Raised in the Midlands, the heart of British car country, brothers Tom and Elliot Humble grew up with Land Rovers made nearby. They both studied sports exercise but left school to follow their enthusiast calling and now manage the ECD custom-resto Defender shop just a stone's throw from Disney World in Florida.
Their approach is somewhat analogous to what Singer does with the Porsche 911. ECD competes with other Land Rover restorers and importers (including LA-based West Coast Defender) to find Defenders of a certain age – including North American models originally sold here – import and document them as needed to be registered street-legal in Florida, and then build them to spec. Having one built to meet standards in a specific state outside Florida isn't a problem, though due diligence on your part about regulations like those concerning lighting is a good idea.
We poked and prodded a pair of them: one an original North American 90 that didn't require too much rehab effort and the other a wide-body 110. Both were equipped with a GM LS3 small-block swap, air conditioning, and modern conveniences like USB ports, navigation, and LED lighting. The engine installation is sanitary, and while the Corvette cover looks out of place there's nothing really remarkable about a pushrod GM V8 under a Land Rover hood.
Replacing a 3.9-liter V-8 with a 6.2 – backed by a 4L80E (a GM E-Rod combo) on the 90 and a six-speed auto on the 110 – moves the LT230 transfer case back about three inches. That means the gear light for the B&M bash shifter in the 90 shows "n" when in reverse and the 110's is next to your waist. (That electronic shifter has been moved forward in newer builds to solve the issue.) Evidence that these trucks aren't built primarily for low-speed wheeling: they lose their locking center differential action and use an open-filament air cleaner located along the firewall that pulls warm air from underhood.
Speartech collaborates on the wiring harnesses, and a check-engine light is added to vehicles that didn't come with one. The steering pump is from GM, with lines built to work with Rover steering gear. In our on-road-only drive we saw no warning lights or abnormal temperature readings, only a puff of richness from the exhaust whenever the throttle was hammered on the 110 (which has no catalytic converter).
An extra 248 hp and double the torque do wonders for acceleration – matting the throttle from rest generates a hint of torque steer despite driving all four, and you legitimately worry about what kind of speed the tires can take. There's little hesitation in on-demand downshifts since fuel economy is not really a concern, though at 12 to 14 mpg claimed it's down only a few from original. Brake choices include stock, Alcon, and others, but with this aero profile and engine braking all you have to do is lift off the gas to slow down.
With a 6.2-liter V8 exhaling through a single exhaust on the canvas-top 90 and single-muffler duals on the 110, both these customer cars are obnoxiously loud. Even at 40 mph, the 90 rendered my voice recorder useless, while the 110 makes a G63 AMG or early diesel one-ton truck feel positively serene. If profiling requires audible warning before the visual, they've got you covered, and I seriously question anyone listening to the stereo at anything above idle.
Think of suspension and rolling stock choice as anything reasonable. The NA-spec 90 car is running Land Rover shocks and springs, but not the heavy stock springs the US market got (to exceed 6,000 pounds GVW for regulatory benefits), so this one sits an inch lower and rides better but gives up little in roll control. Of course, since it's strictly an attention-getting urban commuter, it runs 18-inch wheels and BFG All-Terrain AT KO2s.
The 110 we sampled uses a Terra Firma system with two inches added to ride height, so there was more body roll like on any long-travel truck, but both Defenders could be driven hard just like an old one – stuff it in the corner, let it heel over and take a set, then keep your foot on. You just can't use as much throttle.
Ergonomics remain stoically Defender. The signal stalk's a long reach even before high-beams are engaged, the 90's short seat tracks require short legs, and the Rover accessory under-dash AC and thicker Corbeau seat makes it even tighter. It feels is as if you're parked up against the door like a London taxi driver.
Adjustments to content, gauges, and infotainment generally drop into the earlier, horizontal-dash design or the later "puma" style. A smaller-diameter, thinner-rim wheel on the 90 means you can't see any of the tach, and the 110's panel uses an anodized gold ring for the speedo on the left and a black one for the all-numbered ancillaries in the right-hand pod because that's how the owner wanted it. The 110's dash is also covered in quilted, stitched leather to match the door panels and seats.
Everything appears detailed and finished to a high standard; there's very little chance the bolt heads were all clocked the same by coincidence. And no faults can be found in the paintwork, hardware, or spray-on lining applied from bumpers to sliding window frames.
If you're not one for attracting attention, consider getting your Corvette engine in a Corvette. But if you want one in a Defender, bring at least $150,000. It could be more (they've done $225k rigs) or less depending what you start with and power choice – Rover gas V8 or diesel, Cummins' new RePower 2.8 when it's available, the rare BMW petrol-power units, or something else. Just be aware that exclusivity isn't cheap.
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