Created by the custom shop Himalaya, this Defender is a Land Rover like you’ve never seen before—complete with a Chevy V8 and a Jeep steering box.
Vintage 4X4s are having a serious moment right now. But even amongst classic trucks, the Defenders that Land Rover imported between 1993 and 1997 are hotly desired collectibles. These North American Spec (NAS) trucks, in both two-door 90 and four-door 110 models, can nudge beyond $100,000 depending on condition.
But Himalaya, a custom auto shop based in the U.S. and the U.K., is reimagining these machines with increased performance and better build quality than anything that ever left the Land Rover plant. But this isn’t just a restoration job—Himalaya is remaking them with new components, including American V8 power.
We spent a day with their $200,000 ‘Spectre’ model, a doppelgänger for the Defender built for the 2015 James Bond film of the same name. Here’s what we learned about this rugged Rover.
1. The Chassis and Bodywork Are All-New
It might look like an old Defender but just about all the components on the Himalaya Spectre are new. Each body panel is a fresh unit made in Britain from the original Land Rover tooling. The frames aren’t stock units either. British firm Richards Chassis supplies new rails that are fully welded, boxed, and hot-dip galvanized for corrosion resistance.
That new frame provides a much stronger and truer platform to build from, and a laser-straight frame ensures that those body panels can be installed with both precision and closer tolerances.
“Some Defender bodies can be a full inch longer than others,” says Himalaya’s Chairman James Shondel. “But since we know these new frames are perfect, we can square everything to the chassis.”
Himalaya says they currently have the largest supply of Defender body panels in the U.S.
2. It’s a Quick Beast
The OG Land Rover V8 originally debuted in 1961 under the hood of a Buick. So, by the time it found a home in the Defender—the 3.9-liter was a little dated. Himalaya ditches these modest 182 hp Land Rover engines and squeezes (it’s a tight fit) a Chevy LS3 V8 crate engine with approximately 500 horsepower backed by a GM 6L80E six-speed automatic.
The team modified the engines with a Holley electronic fuel injection system, Hooker headers, and a full stainless steel exhaust system. Himalaya keeps the big V8 cool with three electric fans and a high flow aluminum radiator. This burly American V8 and six-speed feel strong here and sounds amazing, too. The truck we drove was the company’s very first Spectre. It’s a truck they consider “generation one.”
The Spectre 2.0 models will include numerous upgrades over this one, including replacement of the stock all-wheel drive Land Rover transfer case (which this truck had) with an aftermarket Atlas transfer case. The Atlas uses a deeper low range gearset and will allow these Defenders to drive on the street in 2WD.
3. Solid Axle Flex
Old school Land Rovers with solid axles are known for their capability and much of that comes from a long-travel suspension right from the factory. And the team at Himalaya seemed to have maintained or perhaps even increased axle articulation over stock.
The coil springs on this Spectre are four inches taller than stock ones and are paired with remote reservoir Fox Racing shocks. And the standard-style suspension arms are longer than stock and use Currie Enterprises Johnny Joint greasable rod ends.
Himalaya says they will offer suspensions in stock, 2-inch and 4-inch heights on future vehicles.
4. The Stance is Menacing
There’s a reason this Land Rover looks so more muscular than the ones you commonly see on the street, and part of that comes from the massive 37X13.50R18 Toyo M/T tires.
To fit those tires, the lift was essential. But the team also fitted wheel spacers to move the wheels and tires outward slightly. That meant extra stress on the stock Land Rover axles, so they were beefed-up with upgraded hubs, bearings, chromoly axle shafts and big Wilwood disc brakes. The rear axle also benefits from a truss.
Himalaya says the Spectre will soon begin using beefy Dynatrac axles with the widened stance built-into the design.
5. Precise Steering, Thanks to Jeep
Himalaya is all Land Rover all the time. But the company won’t be tied into strictly using Land Rover parts when other ones are proven reliable and will work even better.
“We brought a brand-new steering box over from England and it leaked instantly, as soon as we put it on,” says Shondel.
So in place of the stock Land Rover steering box is one from Jeep Wrangler JK. Overall, the steering system of this Himalaya Spectre is one of the most direct, slop-free, and nicely weighted we’ve ever sampled in a lifted 4X4. Those new Wilwood disc brakes feel strong. too.
So even though the Spectre rides on giant wheels and tires, it steers and stops more like a stock truck.
6. A Quiet Defender
If there’s one area of this build that the team seems to be most proud, it’s the improvement in the level of fit and finish on the bodywork. It’s easy to see that the doors align and close better than any stock Defender. A stock door might require a “slam” to have it shut properly. But the Himalaya doors close easily with an easy “click”.
They’re satisfyingly heavy, too. Himalaya says their doors weigh quite a bit more than the stock door thanks to multiple layers of Dynamat. They are so heavy, the team had to upgrade the hinges and mechanisms.
“We’ve actually changed the latch on the body side too so that it doesn’t catch clothing anymore,” says Director of Operations Arthur Lekic. “It’s not something you really notice until you’ve ripped your favorite pair of jeans.”
The door sealing as well as the upgraded sound deadening all around the vehicle does a good job muffling out the road noise.
7. Crew Cab + Exo-Cage = Cool
One reason why the Spectre looks so rad to our American eyes is that this crew cab body was never imported here in the ‘90s. The other? It has to be that slant-back style exo-cage.
Both the interior and exterior roll cages are built by Safety Devices, the same company that created the original ones for the NAS Defenders. So, fitment is excellent, and we particularly like the tasteful off-road lighting as well as the spare tire carrier custom fabricated by Himalaya.
8. Despite Open Diffs, It’s a Skilled Off-Roader
Land Rover used to equate locking axles differentials to cheating. The company officials would boast (and rightly so) that because their vehicles had such incredible wheel travel, they didn’t need locking differentials.
The Spectre we drove had open differentials, too, but we found that by sawing the steering wheel back and forth, the wide Toyo tires could find traction on some fairly tough terrain. Credit also goes to the aggressive tires themselves which provided more than a foot of ground clearance underneath the lowest point of the axles.
9. It’s Plush Inside
The interior of a Defender, even one reimagined by a company like Himalaya, will never feel as up to date as a modern SUV. But this one certainly goes beyond any stock NAS Defender.
The full Ruskin leather interior, alcantara headliner, and Recaro seats make the riding inside much less utilitarian. Added bonus: the seatbelt’s shoulder belt mount has been relocated to the roll cage, which allows for more comfortable seat adjustability.