The folks over at ECD know how to perfect a Land Rover.
1997. That's the last time you could buy a Land Rover Defender in the United States. But this hasn't stopped off-road enthusiasts from hoarding all of the North American-spec cars. Its time in the US was brief but Land Rover actually produced the Defender up until 2016 in Europe with minimal changes and the first all-new model in decades is in the works, set to make its return to the US later in 2019.
For those that are impatient or that simply don't like the styling and modernity of the new Defender seen in spy shots and leaked images, a company called ECD (East Coast Defender) will sell you a completely reborn original model with the V8 engine from a Corvette. In addition to the Defender, ECD is also expanding its lineup with the Range Rover Classic and the Land Rover Series II. CarBuzz was invited to ECD's design center in Kissimmee, Florida to be the first to experience the new Series IIA and test one of the company's customized Defenders.
Both the Series II and the Defender do not stray from their roots as simple, utilitarian transportation. ECD offers an endless array of design options from which owners can personalize their vehicle, so it is easy to choose how much modernity you want the truck to have. Modern alternatives like the Mercedes G-Glass offer similar personalization but can't match the bespoke feel ECD provides. Each vehicle is even given its own unique project name such as 'Big Tex' or 'Project Azure.'
The 1967 Series IIA we drove was finished in a classic color called Aintree Green, paired with a black roof. Aside from the upgraded LED lights up front, the Series II looks remarkably original. We also drove a 1988 Defender, which was finished in an Aston Martin color known as China Grey, paired with black wheels from a more modern Defender. The exterior options are nearly endless, so if you want a hot pink truck with white accents, ECD will be happy to oblige (though you may get some strange looks).
Both of ECD's creations boast exquisite, hand-crafted interiors with bespoke, diamond-stitched upholstery and unique interior trim. As with the exterior, customers can basically have whatever they want on the interior. ECD wanted the Series II to remain bare-bones, harkening back to the truck's utilitarian origins. Those vents you see in the dashboard, that's all you get in terms of air conditioning, and there is no radio or cupholders. If you think the new G-Wagen and F-150 Raptor are too fancy, this is the truck for you.
In the Series II, it's just you, the road, and the gallons of sweat on your brow keeping you attentive to the task of driving. We drove the truck on a 100-degree day in Florida, so we would have killed for some A/C, but if you keep the truck moving on a more moderate day, the cabin stays relatively comfortable. Floridians beware, but California customers should be alright.
In contrast to the Series II, the Defender offers far more modern creature comforts such as air conditioning. ECD offers an endless buffet of customizability options with leather colors, stitch patterns, seats, seating layouts, and other miscellaneous options. Our car, for example, included a touchscreen radio with Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay compatibility, a backup camera, and a built-in wireless charger. ECD is able to change almost everything about the interior but some Land Rove elements, like the awkward steering wheel position and lack of left knee room are too baked into the package.
Both of the trucks we tested offer seating for up to nine passengers, making them even more practical than most modern SUVs. The rear jump seats can squeeze in four adults but the bottoms can also be lifted to allow for additional storage. If you don't plan to put anyone in the third row, ECD also sells the Defender as a pickup truck or a two-door model.
ECD is an automotive candy land of customizability. Customers can choose from a variety of engines ranging from a Chevrolet Vortec LC9 to the 430-horsepower LS3 Corvette engine. ECD even plans to offer the new 3.0-liter Duramax inline-six from the Silverado and Sierra producing 277 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. Both of the trucks we drove were fitted with six-speed automatic transmissions but a manual is also available. Why go with a Chevy engine instead of something crazy like an F-Type V8? Well, ECD wants its customers to have easy access to service and the LS motor is much easier to work on.
The Defender's transmission was pretty self-explanatory but the Series II used a 6L80E six-speed automatic with a Hurst shifter. At first, it was difficult to adapt to the combination of pushes and pulls needed to move the shifter into place but after a few minutes, the procedure almost became second nature. After driving modern cars for so long, it can be easy to believe a manual transmission is required to be truly engaged with a car. Trust us, these trucks are perfectly engaging with the automatic.
When Land Rover first built the Series IIA from 1961 to 1971, it was designed to handle around 70 hp. Even by 1988 when the Defender was built, the mighty Rover V8 only produced around 135 hp. These LS3-powered cars have more than quadruple their original output, making for some grin-inducing acceleration. If you mash the accelerator in the Series II, the chassis contorts like a mule trying to kick you off into the mud. The truck never gets away from you because of the 4WD, making the standing acceleration more of an amusement ride than a genuine health risk.
Acceleration off the line feels blistering but once you get up to speed, the truck's boxy shape takes over. Passing on the highway is a simple affair but the truck feels much quicker at low speeds. ECD chose to leave in the standard manual steering rack for the Series II, so the sail-boat steering wheel tends to be ripped from your hands when the V8's 430 hp is called upon, so be sure to hold on for dear life. Luckily, the brakes are power-assisted so the Series II isn't too much of a handful in traffic.
The Defender offers a more modern experience with power steering, although the brake pedal felt much heavier than it did in the Series II. While the steering is electrically assisted, it still keeps you engaged more than most modern cars. ECD has some clever engineers under its employ but the traditional lackadaisical steering found in a Defender is nearly impossible to engineer out. Most customers will prefer the modernized feel of the Defender to the stone-age experience of the Series II, but ECD will happily offer both extremes. It also builds the Range Rover Classic, which further improves on the luxurious transformation seen in the Defender.
Buying a bespoke vehicle isn't cheap and ECD has set its prices accordingly. The company will source a vehicle from the UK or, if you own a specific vehicle with sentimental value, it can also be used for the build. ECD says it wants customers to feel like they are getting a luxury design experience rather than an ordering process.
Owners are sent one of the original door hinges before the truck is torn down and rebuilt, followed by a welcome book with an order kit containing leather and paint color samples. Then, once all of the color decisions are made and the vehicle enters the paint booth, each customer is sent a scale model of their Defender painted in the exact color of the build. The model is sent in pieces so the owner can enjoy assembling it with their family.
Pricing for the Series II starts at around $180,000, though it can become even more expensive with options. The Defender is a bit more expensive starting around $200,000 but body styles and options can take the price even higher. ECD told us the Range Rover Classic will actually be the least expensive of the three, starting at around $160,000. As much as we loved driving the Defender, it seems like the RRC will be the best value. Building one of these trucks takes around 14 to 16 months and ECD likes to keep owners involved in the process.
If you can afford to buy a brand-new Range Rover or Mercedes G-Class, price is probably just a number to you. When you start to reach the $200,000 mark for a car, the purchasing decision becomes more emotional than logical and ECD knows this reality well. Purchasing a vehicle from ECD isn't as simple as walking, picking a few colors and waiting for delivery - it is an experience.
Few OEMs offers the same level of customizability and personalization and few vehicles will draw as many stares. So if you want to stand out in Beverly Hills or Malibu and the neighbors already have a G-Wagen or Range Rover, an ECD Defender is the perfect vehicle to be different.