The SN2 reaction (bimolecular nucleophilic substitution) is a well-known chemical transformation that can be used to join two smaller molecules together into a larger molecule or to exchange one functional group for another. The SN2 reaction proceeds in a very predictable manner: substitution occurs with inversion of stereochemistry, resulting from the 'backside attack' of the electrophilic carbon by the nucleophile. A significant limitation of the SN2 reaction is its intolerance for tertiary carbon atoms: whereas primary and secondary alcohols are viable precursor substrates, tertiary alcohols and their derivatives usually either fail to react or produce stereochemical mixtures of products. Here we report the stereochemical inversion of chiral tertiary alcohols with a nitrogenous nucleophile facilitated by a Lewis-acid-catalysed solvolysis. The method is chemoselective against secondary and primary alcohols, thereby complementing the selectivity of the SN2 reaction. Furthermore, this method for carbon-nitrogen bond formation mimics a putative biosynthetic step in the synthesis of marine terpenoids and enables their preparation from the corresponding terrestrial terpenes. We expect that the general attributes of the methodology will allow chiral tertiary alcohols to be considered viable substrates for stereoinversion reactions.