Land Rover’s all-new Defender doesn’t drop until later this year, but until then this could be the ultimate expression of the iconic nameplate. A soft-top classic Defender 90 is always going to be a cool ride, even more so the rare NAS Defender that was unique to the American market. However, California’s Fusion Motor Company has cranked the cool dial way past 11 in building this D90 with a 550hp (410kW) supercharged GM V8 engine. And it could be yours!
Land Rover stopped making Defenders back in 2016 and since then prices of the classic models have rocketed skywards, particularly in the case of rare or limited-edition models. Americans got very few Defenders as the agricultural Landies didn’t meet essential US safety standards, so any Defender is rare in the States. This example is extra rare, being left-hand drive and fitted with a factory removable soft-top.
Rarity didn’t stop the team at Fusion going to town on the little Landy. Take a look at the company’s website and you’ll see that it specialises in rare automobiles and top-end builds. The vehicles available there are only limited by your budget, and in the case of this Defender it’s available for a cool US$270,000. All of a sudden that new Defender is starting to sound more affordable.
What makes this Defender 90 so special? Purists be damned; Fusion did a chassis-up resto-mod job on the Defender and shoehorned a monster Supercharged LSA V8 under the bonnet to give it the mumbo to match the macho.
This is the factory blown, 6.2-litre GM V8 engine usually found under the hoods of Corvettes and Camaros, or the bonnets of HSV-tweaked Holdens. It’s a far cry from any puny diesel or even a paltry Rover V8 that would have originally been fitted to this vehicle.
Fitting the GM V8 engine to a Land Rover is not as difficult as you might think and there are companies in the USA that make kits specifically for the swap. Back here in Australia, companies like Les Richmond Automotive in Melbourne regularly carry out such conversions to Land Rover Defenders, Discoverys and classic Range Rovers.
To help tame the Defender’s new-found 550-odd horsepower and the subsequent boost in performance, the fully refurbished chassis was fitted with extended shock towers to accommodate Fox Racing 2.0 dampers and bespoke coil springs. We reckon you could throw all the suspension in the world at it and still not tame this high-riding, short-wheelbase beast.
While you’re under the Defender to check out that suspension, you might also want to take in the GM 6L80 six-speed auto transmission that backs the LSA mill, the custom-made stainless-steel exhaust system with its side-exit tips, and the oversized stainless-steel fuel tank. The exhaust tips and the aluminium sump guard are Cerakote-coated for looks and protection.
The front bumper is an aftermarket tubular item with inbuilt recovery points and it mounts a small LED lightbar. The headlights have been replaced with Fusion LED units while the other lights, such as indicators and brake lights, have been upgraded with factory optional LED units, giving a more modern look to the classic vehicle. The rear cross-member remains the solid Land Rover unit with its factory tow point and spare-wheel carrier.
Also adding an air of modernity to the boxy body are the carbon-fibre replacement parts that are smothered all over the pale grey body. Carbon-fibre parts are Fusion’s specialty and on the Defender you’ll find the lightweight but tough material on the grille, fender vents, mirror caps, dashboard, centre console, door cards, wheel arch flares and sill covers.
The Defender’s interior is a mix of old and new. Leather-clad Recaro bucket seats keep the front occupants comfortable, while Land Rover buckets are fitted in the rear. The centre console was recreated in carbon-fibre and includes spun-alloy cupholders and surrounds for the transmission and transfer case shifters.
The carbon-shrouded dash binnacle houses a gauge cluster from Dakota Digital that uses analogue meters to monitor vital signs, while the cloth soft-top ties in with the black and white theme on those rare occasions it is needed in sunny Southern California.
With its fusion of old-school cool, modern finishes and ball-tearing supercharged performance, this little Defender has the ability to turn heads anywhere, be it on Rodeo Drive or in the Borrego Badlands. And it’s just a lottery win away from snapping necks Down Under should it take your fancy.