Osprey Custom Cars Land Rover Defender Review: Classic Cool

The off-road SUV revival has been remarkable of late. We’ve seen the return of the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender, and staples such as the Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Wrangler have been seeing some of the best sales in their recent histories. But this popularity extends beyond new cars to classic off-roaders. Vintage Broncos, Jeeps, Land Rovers, Blazers and more are seriously hot. And as a result, multiple outfits have popped up to deliver not just restored trucks, but modified ones to make them better than ever. We’ve had the opportunity to sample an updated Land Rover Defender from Osprey Custom Cars, based out of North Carolina, and we’re quite impressed.

Osprey starts with customer’s old Land Rover Series or Defender models, or other existing Land Rover Defenders, in this case a 1991 U.S.-market example, and tears them down to the frame and rebuilds them. But it can go beyond that. Osprey can do all kinds of interior and exterior upgrades, as well as swapping out engines. Diesels

as well as LS V8s are available to create your ultimate Landie. 

Osprey Custom Cars 1991 Land Rover Defender 90

First impressions of our test Osprey Defender 90 are qu ite good. The paint is very smooth and glossy. Panels all seem to fit well. The updates such as the grille and headlights modernize it without betraying the original design that made people love the Defender in the first place. In particular, the flush-fitting windows on the new top really bring it up-to-date. The official Land Rover wheels are another thoughtfully modern, but authentic touch.

The interior continues the theme of making a classic Defender really nice and well-built, but retaining the feeling of it being a Defender. And importantly, not only does it feel high-quality, but it also feels like it can still be used like an actual off-road SUV. There’s loads of leather with contrast diamond-stitching; from the seats up to the roof liner. It’s a thick and tough leather that feels as though it can withstand rough and dirty handling. The brown hue is a perfect complement to the green exterior. This particular example comes with a real wood steering wheel that also feels classy and tough. There are even rubber floor mats, again, perfect for making this usable as an actual truck.

Osprey Custom Cars 1991 Land Rover Defender 90

Osprey has added some useful modern features to this Defender, too. Mainly, it’s the Atoto aftermarket head unit, which features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s a little small, but that’s because it fits in the standard double-DIN head unit slot. It’s also surprisingly responsive for an aftermarket unit. Osprey also added a modern Chevrolet console shifter, a heated windshield and rearview camera. But the rest of the dash is very much classic Land Rover. The factory gauges, column stalks and climate control are all original. It still uses the original key and ignition. And we appreciate these decisions, as the switches are all robust and clicky, and it means that it still feels like a classic Land Rover.

Granted, even if Osprey had gone farther in changing the interior, the driving position would give away the old-school nature of the Defender. Nothing quite sits like this. The position is extremely high, so much so that my 1997 Suburban suddenly felt like a sports car by comparison. The front passengers are pushed to the absolute edges of the cabin, with shoulders rubbing up against the doors (which are themselves a bit small and make ingress and egress tricky). The pedal placement is weird, too, with the pedals seemingly in the middle of one’s legs. But the seats themselves are thickly padded and comfortable, and there’s plenty of space. Headroom in particular is shocking. So much room for hats! And surprisingly, the rear jump seats are suitable for adults. They’re also easier to reach than the front seats since you get to them from the rear cargo door. Obviously, none of this is special to the Osprey. It’s just what an old Defender is like.

Osprey Custom Cars 1991 Land Rover Defender 90

The overall driving experience definitely deviates from your typical Defender, though. Under the hood is not the Rover V8 this truck would’ve had back in 1991. Instead, it has a low-miles Chevy LS3 V8 rated at around 435 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque (it even says Corvette on it). It’s also coupled to a GM 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission. Interestingly, the four-wheel-drive transfer case is still from Land Rover. It’s a heavier-duty version than what the Defender originally has, but is British all the same. That also means it has full-time four-wheel drive with a low-range and center-differential lock. That’s especially handy for areas with inclement weather, since it means you won’t have to be engaging and disengaging four-wheel drive as needed.

The engine sounds quite ferocious thanks to a custom exhaust. Coupled with the fact that it leans the whole truck over for a moment at start up, it’s both giggle-inducing and slightly intimidating. It’s fun rumbling around, but it is quite loud. And at highway speed, all that you can hear is V8 roar. Of course, this, like many other aspects of Osprey’s Defenders, can be changed based on the buyer’s preferences. We’d strongly recommend going with a quieter exhaust or possibly one with cutouts for the best of both worlds. We’d also suggest opting for different transmission tuning. This truck was tuned to shift quite hard, and it didn’t like shifting under heavier throttle. Osprey confirmed that the transmission was tuned this way based on the customer’s desire. We’d much prefer and would suggest something a little more relaxed and smooth in a vehicle like this. And of course, that is an option.

Osprey Custom Cars 1991 Land Rover Defender 90

The power is unquestionably good. It’s a smart amount for a truck like this. It’s comfortably quick, but, it’s not so overpowered that it could get you into trouble. Because, while it has a slightly stiffer suspension than originally, and some large Brembo brakes, it’s still a Land Rover Defender with solid front and rear axles, very slow steering (though with surprisingly more feedback than you’d expect) and not much grip. 

With that being said, body roll isn’t outrageous for such a tall off-roader, and most impressively, it rides pretty well. It’s a little jostling over big bumps, but most of the time, it’s surprisingly composed and controlled. It’s not floaty or wallowy. And it’s quiet. The suspension isn’t clunky, and the body is rock-solid. There’s not really any creaking, rattling or shuddering. Even wind and road noise is reasonable. It’s hard to tell with all the exhaust noise, but if that were quieted down, you’d find the Osprey to be impressively refined on the road. It’s a testament to the company’s build quality.

Osprey Custom Cars 1991 Land Rover Defender 90

There’s another aspect of the driving experience that doesn’t have anything to do with what it’s like behind the wheel of the Osprey. It’s about the people around you. In its muted green paint and simple black accents, I didn’t think the Osprey was particularly flashy. And yet, I haven’t had so much attention in a press car since the last time I had a McLaren. It wasn’t even when I was getting on it with that loud exhaust. It was often just when I was sitting in traffic or parked somewhere. People were constantly asking what it was and complimenting me on it. This truck really resonated with people, certainly more so than Land Rover’s current Defender ever could.

Those factors that aren’t necessarily on the parts list are part of what makes something like this make sense, particularly with a price tag of between $150,000 and $200,000 depending on model and features (the test truck had a price of $179,950). You could absolutely pick up a new Land Rover Defender for only a third of the cost of one of these Ospreys, and it would be more ergonomic, practical and refined. But the reason you get something like the Osprey is because you want something with the character of the classic, but made nicer (and presumably, more reliable). You want it because it delights not just you, but the people around you. The Osprey does that, and does it with impressive craftsmanship.

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