We Drive The First Land Rover Defender With A Plug

Opinion / 3 Comments

The British icon receives a 21st century update.

Earlier this year, a Florida-based shop called ECD Automotive Design revealed two specially restored classic Land Rover Defender models, both powered by Tesla batteries and motors. ECD typically stuffs Corvette V8 engines under the hoods of its highly bespoke builds, but the shop now offers an electric option for the Defender and the Range Rover Classic, which we drove last year. Though the electric RRC was a cool idea, there were certainly some kinks to iron out.

ECD invited CarBuzz to its famous Rover Dome to sample Project Britton and Project Morpheus, the first two Tesla-powered Defender models that will soon be delivered to customers. Based on our limited time behind the wheel of Project Morpheus, we could tell that ECD has greatly improved its EV swapping skills.

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ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design

Classic Defender Looks

These SUVs may be all-electric underneath, but you'd never be able to tell from the outside (aside from the charge port where the gas cap is normally located). When one of these pulls up to a Tesla charging station, there are bound to be some awkward stares.

ECD imports each Defender from the UK before beginning the painstaking process of tearing it down to the chassis and building it back up to the customer's exact specification over the course of over 2,000 hours. Since the previous-generation Defender remained on the market for decades without any major overhauls, ECD can use parts from more modern examples without ruining the iconic styling.

Clients can customize every element of the exterior, with access to an endless array of paint colors. There are different wheel and tire choices too. For example, Project Britton wears chunky off-road tires while Project Morpheus wears less aggressive tires that offer better rolling resistance and a longer range.

ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
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ECD Automotive Design

Modern Enough Inside

The customizability doesn't end on the exterior; the interior is completely bespoke as well. Customers can select their seats, upholstery, stitch patterns, seating configurations, and more. These Defenders can have as many (or as few) modern creature comforts as the customer wishes them to have. We're talking niceties like heated/cooled seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless phone chargers, remote start, blind-spot monitoring, and massive stereo systems. Or, if you want it to feel like an original Defender, ECD will gladly build one without any of those features.

We can't say the Alpine Floating Halo infotainment measures up to a brand-new Defender with Pivi Pro, but it's a damn sight better than the original radio. Of course, ECD can work its magic on all of the materials inside, but some things (like the awkward seating position) are vintage Land Rover, for better or worse.

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A Classic For The Family

It may not be the sportiest classic vehicle you could drive, but unlike a vintage muscle car, the Defender can accommodate an entire family for a weekend of adventure. Both Tesla-powered builds are based on the four-door Defender 110 body style and have optional third rows. Project Morpheus has conventional third row seats that fold up and out of the way, while Project Britton has inward-facing jump seats with a teak wood storage bin. While the latter configuration looks visually appealing, those seats are only meant for when the vehicle is parked. Of course, if you only require four or five seats, you can skip the third row entirely.

ECD Automotive Design
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CarBuzz
CarBuzz

The Tesla Swap

Swapping a Tesla drivetrain into an old Land Rover is far more difficult than using a GM crate engine, as-evidenced by some obvious growing pains on the RRC from last year. ECD's electric models use a 450-horsepower motor from a Tesla Model S, driving all four wheels through a mechanical four-wheel-drive system. The juice comes from a 100-kWh battery pack, split 60/40 between the front and the back. ECD says it splits the battery for packaging reasons, finding space wherever the vintage Land Rover platform allows.

The battery pack mounted under the hood gets a cool "Powered by Tesla" graphic, while the rear battery is housed under the carpet out of sight. ECD says the batteries should supply a 220-mile range, though that figure should vary greatly depending on the wheel/tire setup and driving conditions. Because of Tesla's battery policies, the trucks can't take advantage of the Super Chargers, though they can still charge via a 240V station in around five hours.

ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design

Old School Meets Star Wars

So what's it like to drive a vintage Land Rover Defender with a Tesla motor? Highly unique, that's for sure. ECD does its best to improve the original Defender driving experience with upgraded brakes, suspension, steering, and more, but these builds still drive like an improved version of a classic, not a brand-new vehicle. The steering is heavy compared to a modern car, and no amount of creature comforts will ever make an old Defender feel serene. That being said, if you like the feeling of a vintage truck, ECD's Tesla models do not disappoint.

The switch to electric power hasn't hurt the Defender's charm; if anything, it's made it more outrageous. When you mash the throttle, the drivetrain rewards you with what sounds like Chewbacca hitting the hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon. ECD says its electric Defender can jolt to 60 mph in just five seconds, which is nearly as quick as a brand-new V8 Defender. To prove it, ECD allowed us to line up Project Morpheus next to the supercharged LT4-powered Project Crossfire (pictured below) for a short drag race.

SPOILER ALERT for our video - the electric Defender crushed the V8 one.

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CarBuzz
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ECD Automotive Design

Lessons Learned

When we last drove ECD's Tesla-swapped Range Rover, we noted a few issues: the steering was incredibly heavy, the suspension felt disconnected, and we had to bury the throttle in the carpet to receive decent acceleration. With these new Defender builds, ECD has mostly cured these hiccups to create a more cohesive product. The steering is still heavy, but has stronger electric assist to make it more manageable, the suspension feels equivalent to gas-powered Defender, and the throttle now functions like a normal EV, at least in drive.

When you put the electric Defender in reverse, ECD calibrated the throttle differently as a safety measure so it doesn't jolt back too quickly. It takes some getting used to, but it's not what we'd call an issue. We also noted during the drag race that the vehicle would cut power if you floored it for too long. But even at 95% throttle, it still got off the line quicker than the Z06-powered Defender.

ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design

Worth The Price Of Entry?

Each ECD build is bespoke, so prices range drastically depending on options and aren't meant for the average car shopper. A gas-powered ECD Defender with a 450-hp LT1 GM crate engine starts at around $220,000, while the Tesla-powered model is considerably more expensive at a little below $300,000. ECD says the electric Defender is far more complex to assemble, hence the higher price tag, though we could also say you are paying for the performance since this drivetrain is quicker than a supercharged V8.

We don't have to point out that there are any number of vehicles (both new and vintage) you could get for less, including a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, Lamborghini Urus, Tesla Model X Plaid, or even a brand-new Land Rover Defender with a supercharged V8. Choosing ECD is all about being unique, and getting a vehicle tailored specifically for you. And we can say without a doubt, pulling up to a Cars and Coffee with a nearly silent Land Rover Defender will attract more attention than any of those cars we mentioned. As for the stares from Tesla owners when you plug this beast into a charging station? That might be worth 300 grand alone.

ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design
ECD Automotive Design

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