When many people think about the pre-history of Land Rover, they think of Red Wharf Bay and the Wilks Brothers’ early adventures in Angelsey, Wales. While the vehicle was born in Wales, the name “Land Rover” was born a few hundred miles north, in Islay, Scotland. A new edition of the restomodded Defender Works V8 celebrates this history and kicks off Land Rover’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
The story goes like this: Spencer Wilks, Chairman of the Rover Company, owned an estate in Islay, the Laggan Estate, where he often holidayed. Like his brother Maurice, he would drive various Rover test vehicles around his property. One of these vehicles was a Rover 12, one of Rover’s most popular sedans in the period before and after the war. (The total war effort meant that many vehicles Rover sold in the years directly after victory were 1930s designs brought back after factories were turned back to passenger car development.) Spencer Wilks had a special lifted version – it’s unknown if it was a custom toy or a Land Rover test mule. The groundskeeper at Laggan, Ian Duncan, joked to him as he drove by, “that must be a ‘Land Rover!’” The name stuck for the all-new all-terrain product that was simultaneously under development.
The Defender Works V8 Islay Edition references three things related to the Scottish island of Islay: this story, Spencer Wilks’ personal Series IIA 88”, and the Kilchoman Distillery that is owned by a descendant of Maurice Wilks. It’s built on the same platform as 2018’s Defender Works V8, and the two Trophy Works V8 vehicles. That means the iconic 405hp 5.0-liter AJ-V8 motor, and the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission instead of the original 2.2-liter Puma diesel and six-speed manual. The base vehicles are 2012-2016 Defenders, the final examples of the classical breed. There will be thirty examples, 17 Defender 90 and 13 Defender 110, all in station wagon form only.
The aesthetic inspiration is Spencer Wilks’ personal 1965 Series IIA 88”, with the registration GXC 639C. This vehicle was used by Wilks on Laggan Estate in the 1960s. The Defenders are painted in a color called “Heritage Grey,” which harkens back to the Mid Grey paint of the Series truck. The wing has a decal with the GXC registration number on it, similar to how end-of-run classic Defenders had HUE 166 decals.
Inside, the connection to Islay is strongest through the special tweed fabric made by the Islay Woolen Mill, which connects to the mood and themes of the island. An “earthy base” represents the local landscape, where the peat bogs give the island’s whiskey its distinctive flavor. Blue represents the sea and sky of the Western Isles, purple represents the heather that grows there, and a yellow streak represents the grassy landscape.
Throughout the vehicle there is also the other core element of Islay, oak – the oak that makes the whiskey barrels that house the place’s most iconic export. In the centre console, there is a tray made of American Walnut, with a oaken disc in it that denotes the vehicle as a special Islay Edition, celebrating Land Rover’s 75th. The oak theme continues in the cup holder bases and the rear floor.
The vehicle has a tie to the Kilchoman Distillery, a newer entrant to the Islay whiskey scene that was established by Spencer Wilks’ granddaughter, Kathy Wills and her husband Anthony (who still live at Laggan Estate). Founded in 2005, it’s the smallest distillery on Islay, and the first new distillery on Islay since 1908. It’s one of only six distilleries in Scotland that uses the technique of floor malting, in which the grain is laid out on a large floor and turned every eight hours for four to five days to germinate, creating the sugars that will later ferment to make alcohol.
To celebrate the family connection, there’s a special limited edition whiskey from Kilchoman, in a limited edition of 639 bottles – the numbers from Spencer Wilks’ number plate. It’s aged in a combination of sherry casks and bourbon barrels, and it will be available from The Whiskey Exchange.
Like all Defender Works V8 vehicles, the Islay Edition is not available in the United States, due to our import laws. (The vehicles need to be 25 years old to come here.) However, our Canadian readers may be on the cusp of finally bringing a Works V8 vehicle to these shores; all of them are built on 2012-2016 Defenders, the earliest of which will hit the Canadian 15-year limit in 2027. Perhaps if the Works works keep working for a few more years, we may finally see one on this continent.
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