about a year after Tom and his wife, Emily, moved across the Atlantic.

Wallace, also a native of England, became involved after a chance meeting while pumping gas at a Wawa gas station. The company operates out of a 21,000-square-foot facility and has more than 30 full-time employees.

“Our team has earned a reputation for pushing the envelope with each custom Defender that rolls out of the Rover Dome,” Scott Wallace said about the company’s latest project, Honey Badger, and “to our commitment to building the most capable civilian SUVs in the world.”

He added that the change in drivetrain makes the SUV “as competent on the rocks of Moab as it is on the streets of Miami.”

“Land Rover initially offered the V-8 Defender with a four-speed manual transmission,” added Tom Humble. “The ‘Honey Badger’ commission was particularly exciting as it gave us a chance to build a D90 with a six-speed manual transmission hooked to a V-8, which gives the SUV some real bite.

“This is the ultimate salute to the origins of the Defender, but with a very contemporary edge.”

“The beauty of a manual transmission is the control that it gives a driver when navigating really difficult terrain,” added Elliot Humble. “Serious off-roaders want the ability to slowly work an SUV over rocks and loose gravel. Coupling the massive torque of the 6.2-liter V-8 to the six-speed manual will give the owner of Honey Badger the most flexible and engaging SUV possible for tough overland treks.”

East Coast Defender replaced the SUV’s original engine with Chevrolet’s 6.2-liter, 430-horsepower LS3 linked to Chevy’s T56 six-speed manual gearbox. It also upgraded the transfer case with limited-slip differential, added Borla exhaust, a Ron Davis radiator and stainless-steel brake and fuel lines.

Inside, Classic Instruments’ Moal Bomber gauges, Kenwood infotainment and rear-view camera, JBL speakers with subwoofer, LED lights, ivory leather Corbeau seats, Quark steering wheel by Momo and a full roll cage were installed.

The truck rides on 18-inch Sawtooth wheels with BFGoodrich K02 tires and was repainted in Porsche’s Dunkeolive metallic color.

Another of the company’s recent projects was ProjectViper, another LS3-powered Defender custom built for a client, but with an automatic transmission, even more stout suspension, Wilwood brakes, customer heavy-duty axles and steering, heated leather seating, 20-inch wheels, tubular bumpers with a Warn winch, and additional features.