Born in the UK in 1891, Spencer Bernau Wilks was a legendary British automotive industry manager and administrator as well as one of the founders of the Rover Company — now better known as Land Rover — where he served as both technical director and chief engineer at various points. Like Henry Ford was to the Model T, Wilks was to the original Series I and Series II Land Rover models, playing a pivotal role in their creation — though it was actually Spencer’s little brother Maurice Wilks that would design the now-iconic trucks. Despite Spencer Wilks passing away more than half a century ago in 1971, the marque he co-founded is now honoring his legacy and contributions to the British brand via the debut of a limited run of Classic Defender Works V8 Islay Edition models from Land Rover Classic.
Representing the first-ever heritage special edition from Land Rover Classic, the Classic Defender Works V8 Islay Edition takes inspiration from Wilks’ personal ride — a 1965 Series IIa. Each unit starts out as a genuine vintage Classic Defender which then goes through a meticulous ground-up restoration process before being customized with a wealth of vintage-inspired elements. Powering the Islay Edition is a 5.0-liter V8 that’s mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and good for 405hp and 380ft-lbs of torque. Upgraded brakes, improved suspension, a special handling kit, and 16” steel wheels shod in mud-terrain tires all come standard on the limited edition model as well.
The Islay Edition name is a nod to the birthplace of the Land Rover monicker. While romping around the Hebridean isle in his modified Rover 12, Wilks was once asked if he was driving a “Land Rover” — an experience that lead to the name that we all know today. This story is printed on a plaque in the cabin next to the LE model’s gear shift. The outside of the vehicle wears a Heritage paint job derived from Wilks’ ’65 IIa, as well as a special vintage-inspired grille, bespoke badging, and a custom side graphic that reads ‘GXC 639C’ — Wilks’ Rover’s registration number. Inside, the limited edition model sports seats, door cards, central armrest and sun visors that all feature tactile tweed inlays crafted by the Islay Woollen Mill. On top of a myriad of oak wood veneer details such as on the rear loadspace floor and center dash clock, the interior also comes loaded with a removable console tray with leather tabs and the oak of whisky barrels sourced from the Kilchoman Distillery — a local operation on the Islay that was co-founded by Wilks’ granddaughter Kathy Wills in 2005.
Limited to just 30 units in total — 17 short wheelbase 90 models and 13 seven-seat 110 specimens — Land Rover Classic’s Classic Defender Works V8 Islay Edition models are available for order now, with pricing set at £230,000 ($290,340) for the Defender 90 Works V8 Islay Edition, and £245,000 ($309,275) for the Defender 110 Works V8 Islay Edition.