For those of us who see a fresh fourth-gen Range Rover roll past and think it’s just a bit too sleek to suit Lands Rover’s SUV legacy, there is the Chieftain. Bringing modern functionality to a classic British SUV, the Range Rover Chieftain from Jensen International Automotive is a project to take a classic first-gen Range Rover and modernize just enough of the experience to appeal to a modern buyer with old-school Land Rover taste.
Much as Jensen International Automotive (JIA) did with their successful program to update the lovely Interceptor, the Range Rover Chieftain looks to resolve some of the weaker spots in the build quality, long-term reliability, and performance of the old Range Rover. The first-generation Range Rover was produced from 1970 to 1996, but the Chieftain forgoes that original chassis as JIA swaps in a custom shortened chassis from a third-gen Land Rover Discovery. A huge amount of work is done to mate the original body with the updated underpinnings, but this is just where Jensen is getting started.
In original spec, one could expect an old Range Rover to be powered by an archaic and infamously unreliable 3.5L V8. For the Chieftain, JIA fits GM’s modern supercharged LSA V8, the same engine found in the last-generation Cadillac CTS-V. Combined with a six-speed automatic and a proper transfer box (both from GM), the Chieftain makes an impressive 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque, which is one horsepower shy of a new Range Rover SV Autobiography.
Riding on an independent air suspension, the Range Rover Chieftain loses little of the original model’s off-road ability but offers a considerable update in terms of on-road manners compared to an aging Range Rover.
With the chassis, power, and suspension sorted, JIA turns attention to the interior. Retaining the utilitarian charm of the original, the Chieftain is updated with a custom allotment of high-quality buttons and switches along with a third-party navigation and stereo system. Aside from the more modern implementation of the LCD screen for the stereo and satnav, the interior of the Chieftain remains faithful to the original Range Rover’s simple, functional layout.
Sitting on a perfect set of black, three spoke Range Rover classic wheels, the Chieftain looks incredible.
Sitting on a perfect set of black, three spoke Range Rover classic wheels, the Chieftain looks incredible. Not unlike a G-Wagen, the original Range Rover shape has proven to be quite timeless, likely due to the design’s original roots as more of a rural workhorse and less of a high street cruiser. From the un-tinted greenhouse to the almost entirely blacked-out trim, the Range Rover Chieftain has an appeal that is entirely distinct from that of a modern Range Rover. JIA has managed to make the most of the classic SUV shape while going to great lengths to make it faster, more comfortable, and as modern as suits the format.
JIA made a name for themselves by applying this same formula in the revival and restoration of Jensen Interceptors, and the Range Rover seems like an ideal next candidate for their attention. While pricing is yet unannounced, given the complexity of the chassis swap, the high-performance GM engine, and the generally niche and custom nature of the project, the Chieftain will almost undoubtedly be both quite expensive and limited in production.
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