And were not talking dumpy little Evoques. These people buy the biggies. San Vincente Boulevard is stacked with Supercharged Range Rovers, Autobiographys, Range Rover Sports and even Velars. Ours, however, is the one turning heads. It's a 1995 Range Rover LWB freshly restored by ECD Automotive Design in Kissimmee, Fla., and its classic lines and Audi Nardo Gray paint are not lost on the beautiful people with a yoga mat in one hand and an iced mocha macchiato in the other. And they don't even know there's a Chevy LS V8 under the SUV's hood.
Until recently, ECD was East Coast Defender. It started in 2013 with four guys in 6,000 square feet of shop building modernized and restored Land Rover Defenders. They would buy a Defender 90, 127 or 110 in England, where they are plentiful and cheap, get it to Florida and tear it apart, starting a 2,200-man-hour build to the new owner's exact specifications, many with an LS V8 and an eight-speed automatic from GM. "We'll build it as classic as you want or as modern as you want," says Scott Wallace one of ECD's owners. "We're driven by the client."
"We don't just buy a Defender off eBay, fix it up and flip it for fifty grand," adds ECD founder Elliot Humble. "These are ground-up restorations. We restore or replace every piece of the vehicle." And it's all done in house. ECD techs are all master ASE-certified. They have their own upholstery and paint shops. "We do everything," says Humble, who co-owns the business with Wallace, and his brother Tom Humble.
The business plan has worked. ECD now builds about 36 Defenders a year, employs 52 people and its shop has grown to 32,000 square feet. It also recently opened a design studio in Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway, and its builds have gotten more elaborate and more expensive. In 2013, the average cost of an ECD Defender was $39,000. Today, that number is $203,000 and the company is projected to do $8,000,000 in revenue this year.
And now ECD is applying its processes to the larger and more luxurious Range Rover Classics, and we're driving the prototype. The original Range Rover began production in 1970 and lasted until 1996, with sales in America beginning in 1987 (units sold in Saudi Arabia were also U.S.-spec). These SUVs were decades ahead of their time, and anyone who thinks Jeep invented the luxury SUV with the 1984 Grand Wagoneer is in need of a history lesson. In 1988, the Wall Street Journal said the Range Rover was the "Rolls-Royce of multipurpose vehicles." It cost more than $30,000 at the time.
Tall and upright, with as much glass as metal and a snub nose, the shape and proportions of the OG RR can still be seen in today's model. Its unique clamshell rear hatch also remains in production and has been a favorite of polo match picnickers for decades.
The donor vehicle was purchased in Florida off Craigslist, and Humble chose a long-wheelbase, "soft dash" model, which were only imported in 1995, "because they're just cool." But the additional interior space was also desirable. "A lot of our clients are over six feet five," says Humble. "The NBA loves us. We build a lot of custom seat brackets looking for additional space in Defenders."
Because the Range Rover Classic has been out of the production for 23 years, ECD quickly learned that parts are harder to find than bits for Defenders, which Land Rover continued to crank out until recently. Service parts are still available, but hard parts are rare, and the longer doors on the LWB model proved to be unobtainable. After teardown, the donor vehicle's aluminum rear doors were found to have some corrosion, but replacements were impossible to locate, so additional metal and bodywork were needed.
The finished product is beautiful. The bodywork and paint quality are extremely high, and the doors close with a thump and a click. The all-aluminum body panels are in perfect alignment with factory gaps, and the exterior trim looks fresh. Every part of the truck has been rebuilt and the frame has been blasted and powder-coated. It is a nut-and-bolt, frame-off restoration, but ECD does make a few modifications to the truck along the way. This includes 200 pounds of heat and sound insulation, as well as ditching the Rover's air springs for more reliable steel Defender units. They also replace the original Borg Warner chain-driven transfer case with a tougher gear-driven unit from a Defender.
Westbound on San Vincente Boulevard, heading for the beaches of Santa Monica, the Rover feels new but vintage. This is a classic-car experience. Short dash. Slow steering. Pencil-thin pillars and more flat glass than the UN building. But it all feels fresh, like it just rolled off the assembly line. ECD even left in a few authentic squeaks and rattles.
But there's nothing vintage about the Rover's powertrain. Gone is the original Buick-derived 4.2-liter V8, which was rated 200 hp, and its factory four-speed automatic, replaced by a new 6.2-liter LS3 and a six-speed automatic. The engine, which is throttle by wire, is supplied by Turnkey in Oceanside, Calif., which moves the power steering pump with new brackets to clear the Rover's steering box. Except for the handmade coolant expansion tank and the location of the air intake, which ECD is still playing with, the installation looks factory.
Replacing one all-aluminum V8 for another doesn't add any mass to the truck. GM says the engine makes 430 hp at 5,900 rpm and 424 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm, but the Rover weighs about 4,800 lbs, so it's not exactly quick. However, you no longer need full throttle to pull out into traffic. Nail it and the SUV does move out with authority, and the six-speed clicks off upshifts at 6,000 rpm. But the pretty blonde mom in the next lane would smoke us in her supercharged Range Rover Sport. ECD says it'll hit 60 mph in less than 8 seconds. Humble is still experimenting with exhaust systems, but the Banks system on the truck sounds good without any drone, and it's just loud enough. You don't want your Range Rover to sound like a Camaro with open pipes.
The seat is firm and the seat bottoms are short. Factory stuff, although the quality of the leather, now perforated, has been taken up a notch. You sit tall in the Range Rover, high above the window sills. Aside from the custom gauge cluster and the Alpine touch screen with nav, Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and a back-up camera, the interior is restored original right down to the airbags. This truck also has a GM shifter from a modern Chevy Traverse, but you can keep the Rover shifter if you want to. The air conditioning is ice cold.
It doesn't glide over the earth like a modern-day Rover, but the ride is comfortable. I wouldn't hesitate to take it on a multistate road trip with my kids. For now, the SUV is fitted with factory dampers, but ECD is about to try a set of Bilsteins. Despite drilled front rotors in the stock size from EBC Brakes with Greenstuff pads, the brakes also feel like 1985. The booster and calipers are rebuilt originals and the ABS system is retained.
Modifications to the exterior are limited to losing the ugly rubber door guard and painting the door handles body color and the roof black. But, again, buyers can have it any way they want, from a complete factory-original restoration with the factory powertrain to a full-custom job with alligator-skin seats, haired hide carpet, suede cupholders, machine gun turrets and a paint color that matches the eyes of your mistress. As it sits, the ECD Range Rover Classic would cost about $160,000. It comes with a one-year warranty on the truck and a two-year/50,000-mile warranty on the engine.
We climb from behind the wheel and ask Humble if ECD has taken any inspiration from Land Rover's current SVAutobiography editions or the semi-custom stuff it's doing on the very high end. "Not at all," he says. "If you want a new Range Rover, you should go buy a new Range Rover. We improve the vehicle, but we try to keep it true. We bring these Range Rovers into the 21st century without sacrificing its classic heritage and originality."
The pretty people of Brentwood just know it's cool.